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  129 7 Choosing the Best The most important three periods in American higher-education history were, arguably, the early nineteenth century (the break-out period of college expansion), the 1860s (birth of the state land-grant college system), and the mid-1950s to mid-1970s. Today’s mold of higher education was largely set in that last period. American higher education became at once a mass system and a highly stratified one. Big differences opened up between the scholastic selectivity of elite colleges and the rest. In the upper reaches of the system, colleges increasingly competed for an academic status based on published faculty research and getting “bright” students. The effect on access to elite colleges was double-edged. The search for good students, supported by increased financial aid, fanned out through a wide range of the middle classes, but heightened academic admissions standards were a barrier to the disadvantaged. The new selectivity caused three kinds of friction for elite colleges. First, alumni felt increasingly frozen out as the power of “connections” lost ground to the reward of meritorious achievement in college admissions . In fact, the two sides of the conflict accommodated each other. The colleges needed alumni gifts and bequests to help fund ambitious programs and, indeed, financial aid itself. Alumni families, for their part, put more into academic endeavor, as we saw in Chapter 2. Admissions offices continued to favor “legacies” (“alumni kids”) though less than before: as admissions standards rose, “legacies” had to do better to get in.1 The second conflict involved civil rights and the drive by almost all colleges to enroll more black students. These students tended to do worse 130   part II The Way of Elite Colleges than whites on standardized admission tests such as SATs, and less well in college than whites with the same SATs.2 From the mid-sixties, leading colleges tried to make their admissions criteria more sensitive, tapping for “potential” shown in adverse conditions. They also experimented with preenrollment courses and other programs to remedy cultural disadvantage . Worries persisted, however, especially among some faculty and alumni, that standards were being lowered for minority students. The third conflict involved money and access. Attempts in the late sixties and early seventies to enroll more low-income students—not just black ones—caused a clash between financial aid spending and the costs of competitive excellence—offering a “richer” range of courses and recruiting distinguished faculty. When push came to shove, “excellence” won. In the late 1970s, efforts to seek and support disadvantaged students fell back. Student “diversity” remained a college value, but it was cheaper to achieve it by enrolling minority students, not all of whom had high financial need, than by enrolling large numbers of low-income students. Along with these big shifts, elite colleges took a lead in developing new financial aid practices. These had their own bureaucratic momentum , but they were part of a changing academic culture. Systems Beget Systems Between the mid-1950s and the mid-1960s, colleges moved to a packaging concept of financial aid. They systematically helped students assemble packages of grants, loans, and jobs, taking into account what they got from scholarship foundations and state and federal government. By 1965 most colleges were doing this, providing students with at least two of the three main types of aid. A survey of financial aid administrators, 1962– 1964, found that over 90 percent favored government loans and agreed that term-time jobs were “good for students.”3 A big factor here was the federal government’s National Defense Student Loan Program, started in 1958. This involved many more colleges in student loans, but the trend had actually started a few years before. The ethos of the new College Scholarship Service, explored in the last chapter, had much to do with it. Like CSS’s method of “need analysis,” packaging grants with loans and jobs was a way of stretching aid as far and effectively as possible in meeting student need. Many colleges offered their own loans along with federal ones until the 1970s when the great expan- Choosing the Best  131 sion of federally subsidized loans largely took over. Students themselves were readier to borrow, as more and more jobs required a college education and loans were more publicized.4 This is not to say that opinion was unanimously in favor of loans. The skeptics even included Pomona’s dean Edward Sanders, a founding father of CSS. Sanders and others like him thought that big student...


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