And The Rich Get Richer…

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Walter Kimbrough writes about a $400 million gift to Columbia here at Inside Higher Ed. Below is an excerpt:

… I am becoming less and less tolerant of people who pass wealth on to the privileged and masquerade it as philanthropy. Philanthropy is the voluntary act of donating money, goods or services to a charitable cause, intended to promote good or improve human well being. When a billionaire gives money that will benefit people who are more than likely already well off or who already have access to huge sums of money, attending the ninth richest university by endowment, this is not philanthropy. This simply extends the gross inequities that exist in our country : inequities that one day will come home to roost.

Almost 40 percent of all college students nationally earned a Pell Grant, which in general represents students from families earning less than $35,000 a year. Yes, almost 40 percent of students in college today are from low income families. At Columbia, where tuition and fees alone tops $31,000, only 16 percent of students are Pell Grant eligible. In fact, over 60 percent of Columbia students don’t even bother to apply for federal financial aid. They can pay the bill : no problem (see the Economic Diversity of Colleges Web site). Columbia is not alone. A recent New York Times article, which provided a great story on a recent Amherst College graduate, indicated that 75 percent of students attending elite colleges come from the top socioeconomic quartile, while only 10 percent come from the bottom half, and just 3 percent from the bottom quartile.

For comparison, 83 percent of my students received the Pell Grant during that same year, and 84 percent applied for financial aid. Even with tuition and fees less than $9,000 a year, my students on average will leave college with MORE debt than Columbia students, in fact $11,000 more even though tuition and fees are $22,000 a year less!

I am hopeful that Columbia will do as it states it will, which is to expand the number of scholarship grants to needy students. President Bollinger has been a strong advocate for affirmative action, and I am very hopeful because he has shown great integrity. But even assuming that Columbia spends the money on aid, and that it couldn’t spend more of its existing money on poor students, not to mention admitting more of them, the university’s current campaign has a goal of $1 billion for facilities – that’s an astronomical sum of”philanthropy”to help a wealthy institution have better facilities. And Columbia isn’t alone : as there are similarly ambitious spending plans by the other public and private universities currently seeking to raise billions of dollars.

And the situation in which the wealthy get wealthier : while feeling good about their”philanthropic”traditions : isn’t much better in elite public higher education. Last fall, The Education Trust released “Engines of Inequality: Diminishing Equity in the Nation’s Premier Public Universities.” This report got little to no play nationally, and certainly nothing like the play the Columbia gift received, because the conclusions were a damning condemnation of higher education’s elite. In 2003, about 100 research extensive universities spent $257 million in financial aid for students from families earning over $100,000 a year, almost as much as that spent on students from families earning $20,000-40,000, and more than that spent on students from families earning less than $20,000. Again, much of these funds come from wealthy, image conscious alumni, praised for being philanthropists, who primarily want to ensure that their university has the best and brightest their money will buy. … [Emphasis added.]

Read the whole piece here.

Update: related post at Prawfsblawg.

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0 Responses to And The Rich Get Richer…

  1. Faprjp says:

    Fantastic point. I am really looking forward to Lani Guinier’s upcoming book on this increasingly stratified system….one part of the title is “How Wealth Became Merit.”

  2. bob coley jr says:

    after reading here and at Prawfsblawg, I can see how privilege (private law) will never disapear. In it’s pure form it may not be a bad thing. BUT the way it has evolved is definately not good. One major point raised by the defenders of the right to donate as one wishes also underscores the problem. The lack of funds going to public schools create and perpetuate the scism. I would think that “philanthopy” could help in this area but a more equitable way is to increase pre-college achievment via funds and guidance from all secters of society and thus upper levels of learning would not be so divided by privilege. This would take a shift in the idea of privilege in the human heart.

  3. wagadog says:

    Um…I respond to the kind of “can you top this?” notes that go out to alumni from elite institutions after receiving that kind of donation.

    Someone just gave $100 mil to Chicago. BFD.

    I tell them that I’ll start giving to them just as soon as they reach 50-50 parity at all levels of the faculty — n the Physical Sciences Division (where I received my PhD) — and that until then, what they would have received is going to the AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund instead.

    The response is hilarious. Their defense — that there are not enough women faculty “in the pipeline” and that they “need more time” is simply an admission of the academy’s failure to comply with Title IX — for 35 years.

    You see, they’re so good at training scientific researchers, that in 35 years they…fail miserably to do so. Fascinating. And…I’m supposed to give them money to, what, to keep failing? Sorry, but I’m not impressed.

    The beauty of these big donations is that it inflates their idea of what is being given to the AAUW LAF, rather than to them. It further whets and frustrates their boundless greed.

    It may take two to tango–but only one to squirm.