A Challenge to Elite Colleges: Set Aside More Seats for Low-Income Achievers

by Richard Barth

Increasingly, the marketplace has rewarded colleges that turn away the most students, and the competition to be competitive has become white-hot. Winning that competition may be great for colleges, but the hidden cost is enormous — for the nation and for young people of great promise but little privilege. They are the ones left behind when colleges become laser-focused on exclusivity and lose sight of their vital role in inviting a new generation of students into opportunity and leadership.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with thousands of enormously talented, hard-working kids from working-class and low-income families. These are brilliant potential first-generation college students. But for kids in such communities, the belief is pervasive that there’s no point in applying to a selective college.

That belief is poisonous to our society, and there has never been a more important time for a cadre of college presidents to step forward and prove it wrong. It’s time to send a message of hope and opportunity to replace a dominant, powerful message of exclusion.

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