College: Easier To Get Into Than You Think

An economist publishes a provocative new study, with fascinating implications for the higher education and tuition debates

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Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby has published a new study showing that the conventional wisdom about rising competitiveness in university admissions is a myth. Selectivity has increased at top schools, while decreasing everywhere else, causing a greater concentration of top students at the top schools. But that isn't the only interesting tidbit in Hoxby's grab-bag of provocative conclusions. As bloggers digest all the new information, here's what they're focusing on:

  • Students Are Actually Getting a Good Deal  The takeaway for The New Republic's Zubin Jelveh is that the students who manage to make it into the most selective schools "have managed to get a really economic good deal." Jelveh points to Hoxby's finding that, while tuition has risen considerably at top schools, the amount the school is spending on students has also risen.
  • Interesting Business Model--But Is It Socially Wise?  The Economist's Free Exchange blog focuses on the rationale behind throwing all this money at students, ties it back to the tuition debate, and poses a provocative exit question:
The business model here is pretty easy to understand. Top schools have every expectation that their graduates will go on to make boatloads of money, some of which will find its way back to the university ... Educational operations at top schools are financed almost entirely by sources other than tuition, and they can afford to offer heavy subsidies to students, ensuring that any student good enough to be accepted can afford to go. This model has worked so well that some of the best schools have assembled massive endowments totalling tens of billions of dollars (see: Harvard). And this state of affairs adds crucial context to the debate over the effect of rising tuition ...

And it raises an interesting question: from the standpoint of societal welfare, should we want the students who can expect to receive the highest return to their human capital investments to be most responsible for financing their own education, or least responsible?
  • Hoxby Is Wrong  So the "top 10 percent ... are spending more per student than ever before," writes The Washington Post's Jay Matthews. Hoxby "says [this] makes them better. I think she is wrong, which I hope will motivate her to stick it to me with more data, thus moving this useful debate forward." Top schools spending $92,000 per student does not make them better, he argues. Most of the expense difference "can be explained by salaries," he says, and furthermore, the difference in professors' salaries between the top 10 percent schools and the top 20 percent schools "where I suspect most Ivy League rejects end up, is probably not that great."
  • Overall, Great for Students  Lull Mengesha of The Only Black Student blog looks at the increases in spending per student across the board and concludes that "students across the board will be receiving a better education all around. Even if they are going to Universities and Colleges that are not as well equip[ped] as prestigious Universities."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.