4. 'Excellence and Equity': Merit as the Price of Admission [chapter]

2021 The Wealthy, the Brilliant, the Few  
to 250 colleges as 'very competitive' or 'most competitive', as a guide (cf. Leonhardt 2013); this means that between 4.5 and 5.5 percent of colleges are classified as 'elite'. A similar case can be made for the influence wielded by high schools. Douthat writes: There are 31,700 high schools, public and private, nationwide, but only 930-roughly 3 percent-could claim more than four students in their 1998-2001 graduating classes who matriculated at Yale, Harvard, or Princeton. And Worth's top
more » ... red sent a total of 3,452 kids to the big three during that time, meaning that roughly 22 percent of the 'Yarvton' student bodies emerged from fewer than 0.3 percent of America's high schools. (50) The media coverage, the number of fictional accounts, and the general visibility and discursive leverage these highly selective institutions hold seem to suggest that every other American teen attends an elite school, and they create an image of the student at an elite institution as 'the' generic college student, which makes actual facts-for instance that "more than 40 percent of all undergraduates in this country are over the age of twenty-four, and close to 40 percent study part-time" (Bok 16)-seem surprising. Thus, there is an obvious and important imbalance whose cultural and socio-political implications will be discussed in a later section of this study. 'Excellence and Equity': Merit as the Price of Admission In addition to and continuously in dialogue with eliteness, merit is the second central trope around which the epistemology of elite education revolves. For the past few decades, it has been at the heart of most debates surrounding the elite educational space and its socio-cultural and political implications; Karabel even proposes that the entire "history of admissions at the Big Three has [...] been, fundamentally, a history of recurrent struggles over the meaning of 'merit'" (5). In this section, I share some general observations on the role of merit in the context of elite education, and discuss the history and current discursive role of the notion of a 'meritocracy'.
doi:10.1515/9783839457290-006 fatcat:abtavcbqwnhghd7p3adsslbhpm