Perhaps the best summary of Daniel Golden’s “The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges – And Who Gets Left Outside the Gates” is contained in its six policy recommendations at the end: First, to end legacy preference; second, to establish a firewall between fundraising and admissions; third, to develop conflict-of-interest policies for college admissions staff; fourth, to abolish athletic preference and scholarships for upper-crust sports (such as squash, sailing, skiing, crew, water polo, fencing, and equestrian events, which are rarely played by the minorities); fifth, to eliminate admissions preference for faculty children and tuition assistance plans; and sixth, to provide equal access for Asian-American students and for international students who need financial aid. And given that in March this year – over a decade after the book’s publication – the Department of Justice had arrested 50 people in the country’s largest college admissions scam, it would appear that many of the problems still persist.
By weaving data and perspectives of high-ranking college administrations across accounts of young privileged Americans who may have benefited from familial connections, Golden offers a damning indictment of how admissions to elite colleges have been used to preserve the wealth and power of the upper classes. Family legacies are justified because alumni parents with children in their alma mater are said to be more likely to donate large sums, while developmental admits are framed as potential way to reach out to rich non-alumni or to benefit from the status of celebrities or the clout of politicians, when their sons and daughters are admitted as students. Through each of these preferential mechanisms, these incoming students are held to lower academic and qualifying standards, which – given the increasingly competitive admissions process – means they could displace more deserving students from less-privileged backgrounds.
This is in addition to the fact that students who grow up in higher income households would have already benefited from the social capital of their parents as well as their school resources. “Put together, these preferences of privilege amount to nothing less than affirmative action for rich white people. As such, they should be part of any debate about affirmative action for racial minorities”.
Nevertheless, even though “The Price of Admission” is clear that legacy preference is unfair and deleterious, less is said about the more complex debate surrounding affirmative action. This issue is nudged out when the discrimination against Asian-American applicants – characterised as the “New Jews”, because legacies had historically meted to suppress Jewish enrolment – is explained, and also towards the end when the achievement gap between white and Asian students and black and Hispanic students are alluded to: “By ensuring diversity, affirmative action both enhances intellectual and social interaction on campus and fosters minority representation in the upper realms of government, business, and the military, to which selective colleges provide a gateway”. This conclusion will not be satisfying to the Asians who feel left out, as issues related to race, equity, oppression continue to dominant college admissions in the United States.