infected by elitism
05.13.05 // 1:47 a.m.

Hey, come here. I want you to know something bad about me.

Okay, you ready?

I'm an elitist.

I have the Master Plan for public higher education in California ingrained in my head. I've looked at too many Carnegie Classifications, "strat cells" from work detailing the selectivity of institutions by type, and US News & World Report's best colleges and universities rankings. I've read books like The Shape of the River and studies in refereed higher education research journals that tell us that students who go to elite institutions do better financially throughout their lives. Other studies tell us that students who start at a community college have lower educational attainment overall (once controlling for grades and other pre-college background characteristics).

I can't help it. I've been hooked on status for a long time.

***

The summer before my senior year, my cousin Bibi - the first person in my family to graduate from college - asked me what colleges I was applying to. At the time, she was spending most of the day painting a mural in one of the bathrooms. Every day, she'd see me get more brochures and letters from colleges and universities, big and small, private and public, from all over the nation. I took the PSAT in the fall and the SAT in the spring. I had pretty good scores and had checked the Mexican-American/Chicano box on race/ethnicity. I'm sure those two factors combined put me on a lot of mailing lists.

I was enamored by the glossy mailers from schools nationwide. I told Bibi I was applying to UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego Stanford, USC, and some out of state elite private schools. She responded, "it seems like you're just choosing the school because of it's name."

I didn't know what to say then. Truth be told, I wanted to go to a big school. I wanted to go to a place that people would automatically know everywhere I went. And I wanted to play in the band at football games televised on national television. I got what I wanted. All I had to say was, "I go to UCLA." I loved the responses, "wow, you must be really smart."

***

I graduated from UCLA in 2002. At the beginning of my second year working on campus as the director of a retention program for Chicana/o and Latina/o students, I decided I wanted to pursue a graduate degree in higher education. I applied to MA and PhD programs in California, the midwest and the east coast. Once again, I took status and rank of institutions and programs into account.

Last spring I was admitted to all five schools I applied to. I loved telling people where I was admitted. In fact, I still do. I like saying, "I rejected ______. Their program just didn't measure up to UCLA" or "_______ gave me a full ride fellowship, but I still turned them down."

The UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies is ranked number two in the nation (second to Harvard) and the Higher Education and Organizational Change program is ranked number two (second only to the University of Michigan). I knew this when I accepted. I knew I'd be trained at a Research I university to become a researcher and professor at another Research I. It's hard to forget this when I interact daily with students and faculty who attended those big name institutions across the nation.

***

There's a part of me that equates intelligence with degrees. And it's not only degrees from an accredited four-year college or university.

I've seen this in who I'm most attracted to. Most people will not think I'm being elitist if I see myself most compatible with someone who attended and graduated from a four-year college. I take it a step further. I think about where you went to school. If you're in California, was it a University of California (UC) campus? If so, I know you were in the top 12.5% of all graduating seniors. If you went to a Cal State campus, your value decreases in my rankings obsessed my mind. The CSU's are only comprehensive four-year institutions. They're open to the top 33% of high school graduates. And if you started off at a community college, well, you can imagine how I feel about that.

This isn't something new. I've mentioned it before. I don't know how to stop myself from thinking this way. Getting deeper and deeper into academia is only feeding my elitism more despite learning more about the American higher education system and the fact that a top 50 university might not be the best institution for a particular student and that there are numerous factors to consider when deciding what a "good school" is.

Still, it's not enough for me to have friends or boyfriends who went to college and got their degree(s). Place matters to me, and it sucks.

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Me siento: bad
Escuchando: tart - elvis costello

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