Each year, untold thousands of teenagers pretend they love picking up roadside trash and volunteering at nursing homes just for a shot to climb the coveted trellises of an Ivy League education. They do so believing that these and other elite private colleges have proven themselves to be the greatest, most honorable institutions of higher learning in the world. But before you waste half a million dollars and the four bendiest years of your adult life on them, you might want to consider the greedy, elitist nightmare you're actually walking into.
Hypothetically, if you had to hire a female or male applicant with the same Ivy League credentials, which one would you best pick? Trick question, you pick the hardworking kid from the public university so you don't have to hear the same three anecdotes about their goddamn old a cappella group every day. But if you'd have to choose, always go for the woman, who's so talented she managed to be accepted and rewarded by a system that's still allowed to treat women like it's the 19th century.
Ivy League schools have always been scholars, but not gentlemen when it comes to the treatment of female students. That sexism is even embedded in their policies. In 1972, the U.S government passed Title IX, an amendment to the Educations Act that prohibits educators from discriminating against a student based on their cooties. This anti-sexism bill was immediately implemented in all schools K to U. All, except for private colleges because Harvard, Princeton, and Yale lobbied hard to get an exemption in their undergrad submission process.
Why would these elite schools want to maintain their privilege to turn away female applicants for sexist reasons? Well, for sexist reasons obviously. Ivy Leagues believed that educating women was generally a waste of time and resources (again, this was the nineteen seventies, not the seventeen seventies) as they were only getting their "Mrs. degrees" to shop around for husbands and be slightly more interesting during cocktail parties. And since private universities consider themselves the purveyors of the finest, most exclusive education on the continent, it was their academic duty to turn away these useless women in favor of accepting as many future tobacco company VPs as they could.
Sure, that attitude may have been totally out of sight, daddy-o, back in the seventies, but private universities still cling to their exemption to this very woke day. Ironically, that's in part because Title IX did change one thing about the Ivy League admissions process: Half a century of not being discriminated against has made the number of worthy female applicants soar sky high. If they'd now have to admit both genders at the same, fair, rate the number of male students would drop to barely 40%. So in perhaps the utter worst example of affirmative action, Ivies now keep their finger on the scale for young rich men, artificially maintaining the ratio at 50-50.
Of course, modern faculties don't discriminate against their female students on the same misogynist grounds as the days of disco -- they've picked a brand new one. A 60% female student body is what admission admins fear is a kind of tipping point where people perceive you not as a regular college but as a 'women's college.' And that reputation makes you less popular with the private universities' most desired type of applicant: dumb rich dudes from dumb rich families whose dumb rich dads won't pay for an extra library wing just to have their sons attend some a pseudo-Sarah Lawrence College. Ironically, having way more women than men is believed to also cause a drop in application rates from female students, who too believe that attending predominantly female colleges won't look good on their future resume. So congratulations, Ivy League, you successfully taught entire generations that too many smart women in the same room is a bad thing.
The United States has no fewer than 56 elite private universities that receive over a billion dollars in endowments. In 2019, Harvard received $40.9 billion in endowments; what it earned in tuition was loose change compared to that enormous number. Yet despite convincing the state that they need more welfare than a thousand orphanages, the college was also allowed to turn a profit ("surplus") of $298 million. How? The same way any other billion-dollar corporation gets too keep so much of its money: hard work and innovation. Kidding. It's a combo of murky hedge fund investments and hiding money on off-shore bank accounts.
And tax breaks. So many tax breaks. Every single "Ivy League so rich" stereotype is based on some kind of exploitation of an IRS loophole. Constantly hounding down alumni donations? That's a loophole, since said donations are tax-deductible for the rich donors and tax-free for their rich colleges, meaning taxpayers also wind up doing a lot of that philanthropy. And their massive campuses that look more like the Apple kind than the local community college? Also massive tax loopholes. Ivy League real estate tends to be valued into the (tens of) billions of dollars, yet they don't pay a single cent in property tax. Instead, private colleges get to do PILOTs, payments in lieu of taxes, graciously tossing their coins directly into the caps of the local public officials to spend on a new brace for Tiny Tim -- or whatever good actual public goods do.
Except that these payments are much, much smaller than the tax they would have to pay on such vast lands. According to The Washington Post, while Georgetown could be on the hook for $31.6 million in property tax, it pays merely $16k through PILOT. Meanwhile, Stanford manages to cheat Uncle Sam, the IRS (and you) out of $80 million each year by not paying tax on its $8 billion dollar real estate empire, only having to pay one percent of that one percent. (Typical for the one percent). And like an IKEA or Amazon branch moving into town, Ivy Leagues defend these government gratuities by claiming they're great for the local economy. But local businesses often lose more money than they make selling sweater vests to preppies, having to put down much more than their fair share in property taxes to bridge the massive gap left by their shirking Ivies.
Between the endowments and lack of proper taxation, a place like Princeton manages to siphon off ten times the government assistance a similarly sized public university receives. That's so ridiculous, curbing this is one of the very few things Democrats and Republican lawmakers agree on, though until now they've always been thwarted by the powerful Ivy League lobby machine -- which is a machine in the Congressional lobby that flashes "we own your children's future" in neon lettering. However, a weird but welcome side-effect of the current administration's war on smart people is that Trump of all presidents has managed to pass a 1.4% levy on the thirty richest universities, which is estimated to bring in $200 million a year in new taxes. Because apparently it doesn't count as a socialist wealth tax if you're using it to bully nerds.
It's one of the great American success stories: A poor kid gets a full ride to an Ivy League school and while they're busting their ass in class, they're also bussing tables to make ends meet. But all that hard work finally pays off when they graduate and become the inventor of a jetpack hat. But that fairy tale is just that, an idealized story, as real-life Ron Weasleys are often far too busy roaming the halls of their hallowed institutions scrounging for scraps to make good use of their expensive education.
Low-income Ivy League students are often hungry. At Cornell University, 22% of students admit to having had to skip meals because they simply couldn't afford them. How is that possible in places with a higher concentration of wealth than the average Aladdin cave? More and more private schools now offer to pay for everything for low-income students, but at Ivies, that financial support never includes loans. Instead, personal expenses are calculated into the scholarships themselves. And since no actual money winds up in their pocket, that puts the everyday survival of these poor kids in the hands of a school board that definitely doesn't know the price of a carton of milk.
Unsurprisingly, full-ride students often have to cut corners to make scholarship ends meet by sneaking food out of the dining halls, pirating textbooks, or having no social life whatsoever -- a big dent in their college experience since networking with rich kids may be the biggest perk of an Ivy League education. They also often can't afford to fly home during the holidays, which creates its own sad absurdity when, during these school breaks, those stranded students start starving, since their sole source of sustenance (the college cafeteria) has shut its doors.
So can't these lazy free-riders just get a part-time job next to the 40 hours a day they spend studying to keep their grades up? Not really. Just because no money ever changes hands doesn't mean scholarship students don't have to pay their dues. Only now that takes the form of thousands of dollars worth of unpaid labor they're expected to perform around the school each semester. Time they can then no longer spend on working actual paying student jobs, jobs these colleges prefer to pass to their richest students anyway so they can use money they don't need to replace the Xbox they ruined trying to do a keg flip.
And with no cash, no prospects and little food, these future Fortune 500 members often fall into the typical traps of poverty, forcing them to take on massive credit card debt, apply for food stamps or engage in sex work just to survive their four years of becoming an American success story.
Racism in an Ivy League school should be logically impossible. How could someone get into a bastion of the best and brightest in the world and still be looked down on based on the color of their skin? And while Ivies definitely do their part to promote diversity on the enrollment side of things, that doesn't prepare minority students for a harsh reality. That, despite their success, they're entering the suburban cul-de-sac of higher education, a culture so rich and white it can't help but roll up the windows every time they see someone of a different skin color.
Ivy Leagues love diversity almost as much as they love telling the world they love diversity. Places like Yale and Harvard pride themselves on pushing the racial envelope when it comes to admissions, a can-do spirit that has led to some majority minority classes. Yet once class starts, these students see that their school does little to curb its ingrained, systemic racism. So while student bodies are becoming more diverse, for example, the people teaching them are not. Ivy League faculties still tend to be incredibly white, a subtle reminder that the American elite might like to see minorities on their recruiting pamphlets, but not on their payroll.
Who's also more than happy to remind them that they don't belong is the rest of the staff. Minority (most of all black male) students often observe that campus security gladly takes over from whatever racist cops they had in their neighborhood. Non-white students are much more likely to be stopped and asked for their ID's and campus cops don't have any issues with throwing black students against the walls of the buildings they're paying $40k a semester to walk into.
Then there are the other students. Ivy League white kids sometimes behave exactly as you'd expect from people whose only previous contact with minorities was yelling at their live-in Honduran maid. Minority Ivy League students still have to cope with racist slurs, chants and even attacks. And that is on top of the everyday elitist racism since spoiled rich kids are forever complaining about the dreaded specter of affirmative action slapping the silver spoon straight out of their mouths. As recent as 2012, the official Harvard college paper let a libertarian legacy trust fund kid (who's now the "head comedy writer" of a private robotics firm for peak white privilege points) go full Gervais, railing against affirmative action and comparing diversity policies to letting blind pilots fly our planes, really utilizing her elite Harvard smarts to effortlessly make both minorities and people with disabilities feel unwelcome in one sentence.
Here's something few Americans (but literally everybody else on the planet) ask themselves: What is so goddamn special about an Ivy League education anyway? Are the professors magic? Have these ancient institutions unlocked secret methods of deep-tissue brain massages? Do they use some of their billion-dollar budgets to put the Limitless drug from the movie Limitless into the water fountains?
Well, it's definitely not just the lesson plans. Ivy League professors aren't particularly smarter than other college professors who, surprise, often attended the very same elite schools. They do tend to be more famous and successful, but that doesn't necessarily improve the flavor of their teaching. On the contrary, they often have less incentive to work on their syllabus than on their next New York bestseller. In 2010, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity collated the data of the Rate My Professor website (which is more legit than it sounds) and found that these elite academics couldn't even crack the top 100 in student satisfaction. In fact, they're only outliers as educators by how much more they make, on average twice the salary of a regular (and better reviewed) U.S. college professor.
But America is the land of meritocracy, so there must be something an Ivy League education offers that regular public universities cannot. There is; it's called a master class in knowing the right people. This is part of what Harvard professor Anthony Abraham Jack calls the "hidden curriculum," the one where Ivy Leagues teach students how to act, think (or not think) and network like a one percenter -- granting them the impressive talent of just slinking into a six-figure job because you now wear the same weird secret society pin as the interviewer.
And teaching kids to belong in inner circles is a lot easier to achieve with the ones who are already inside. So despite the (if you've been paying attention) superficial attempts at championing diversity, the ideal Ivy League student was, is and will always be a rich white guy from a powerful family, someone the schools covetously refer to as a "leader" or a "DevA" or, as one dean of admissions called them, "desirable students" as opposed to worthless "top brains." Because, sure, a rocket scientist, a famous author, or the first female astronaut on Mars might be good for their already overinflated reputation, but a one-percenter alum will get their old alma mater another football stadium just in time for when his own dumbass kids need their admission forms stamped.
For more weird tangents and the wisdom he gleaned from his C- education, do follow Cedric on Twitter.