Here at The University of Connecticut, we are distinctly advantaged in attending a public university. What does this mean for us? Primarily it means that instead of paying upwards of $80,000 yearly for higher education, we pay less. But it also means that generally this is a working-class student body, uninterested in ownership, management or other forms of exploitation.
This philosophy is not the case at private universities. The most prestigious and expensive Ivy League schools do not offer merit aid to applicants. Over one-third of Harvard’s admitted class this year were legacy students, admitted because of their parents’ status as alumni. A recent study found that Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, Penn and Brown, along with 33 other expensive private universities, all had more students from the top 1% of the income scale than the bottom 60%. In general, tuition and fees at private institutions are 300% higher than at public institutions. These schools are both in principle and practice accessible only to the wealthiest students, who will go on to become our politicians, bosses and landlords.
While admitting many bright and talented individuals, the main function of these private colleges is to restrict middle- and working-class people from participation in robust institutions of higher education. This allows the wealthiest to segregate themselves and their children from the rest of society, in a bid that perpetuates their status, prestige, job opportunities and ultimately wealth. If all of us were forced into attending the same universities, UConn would receive the generous donations which currently go to Yale and Wesleyan. The state legislature, controlled predominantly by representatives catering to the wealthy, would no longer have the option of reducing grants to the best university in the state, where the wealthy would send their children.
None of this is to suggest that UConn is some kind of egalitarian refuge. To attend UConn costs tens of thousands of dollars every year, which many working families cannot afford. Many of us in fact cannot afford the debt which we are taking on to graduate here, but we hope that our degrees will allow us to one day, decades from now, be debt-free and not impoverished (climate change aside). It would also please the reader to learn that of the 21 members on the UConn board of trustees, undergraduate students elect one, graduate students elect another, and so do Travelers and Cigna. This public university is still firmly entwined with corporate and wealthy interests.
If we did shut down all private educational institutions, what would happen? Primarily, the wealthy would send their children to public institutions, which would see a rapid increase in resources, applicant quality and funding. Secondarily, we could use the 500 billion dollars currently in the endowments of private colleges to improve public education and ensure that students and faculty from formerly private colleges found equitable places in the public sector. Would anybody suffer? Possibly. But generally, students at private colleges have the money and credentials to attend a state school of similar quality and lower price. Maybe society would stand to gain from discarding prestige as a sign of the quality of the education one receives.
The proposal to abolish private colleges sounds ridiculous, because in some aspects it is. This policy will never be realized through the United States government because it is completely controlled by the wealthy who love and patronize private colleges so much. But identifying and discussing the ways in which the wealthy monopolize social and environmental resources helps us see past the propaganda, illogicalities and contradictions required to reproduce the many systems of power controlling our lives. We hopefully understand that the wealthy, particularly billionaires, are criminals who must be rehabilitated to a more humane value system, and we can begin this enormous task by forcing them, just as the rest of us, to attend the public rather than the private Ivies.
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Harrison Raskin is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.