None of the parents involved in the recent college admissions bribery scandal tried to get their kids into Caltech or MIT, the sort of universities where students are generally expected to acquire skills relevant to a productive career. As it turns out, parents pay obscene sums to marshal their offspring into elite schools not for the sake of education, but to secure their offspring’s socioeconomic status.
Successful parents in the upper class can leave money to their children, but that doesn’t guarantee entrée into the social elite. The more reliable way for powerful parents to buy power for their children is through a name-brand, exclusive education.
Jared Kushner’s father famously secured Harvard acceptance for his son with a $2.5 million charitable contribution. A direct financial bequest of the same size to Kushner from his father would have been subject to a 40 percent estate tax. When deciding how to best allocate his progeny’s inheritance, Charles Kushner chose the tax-deductible one. Amortized over two kids, that university donation looks like an attractive investment indeed.
As any remaining illusion of a college meritocracy swirls down the drain, there remains one school where students are still admitted based on unadulterated academic aptitude: Caltech.
No bonus points for legacy applicants, nor for star athletes. Even if an underqualified student does happen to slip in, they don’t have an easy way out. The California Institute of Technology does not engage in grade inflation, and the four-year graduation rate stands at 79 percent, well below that of its elite peers.