July 21, 2017

Lagging colleges, Samuelson and Brooks on Dream Hoarders

July 21st, 2017

Lagging colleges, Samuelson and Brooks on Dream Hoarders

Hello again! I took a week off the newsletter, so now I'm playing catch up, and so somewhat in haste.... Dream Hoarders continues to ruffle some feathers - but I'll get to that in a moment. In my latest piece for Brookings, "Ladders, labs, or laggards? Which public universities contribute most?" I take aim at public universities that are weak in terms of both upward mobility promotion and in terms of research. Here's the argument in a nutshell:

While many of these institutions perform well as a ladder or a lab—and a significant share score well on both fronts—a sizable minority of public universities fail on both counts. These laggards nonetheless absorb substantial subsidies, including to students from affluent backgrounds. We estimate that almost $2 billion of support goes each year to students from families in the top quintile of the income distribution who attend “laggard” colleges. To put this figure in context, this amount is five times as much as the federal government currently spends on evidence-based Home Visiting programs for low-income families.

And here are the findings in a chart:

We also ranked the top and bottom 10 universities (cue angry emails...!). 

Meanwhile Dream Hoarders was given a bit of a beating by both David Brooks in the New York Times in "How We Are Ruining America", and by Robert Samuelson in the Washington Post "Is the upper middle class really hoarding the American Dream?". Brooks gave an excellent summary of the book, but went on to argue that the barriers to entry of the upper middle class were more about "cultural codes" than my "structural factors". I think there is much to this, though the specific examples he chose - especially choosing sandwich meats - distracted from his main argument (and generated a social media storm, as his columns often do). Samuelson was more direct, saying I was "dead wrong". He went on: 
Reeves has the story almost backward. As a society, we should try not to restrict the upper middle class, but to expand it. In general, it’s doing what we ought to want the rest of society to do. Its marriage rates are higher, its out-of-wedlock births are lower, its education levels are higher. As for parents, why make them feel guilty for wanting to help their children? What are parents for, after all?
These are good arguments. Indeed, in the book I highlight in particular the strong upper middle class norms around family formation and stability, and engaged parenting. I conclude: “Much of what the upper middle class does ought to be emulated”. I'm going to tackle this cultural question at greater length in an essay I've just finished, so watch this space. For now I'll just say that economic inequality weakens the mechanisms through which positive culture change takes place.

I talked about Dream Hoarders with Maureen Conway at the Aspen Institute, in front a big crowed, not all of whom had come to see the other Richard Reeves. The video is here:

CNBC are putting up some pieces and video based on an interview I did with them a couple of weeks back: the latest is on the national embarrassment of legacy preferences in college admissions. Also, it was nice to see a Dream Hoarders extract across a couple of pages of my old employer, The Observer newspaper.

Next week I'm in Chicago, and will be joined by Odette Yousef at an event at Seminary Co-operative bookstore, at 6pm (5751 S Woodlawn Ave, Chicago, IL 60615). 


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