Higher education: The new caste system

As a professor, I can see much that is wrong with our system—but not so much that I would advise a smart 18-year-old to skip college. The real problem is not that our college system is failing. The problem is that it is succeeding all too well—at ranking and sorting each cohort of school-leavers by academic performance.

As Charles Murray has pointed out, our highly competitive admissions system has become a mechanism for selecting a “cognitive elite.” In 1997, just over a hundred elite colleges, which admitted fewer than a fifth of all freshmen, also accounted for three quarters of the ones with SAT or ACT scores in the top 5 percent.

Meritocracy in action? The problem is that this cognitive elite has become self-perpetuating: they marry one another, live in close proximity to one another, and use every means, fair or foul, to ensure that their kids follow in their academic footsteps (even when Junior is innately less smart than Mom and Dad).