I loved university and had an A minus average over my undergraduate years. I transferred to McGill for the latter part of my studies and they generously admitted me even though they had a few doubts about the University of Victoria's standards. But the trick at McGill was not to get admitted, but to graduate! In my Concert Diploma studies I noticed that students in that program and in the master's degree in performance had a high failure rate. In both these programs you had to give public recitals that were marked by a jury of professors. About 50% failed and had to go before a committee to explain why they should be given a second chance. Tough, but that is how it goes in the performing arts. McGill is not too hard to enter, but a lot tougher to get out of with a degree.
This is all inspired by a column in the New York Times by David Brooks in which he reveals some disquieting trends:
Over the past generation, members of the college-educated class have become amazingly good at making sure their children retain their privileged status. They have also become devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.
Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution recently published a book called “Dream Hoarders” detailing some of the structural ways the well educated rig the system.
The most important is residential zoning restrictions. Well-educated people tend to live in places like Portland, New York and San Francisco that have housing and construction rules that keep the poor and less educated away from places with good schools and good job opportunities.
These rules have a devastating effect on economic growth nationwide. Research by economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti suggests that zoning restrictions in the nation’s 220 top metro areas lowered aggregate U.S. growth by more than 50 percent from 1964 to 2009. The restrictions also have a crucial role in widening inequality. An analysis by Jonathan Rothwell finds that if the most restrictive cities became like the least restrictive, the inequality between different neighborhoods would be cut in half.
Reeves’s second structural barrier is the college admissions game. Educated parents live in neighborhoods with the best teachers, they top off their local public school budgets and they benefit from legacy admissions rules, from admissions criteria that reward kids who grow up with lots of enriching travel and from unpaid internships that lead to jobs.From what I have been reading in other places lately, once you are in one of these colleges, they are so indulgent to the students that you really have no worries about graduating. The average mark in many places is an A. Studies have shown that there is little or no improvement in critical thinking after four years of college. Students are afforded luxury accommodations and "safe spaces" that shield them from contrary opinions. Indeed, as long as you are careful to parrot all of your professor's ideological positions, you are guaranteed a high mark! Exceptions, of course, for the hard sciences and for music schools that still follow the traditional curriculum.
On the whole, I think that the approach McGill favored, easy admission and difficult graduation, is far superior to the current one: admission so difficult that only the well-connected can manage it, followed by a perfunctory education and guaranteed graduation.
For our envoi, let's listen to a performance from the McGill School of Music.