G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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Steve Sailer has a brilliant article on elites protecting the integrity of their communities:
In the current immigration debate (if we can call the coordinated marketing campaign we’re being subjected to a “debate”), we are told by Wall Street, academia, corporate shills, and the media that a stable population would be a dire fate. (Not that the US is in terrible danger of that: The number of inhabitants has grown by 34 million in this century.) Thus, illegal aliens are doing us a big favor by coming here to have the children they can’t afford to have in their own countries.
And yet the experts enlightening us about the wonders of a bigger populace don’t seem to be in any hurry for their own communities and colleges to grow. From checking the statistics of elite institutions, you might almost get the impression that the “revealed preference” of people who are good at getting what they want is for very slow population growth.
Like Sailer, I had a hard time finding a definitive discussion of the broad subject of limitations on student body growth rates at elite schools. But for starters, Rice University provided a comparison between itself and other elite universities:
The Big Three on that chart – Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton – have all kept their student count stagnant since 1980. The big jump from 1960 to 1980 marks an era where more and more women were being allowed into school. But after that point, these schools didn’t invest their huge endowments in expanding capacity in ways that would allow for an expansion of the student body. These schools have so much to offer the nation, yet they maintained their exclusivity. This preserves the value of existing degrees. Also, exclusivity keeps alumni sending in checks. While good discussions of this as-yet-unnamed topic are hard to come by, Kevin Carey previously broached the subject and touched on some of what Sailer has addressed:
In 1990, Harvard had an endowment of about $4.7-billion. That was still a lot of money, about $7.7-billion in today’s dollars. Only five other universities have that much money now. Over the next two decades the pile grew to colossal heights, $36.9-billion by mid-2008.
Harvard spent the money on many things. But not a dollar went to increasing the number of undergraduates it chose to bless with a Harvard education. In 1990 the university welcomed slightly more than 1,600 students to its freshman class. In 2008, $32-billion later, it enrolled slightly more than 1,600 freshmen.
That is remarkable stinginess. Harvard undergraduate degrees are immensely valuable, conferring a lifetime of social capital and prestige. The university receives many more highly qualified applicants than it chooses to admit. Because the existing class includes underqualified children of legacies, rich people, politicians, celebrities, and others who benefit from the questionable Ivy League admissions process, Harvard could presumably increase the size of its entering class by, say, 50 percent while improving the overall academic quality of the students it admits.
And other snippets from Clarey:
The university gobbled up nearby land and erected a collection of handsome new buildings, creating over six million square feet of new space since 2000 alone. Yet none of the brilliant new people and buildings and land were used to give more undergrads a Harvard education.
That’s because the real priority of elite higher education, as the receding tide of money has exposed, is the greater glory of elite higher education and the administrators and faculty members who work there.
That’s why admissions officers work so hard to get them in all manner of shapes, sizes, and colors. And that’s why nobody wants to admit more of them—you only need so many to fill out a brochure, and the more applicants you reject the more awesomely selective and unattainable—and thus attractive—you seem.
It’s said that the wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it an unscalable wall.
While attending Yale, Nathan Harden, a conservative author of the recent book Sex & God at Yale discussed proposals to hike admissions. All of his arguments could be made in regards to immigration:
While expansion would not do much to change the admissions rate, it would represent a significant increase in the size of the student body. 650 new students would represent a 13 percent increase in the size of the student body. That’s 100 more history majors vying for the best seminars, 13 percent more competition for a slot in a Harold Bloom course, 13 percent more competition for the Whiffenpoofs. Expanding the faculty and course offerings cannot compensate for the loss of access to the most desirable courses and activities on campus. Not all classes are equal. Future Yalies will have less of the best that is offered here if the expansion goes forward.
Ultimately, the most important goal before us should be preserving the best aspects of the Yale experience. If half of all incoming freshmen no longer have a chance to live on Old Campus (the new colleges would, like Timothy Dwight and Silliman, house freshmen all four years) will that take away something important about the Yale experience? If the best professors become even harder to access, will the Yale education lose value? I think so.
I am not convinced that a bigger Yale will be a better Yale. The old socialists used to have a motto, “Growth for the sake of growth is a cancer.” If we expand simply to accommodate our growing applicant pool, then we are missing the point. Preserving the quality of the education here is far more important. Yale has expanded many times over its history, but at some point that expansion must come to an end — otherwise Yale will cease to exist as a single community of scholars. The bigger Yale gets, the further we all get from one another.