Brooks on Higher Education Creating Inequality
David Brooks with a fascinating op ed:
One of the features of the Obama years is that we get to witness an enormous race, which you might call the race between meritocracy and government. On the one side, there is the meritocracy, which widens inequality. On the other side, there is President Obama’s team of progressives, who are trying to mitigate inequality. The big question is: Which side is winning?
First, there is our system of higher education, which is like a giant vacuum cleaner that sucks up some of the smartest people from across the country and concentrates them in a few privileged places.
Smart high school students from rural Nebraska, small-town Ohio and urban Newark get to go to good universities. When they get there they often find a culture shock.
They’ve been raised in an atmosphere of social equality and now find themselves in a culture that emphasizes the relentless quest for distinction — to be more accomplished, more enlightened and more cutting edge. They may have been raised in a culture that emphasizes roots, but they go into a culture that emphasizes mobility — a multicultural cosmopolitanism that encourages you to go anywhere on your quest for self-fulfillment. They may have been raised among people who enter the rooms of the mighty with the nerves of a stranger, but they are now around people who enter the highest places with the confident sense they belong.
But the system works. In the dorms, classrooms, summer internships and early jobs they learn how to behave the way successful people do in the highly educated hubs. There’s no economic reason to return home, and maybe it’s not even socially possible anymore.
The highly educated cluster around a few small nodes. Decade after decade, smart and educated people flock away from Merced, Calif., Yuma, Ariz., Flint, Mich., and Vineland, N.J. In those places, less than 15 percent of the residents have college degrees. They flock to Washington, Boston, San Jose, Raleigh-Durham and San Francisco. In those places, nearly 50 percent of the residents have college degrees.
As Enrico Moretti writes in “The New Geography of Jobs,” the magnet places have positive ecologies that multiply innovation, creativity and wealth. The abandoned places have negative ecologies and fall further behind.