Why to give money… to big fancy Universities.

Matthew Yglesias (yes of that horrible detritus Slate, a euphemism for the institute for kids who can’t write good and wanna do other stuff not good too) has written another sure-fire winner of the philosophically and economically challenged award.  Today, he slams the giving of large gifts to elite universities with large endowments, claiming that the money is less useful there than by giving it to poor people.  He forms the argument by stating that elite universities don’t have enough poor students anyway.  Uhm??  I hope that disconnect is obvious…  Here’s a link: Click here for a trip to idiot-alley.

I don’t have much to say, except this:

1. Many people give money to universities (especially elite ones) not because they want to give more poor people access to education, but because they want to further specific research interests or provide for top teaching talent to train students who gain access to the universities, regardless of socioeconomic status.  I’m sorry, Matt, that your interests don’t align with theirs… not everybody wants what you want.

2. Many students from the lowest quintile (quartile in the article) would not have the preparation to succeed at an elite school.  In fact, attending a challenging liberal arts school as an undergraduate requires significant preparation in high-school.  Obviously, educational achievement needs to be prioritized by the family (and the student) for kids to succeed in college, a condition most prevalent in higher income families.  The most selective universities are also the most challenging – accepting students who are unprepared places them in positions of imminent failure and risks doing greater damage.  It is better to attend a school in which success is likely, even if that school is not elite.

I’m sure Matt makes the argument that money would be better spent at a non-elite school, but only if your goal is to provide support to low-income students.  Not everybody shares this goal – some people are interested in top-tier research.  Thus, the same argument could be made that money is better spent at elite universities, where research is of a higher caliber and has a greater impact on the world.

Better yet, before being a business and economics writer, you should probably have some training in business and economics… that only makes sense, right?  Maybe Matt, who went to Harvard for philosophy, should get a scholarship to improve his scholarship.