Several days ago, we shared with our readers an editorial penned by the inimitable Caitlin Flanagan for The Atlantic. The piece, Private Schools Have Become Truly Obscene, earned high praise on this college admissions blog for its forthrightness and for its juicy stories that shined a bright lantern on how these schools profess to be engines of social mobility but are instead bastions of entitlement. We, of course, work with students applying to elite colleges from the full gamut of high schools — from fancy schmancy boarding schools to large public high schools to magnet schools and everything in between — yet we can’t help giggle at some of Flanagan’s insights into the culture of many especially well-known private schools. But it seems that not everyone is giggling. Some of our nation’s elite universities have responded to Flanagan’s words in an unsurprisingly rather defensive manner if you ask us. Representative of Dartmouth College, Brown University, and Princeton University have all issued statements in response to the editorial, while Yale University declined to comment.
Dartmouth, Brown, and Princeton Go on the Defensive in Their Statements
As Scott Jaschik reports for Inside Higher Ed in a piece entitled “Do Top Colleges Favor Applicants Who Are Extremely Wealthy?,” “At Dartmouth, Diana Lawrence, associate vice president for communications, said via email, ‘There are a few aspects I would highlight regarding Dartmouth’s ‘independent school’ cohort: It includes most of our students from international schools around the world, it includes many of the college’s enrolling athletes and many students whose parents are alumni, and it encompasses a growing number of students who are in the first generation of their families to attend college.’…A spokesman for Brown University, Brian E. Clark, said via email, ‘First, I’d note that not every student who attends a private high school comes from the same background. Among undergraduates at Brown who come from private schools are a number of first-generation students, others from low-income families and many who identify as students of color. Of the total 1,756 first-year students in our Class of 2024, 45 percent are students of color, 14 percent are first-generation college students and nearly half receive need-based financial aid.’…Ben Chang, a spokesman for Princeton, said: ‘The Atlantic article you cite advances a narrative about the admission process through selective use of data that ignores our significant ongoing efforts and progress in attracting and supporting talented students from throughout society, including students from groups that have been underrepresented in higher education and denied the opportunities they need to flourish.'”
These Private Schools Are Important Hands That Feed Elite Universities
And where do we stand on these statements from representatives of Dartmouth, Brown, and Princeton that all more or less say the same thing? They’re not wrong. Private schools like Exeter, Andover, Choate, and the like are not the private schools of yesteryear as seen in School Ties or Dead Poet’s Society. These schools, through the years, have become increasingly diverse. They’ve evolved. They’ve gotten with the program. Their student bodies do indeed feature many underrepresented minorities, students from low-income families, and students who will be the first in their immediate families to attend college. They’ve essentially mimicked the moves of elite colleges — only they make their moves first since students attend boarding private high schools before they attend colleges. The elite colleges then pull in these underrepresented groups from the private schools that have — for decades — been feeding them students. So these elite schools can continue to be fairly, well, lazy in continuing to go to the hand that feeds them rather than expanding outreach to schools that may not have previously been on the radar. It’s an imperfect system for sure, one that doesn’t serve underrepresented minorities, low-income students, and first-generation college students at lesser known schools across America. But it’s the system nonetheless.
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