Go to any website targeted towards upper-middle teenagers or any parent falling into the same socioeconomic bracket in any nation one thing is universal, College admission pressure. Elite Tertiary educational institutions have had decreasing admission rates for last two decades as the number of qualified applicants rises and the places remain stagnant. Strange rumours abound held by both parents and students on admission ranging from thieving unqualified AA students so hated among Asian parents to secretive ivy-league guarantee consultants talked about by others. A multi-billion dollar industry catering to the need for parents to prep their kids for college has sprung up branching from traditional Standardized testing agencies to focus on turning teens into “Well-rounded, Passionate and Committed” Students as universities have changed their entrance metrics chasing the futile goal of perfect students
What exactly is the main driving factor in this massive dispropriate increase in attention, pressure and resource being dedicated to college admission?. A simple answer would be population growth, the world population is still increasing and thanks to rapid economic development in China and India, more people than ever before have the economic capability to apply and enter into elite institutions. The data seems to bear it out with will college application to the ivy league doubling from 2007 to the current admission cycle of 2018
Yet population nor economic growth can’t explain the entire difference as over the same time frame population growth was 13% or if adjusted back 20-years to account for the age those students were born 18%. The rise in applications also seemed to be independent of most economic measures with the increase of application remaning constant during the great recession and in fact, ever increased in our current global economic boom.
The only factor that seemed to remain constant through the entire rise in application seems to be inequality among the upper-middle class that applies, while global inequality has fallen thanks to globalisation reducing national difference. Inequality within nations has surged especially among the upper-middle class that makes up the supermajority of college applicants
Income growth among the top 5% that make up the applicants to those colleges have been skewed heavily towards the top 1%. Income growth for most in the quintile has remained constant but as seen in the graph above all those who move back backwards face income stagnation and even falls.
Nothing sells products better than fear for their children, and fear of their kids falling backwards on the economic pyramid has led to a myopic focus on getting their kids into elite institutions to prevent such falling back. The individuals connections between the upper-middle class and the super-wealthy has become more important in determining income mobility than other factor has also fueld this boom.
It is time to stop spending our money in the pursuit of a zero-sum college admission game where every win requires somebody else to loose and instead acknowledge the real problem within our social system. Income immobility for those that don’t have contact with the super-wealthy