The Contrarian: Selling Out

One thing (of the many things) I find truly hilarious is when people talk about money “being the root of all evil.” In the best of times, you get what you pay for, and resources maintain value by maintaining how much people are willing to pay.

In the “Land of the Free,” however, as capitalist as we are, we pride ourselves on being the world pioneer for human rights and making the ongoing attempt to level the playing field in terms of economic advantage so as to make the most important resources accessible to everyone. Higher education, which has become one of those important resources, has become more accessible due to the implementation of financial aid and federal student loan programs.

What is interesting about this is that the value in our nation’s top schools is not so much lost by this institutionalized implementation of accessibility as it is diversified. For example, a student with excellent credentials (top grades, standardized test scores, numerous extra-curricular activities, etc.) who can’t afford a four-year Ivy League tuition by themselves might still have access to one of these top-tier schools because of the dues they have paid into the system. In this case, their credentials are the currency that will buy them admission into their school of choice.

But we are a capitalist nation, at the core. And now that times are tough, it shows.

According to a survey released last Wednesday by Inside Higher Ed, an online publication for higher education professionals, four-year colleges are paying a great deal more attention to potential applicants who have the financial means to pay full tuition without assistance, or with little assistance.

This is to say that the worth of new applicants is read through a lens that most people can understand, and has every one seeing green.

Marketing directives and recruiting practices are being pointed towards students who can offer up more dough for their college education. The attention paid to recruiting students with more financial preparedness is comparable to students that are minorities, athletes, veterans, children of alumni, international students and men (note: In recent years, it has been found that less men apply, and are admitted, to four-year institutions and other schools of higher education, and are thus targeted for the sake of quotas and balances demographics) receiving more favor than those with, say, better credentials that have to do with grades and stuff. Ya know, the stuff that is supposed to matter.

“There’s always been elements of this behavior, but it seems to me that it’s growing,” said Lloyd Thacker, executive director of the Education Conservancy. “I don’t know whether to blame it on hard times or lack of courage and leadership.”

Whatever the case, the findings of this survey does not so much bring new information to light as it does remind us that education is a business paid into privately and publicly, and money often trumps ethics.

Not that favoring full-pay students over those less endowed is unethical. It’s just common sense.

Now, there have been many superficial arguments about the pros and cons of this type of practice, which can be called affirmative action (most readily, when the targeting deals with race and ethic background, because everyone loves a race argument). Some say that it is fair and needed because injustice and loss must be made up for. In any case, these practices are meant to increase the value of an education institution for whatever reason that sticks: Race quotas, guilt, recognizing the strife of our veterans, diversity, globalization, wanting to be the school that produces the most talented American athletes. Whatever.

Truthfully, all of the aforementioned student statuses, ostensibly contending the issues of value indirectly linked to money, are actually directly linked to money.

For example, at public institutions, out-of-state students pay significantly more than do in-state students. Out-of-state students are often attracted to out-of-state schools for one reason or another, whether it be the school’s specialties, its reputation or the benefits that come along with being of one of these statuses. Marketing directives that attract out-of-state students potentially yield more applicants who can pay more money out of their tuition. Same goes for international students, who will often pay more tuition than out-of-state students.

The need for a formal education is not lost on anyone anymore; the situation in this country is so dire that I cannot imagine that children far from college age are unaware of it. Nor are they unaware that college is expensive, and that in order to make money, you need to invest in yourself… with more money.

Hopefully this highlighted underbelly of the admissions process, dispelling the illusion of accessibly, will call for a more accessible applications process, where students, their parents, and their schools are more focused on versing themselves in the ways they can put together a plan to attain the school of their choice, and institutions of higher education will then be more focused on providing that information to people to keep the money coming in.

If students understand the factors that contribute to their value in the eyes of admissions officials, then they will better immerse themselves in the world of loans (a world that new grads are grappling with, even now), scholarships (underutilized and underrated), and other tracks to supplement the bill.

In terms of financial preparedness, then, they’d be just as, if not more, valuable as the next guy.