The Behind the Scenes Drama at Stuyvesant High School

Stuyvesant High School, Stuyvesant, Admission to Stuy

Stuyvesant High School is situated in downtown Manhattan (photo credit: PointsofNoReturn).

Stuyvesant High School, a specialized high school in New York City, is a tuition-free school to city residents. With a focus in the STEM areas, Stuy is the single most competitive specialized school in New York City. Of the approximate 30,000 students who take the test every year in the hope of earning admission, about 900 to 950 end up getting in. Indeed the admission rate is lower for Stuy than it is for various highly selective universities across America. And so it was with great interest that we recently read an outstanding piece of journalism up on “Bloomberg” that shares the behind-the-scenes story of the school and its infighting alumni base that doesn’t give a whole lot back to their alma mater.

Who Attends Stuyvesant

While the school boasts alumni like political operative David Axelrod and actors James Cagney and Tim Robbins, make no mistake that the Stuyvesant of today tends to attract the brightest minds (particularly in the STEM areas) across New York City and a major chunk of these students happen to be first-generation Americans or immigrants to America themselves. As Vernon Silver writes in his phenomenal piece up on “Bloomberg” entitled “Welcome to Hostile Takeover High,” “Stuyvesant’s brand—a school for the brainy—is so overpowering that it obscures another basic truth: It’s also a school for the poor. Almost half the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Many commute from the city’s peripheral neighborhoods, as did future Attorney General Eric Holder (’69) and novelist Gary Shteyngart (’91), who both traveled 90 minutes each way from Queens.”

Silver continues, “Throughout its history, Stuyvesant’s population has shifted in waves—from Brooklyn Jews to immigrants from the USSR to today’s Asians, a group so diverse it should hardly be lumped together.” So, yes, the Stuyvesant of today is — undeniably — a school comprised largely of overachieving Asian American young people. This includes not just Chinese Americans but Korean Americans, Indian Americans, etc.

The Behind-The-Scenes Drama at Stuyvesant

What’s most interesting about Silver’s piece is the focus on how this storied institution, which has graduated so many students who’ve gone on to become captains of industry in just about every field, has trouble raising money. As he writes, “While private schools such as Phillips Exeter Academy can have billion-dollar endowments, and even some selective public schools sit on amounts in the tens of millions, the Stuyvesant High School Alumni Association has, at most, a paltry $2.5 million on hand. Any hopes of building an endowment have been dashed by decades of infighting among graduates, shifting allegiances of principals, and, in one case, an alumni fundraiser who blew through $4 million. Until recently, three separate nonprofit alumni fundraising groups competed for donations.”

But dare we say something a bit more controversial, something Silver may not have been able to say on the pages of “Bloomberg”? In our experience, the vast majority of wealthy Asian American parents are not going to want to fork over millions of their hard earned dollars to U.S. schools. These folks are, in many cases, American immigrants. They worked hard to accrue the money they have, to come to this country in pursuit of their version of the American Dream. They want their children and their children after them to have better lives in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The donor base to institutions like Phillips Exeter and the Ivy League colleges is predominantly white. At the risk of stating the obvious, keep in mind that this is also a reflection of the fact that the alumni decades ago — the very alumni now giving money to those endowments — tended overwhelmingly to be white at these institutions. There weren’t a ton of Asian Americans roaming the halls of Princeton and Exeter in the 1970s. There just weren’t. Time will, in all likelihood, change this trend. As Asian American parents and their children continue to gain their footing in the American economy and become captains of industry, we suspect that the donations will start to tick up. Do some Asian Americans make major donations to schools in the U.S. now? Yes. Of course. But not enough to create a trend, to create a culture of giving. And indeed it will take time. It takes time to imprint how the wealthy, the upper crust, build enduring legacies here in America — by, for instance, financing buildings at American institutions of higher learning (their family names go on these buildings).

If you’re the parent of a Stuyvesant student interested in improving your child’s case for admission to his or her dream college, fill out Ivy Coach’s free consultation form and we’ll be in touch.


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