01/17/2008 06:07 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

College Admissions: The Formerly-Privileged Class Feels Threatened

The days when all you needed to get into Harvard, Princeton or Yale was to have a father, grandfather or great-grandfather who went to Harvard, Princeton, or Yale are long gone, right?

Of course not. We all know that legacy preferences still exist at the upper echelon universities. And even though where your daddy went to school is not considered in admissions decisions in any other country, most Americans are willing to tolerate legacy preferences because colleges have opened their doors to students from all backgrounds in recent years. Women, Jews, African Americans, Latinos, poor kids, etc. now have an opportunity to sit next to the Vanderbilts and Rockerfellers at Harvard and Yale. Right?

Not really. Ironically, just as college admission policies seem to moving away from the old school class-based approach, class ends up mattering more than ever.

A report from the Century Foundation found that preferences for students of color and/or from low-income backgrounds have actually declined over the past 30 years at selective colleges as a whole.

Some schools are trying to change this. Harvard announced a new, widely-publicized, and generous financial aid package for upper-middle income students. Yale decided to spend more of its endowment to give kids financial aid, and schools like Davidson and UVA are working to recruit economically-disadvantaged students.

However, rarely do colleges and university administrators speak openly about the reasons that the class divide has gotten so out of control.

As colleges have tried to level the playing field, open their doors and expand their applicant pool, the formerly-privileged class began to feel threatened. They perceived that their children's seats in the Ivy League were no longer secure and became determined to reinstate their advantage. They devote all their resources to preparing for college-getting their children into the right kindergartens, junior highs, high schools, sports teams, test prep classes, etc.

And now we're dealing with a massive achievement gap. I mean massive.

For example, I just wrote a book about five amazing kids from various socioeconomic backgrounds applying to Harvard. All of them graduated high school with numerous AP classes under their belts. One was an Olympic-level athlete, another did breakthrough Alzheimer's research, one was a math-whiz etc. Not all of them got into Harvard, but they were all extremely well prepared for higher education.

I am now doing research with a cohort of freshman in Baltimore colleges, all of whom went to Baltimore City High Schools. Many of these kids had only two years of math (Algebra I and II), used junior high text books for 11th and 12th grade subjects, had no access to computers (the ones at school were usually broken), and could not take their text books home because their high schools assumed that they would lose them.

I ask you: how can these kids ever compete?

Whoever said that class isn't important in America never visited a high-poverty, inner-city high school.