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The University Prime Directive

The University Prime Directive

(p.51) 4 The University Prime Directive
Saving Alma Mater
Ernst R. Berndt
University of Chicago Press

The broad spectrum of American higher education poses great challenges to policy makers. Currently, the best and wealthiest students enroll at the best and wealthiest colleges. Furthermore, the higher education system in the United States is adept at identifying extraordinary ability: a young math prodigy from an unknown high school in rural Arkansas, or from an impoverished school in Detroit's inner city, will seldom escape the attention of the country's Harvards and MITs. But the mass of Americans get no such special treatment, and legions of them receive mediocre educations from underfunded, poorly performing state colleges. From a public policy perspective, then, where should government support of higher education be focused? If one believes, as most people do, that the appropriate role of government is to help people who cannot help themselves, then the answer may seem clear: taxpayer dollars should be targeted at those who really need the money. But the counterargument is also persuasive. Building on weakness almost never accomplishes as much as building on strength. The chapter describes various principal submarkets that are organized roughly according to the selectivity of the schools' admissions offices.

Keywords:   public universities, college education, higher education, policy making, America

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