Wealthy and educated parents contribute to their children‘s achievement by supplementing their children‘s education in a variety of ways. Their families have easier access to necessary educational materials like text books, computers and Wi-Fi access.
Wealthy students have greater access to cultural enrichment opportunities, tutoring services and extracurricular activities. To be born into a middle- or upper-class family in the United States disproportionately means a high-quality, better funded school in a safer and healthier neighborhood, not to mention the higher likelihood to afford higher education at all.
Racial disparities persist in higher education access, as well. Higher education admissions are weighed heavily on secondary school performance, which disproportionately privileges those from higher quality high schools.
Racial disparities are reflected in test scores, enrollment in gifted and talented programs, dropout and graduation rates, and in student discipline data.
We live in country that promotes the myth of a meritocracy in higher education, where the moment of the fat envelope arriving in the mail and the images of a child excitedly opening the results of their future occupies entire channels on YouTube. And we fail to see the perverse nature of such a system, where opportunity comes to those who can afford it, and where such status is as definitively predicted by the neighborhood and family one is born into as ever.
Breaking down the seemingly intractable barriers to post-secondary success for those who do not already enjoy extraordinary privilege is a national challenge worth pursuing. It is right and justified to be outraged at the latest scandal in higher education.
It is short-sighted, however, to look past the systemic, historic, and racist structures — accentuated by this latest pay-for-access scheme — that have been here all along and that deserve our action and attention just as urgently.