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A twist on a common narrative

A long-time reader sent me the LA Times’ latest story on the plight of the undocumented immigrant (or as they say “illegal immigrant”) student at a four-year university.

Before I read the story, I thought it’d be just like many of the other mainstream media stories I’d read about undocumented students. These articles usually focus on the valedictorians and other high achievers. That doesn’t surprise me. It appeals to the many who buy into the meritocratic ideals underlying the myth of the American dream. If only you work hard enough, you can make it!

It’s rare to read a story about the undocumented student who is not at the top of her class, doesn’t have an inflated GPA due to dozens of honors and AP classes, and scored only okay on standardized admissions tests. Yet she does exist, and she deserves an opportunity at higher education too.

Thus, I was glad to read Justin Song’s article on Karina an undocumented/AB 540 student from Mexico. She graduated from San Pedro high school last June. She was not admitted to her first choice school, San Diego State, but was admitted to UCLA.

Like other AB 540 students, Karina is ineligible for most forms of financial aid. Since she doesn’t have a SSN, she can’t submit a FAFSA. She saved her money from her job and got some help when staff at the Boys & Girls Club held a fundraiser. Once she started UCLA, she faced some other challenges like the tough commute and not being able to get the classes she wanted.

The reader who emailed me suggested I email the writer and pass on advice about UCLA resources. It’d be a shame to see her leave due to finances or pressure. Rather than email the writer, I checked the Underground Undergrads blog. As I expected, Matías posted an excerpt from the story as well as some information:

I remember that same feeling, and I gotta say I never got to look right or act right in the UCLA bubble. And for the record on Karina, who is now more integrated into the IDEAS family, she might have given up on that a bit, too, since I usually see her carrying her skateboard. She doesn’t have to go through four years of this commute and this uncertainty: support the DREAM Act.

I’ll hold back on the email to the reporter. It looks like Matías and IDEAS — a campus organization for AB 540 students and their supporters — will make sure Karina does well.

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19 thoughts on “A twist on a common narrative

  1. I liked the story, too. It was slightly disconcerting to see some pessimistic reactions from the AB540 students who have gotten used to the meritocratic narrative.

    Anyway, Karina is on top of things and gonna make things happen, just watch! Thanks for posting this, Cindy.

    PS: Did you get a ticket for Fabulosos Cadillacs?

  2. It’s interesting reading the contrast of how different people take this news. You have the people who I would call “general opponents of affirmative action” deriding UCLA’s decision and then you have people like yourself, “general proponents of affirmative action” applauding UCLA’s decision. Its one of the beautiful things of blogging, I get to see both sides represented, in almost an instant.

    One of the stark differences between the two sides is the focus. Proponents of affirmative action tend to focus on the symbolic nature of the event. Now this girl, an illegal immigrant, has a chance at “the American dream”. Whereas the opponents of affirmative action tend to focus on the results (one can make an argument that this is also a political divide, but thats another topic for another day). Does getting admitted into a highly competitive school like UCLA increase her odds of graduating or decrease them? Is it better to graduate from UCLA with a C average or maybe Cal State Long Beach with a B+, A- average? Do graduation rates of “affirmative actionesque” students also count, or is it just admittance rates that count?

    Heres the difference between De La Cruz’s grades and the average UCLA student:

    The average UCLA freshman boasted a 4.22 GPA in 10th and 11th grades, according to the most recent data posted by the school, and De La Cruz had a 3.365 at San Pedro High when she applied. She got a 21 out of a possible 36 on the ACT college admissions exam, ranking her in the 48th percentile in California. She scored 380 out of a possible 800 on an SAT subject test, putting her in the third percentile nationwide.

    Remember, even San Diego State wouldn’t accept her on these grounds, let alone UCLA. She even has to take a remedial english course! On top of this she has a 2.5 hour commute each way. Imagine the competition she will be up against?

    Personally, I think this was a selfish, stupid, and not well thought out decision by UCLA. To put a teenager in this position, when the school knows the overwhelming odds against her, is just plain wrong. She’d been much better off just going to Cal State Long Beach, it would have been cheaper, more convenient, more conducive to her learning needs and not to be ignored, much more diverse than UCLA…yeah, it wouldn’t have impressed the neighbors as much, but in the real world the difference between UCLA and, say Cal State LA, is not that much. Most engineering companies, for example, pay a ~3k premium between going to one or the other. When you factor in school costs, work promotions you will later get, and work experience…its pennies.

    But hey…maybe her future is not whats really important here. Maybe whats really important is alleviating the guilt of those professors and administrators that work at UCLA, and knowing that few institutions are more responsible for inequality than theirs.

  3. weird, your name popped into my head too after reading the story, but I too also checked the underground grads blog.

    @ Hispanic pundit ~ What you write may be true, but you don’t have a real understanding of where she is coming from so it’s harder for you to comprehend the logic. I for one support her in her quest because i know where she is coming from.

  4. Where “she is coming from” is irrelevant…what’s important is whether she is academically ready. Besides, based on the article it looks like – sadly – I am right, not you. After all, she did get a C+ in a class that other UCLA students consider an “easy A”…and this is just the beginning (who doesn’t get an A in art appreciation?).

    I do wish her well though and maybe she will do better. But studies have shown – most prominently, by a UCLA professor at that – that students admitted to higher universities that are academically substantially below the average acceptance level do significantly worse off – they either stay at the bottom end of the class, barely getting by, and/or have a significantly higher drop out rate. Had they went to a school more in line with their academic achievements, they’d come out with higher grades and a significantly higher chance of even graduating (not to mention cheaper, and in this case, significantly more convenient).

    My point in all is not to pick on De La Cruz: Its that you have to take more than just acceptance rates into account. Students are more than mere numbers. How they perform in school, their probability of graduating, and their overall success after college are also important. It seems to me that those who openly cheer for De La Cruz’s UCLA acceptance have completely ignored the latter.

  5. Matias,
    I think we all buy into that narrative to a certain extend. I can’t say I would have admitted her if I was an admission reader (and this is knowing all I do about retention and success of Latinas). And yes, I got my tickets!

    Random Hero,
    I thought of you too when I read this article.

    HP,
    The students who told Karina Life Science was an easy A misled her. I work with science students and know well that no LS class is an easy A. In fact, there’s no real easy A general education class. It’s UCLA. The classes are going to be challenging and students are going to be required to work.

    You write Students are more than mere numbers yet you focused on the numbers above. UCLA admissions readers consider the numbers and more. There’s also a supplemental review for special cases, these students are handled by senior members of the admissions staff.

    If UCLA admitted students solely on numbers, they’d be admitting well over the ~11,000 target, which yields a freshman class of ~4,500. If UCLA admitted all 4.0 and above students, they’d admit 23,490 or 45.09% of applicants (source). Thus, they got to get in to less quantifiable aspects of a student’s achievement. This brings me to my next point.

    Where she is coming from IS relevant when it comes to admissions at UCLA and at Berkeley, as the two systems are virtually identical. In fact, the student’s achievement is considered within her context. She’s compared to other students from her high school, schools with similar APIs, and similar demographic (e.g., single family, low income, etc). You may not think it’s important, but it was considered.

    Pointing to Richard Sander isn’t too useful when discussing undergraduate admissions. He’s talking about law students. Moreover, he doesn’t have the data he needs to truly back up his hypothesis. What may be more relevant is William Bowen and Derek Bok’s The Shape of the River. Their study of 80,000+ students at 28 selective institutions showed that black students had favorable outcomes and were not set up to fail. In fact, “the more selective the college attended, the lower the black drop out rate.” The black students in their sample graduated at high rates, 90% of those who pursued graduate studies completed their degree.

    The cost is irrelevant as admissions decisions are need-blind. I’m pretty sure potential commute is not considered.

    Is Karina academically prepared? By the minimum standards, sure. She completed the A-G requirements with at least a 3.0 and took the required admissions exam. There’s no minimum SAT or ACT score unless a student tries to bypass A-G and be admitted through examination alone. Her scores were low compared to other UCLA admitted students (see link above), but UCLA admits students from throughout the spectrum of eligibility. The average may be 4.22, but there’s a couple hundred in the 3.3-3.69 and 3.7-3.99 brackets each.

    I think Karina is academically prepared. She may have struggled and needs to take a remedial course for English composition, but that happens sometimes. She still has time to be successful. The first quarter is always tough.

    I don’t think anyone is “cheering for acceptance.” We didn’t make that decision. We also didn’t set admissions standards, that’s up to faculty and administration. When they set those standards, they do so in consideration of likeliness to do well academically at UCLA. I’m not sure how they consider “overall success after college.” I know graduation rates are well tracked, but no one has ever asked me about whether I’m successful after graduation or not.

    I cheer on Karina and I’m glad students like her have a chance of being admitted to UCLA. I don’t think we need a campus full of students with 4.4 GPAs and 2100 SAT scores.

  6. I agree that non-academic experience matters – but only to a point. In De La Cruz’s case it was the overwhelming factor. I know this may come as a shock to UCLA administrators, but growing poor in the United States makes it more difficult to succeed at UCLA, not easier. Sure, the different perspective may be helpful in certain fields, but only to a point – after that it’s a clear harm (you say her class was not an easy A, but I doubt her Latino peers would have lied to her…besides, she took one less class than she’d have liked – imagine her grades had she taken that additional class?) .

    You write, The average may be 4.22, but there’s a couple hundred in the 3.3-3.69 and 3.7-3.99 brackets each. Its also important to remember she got a 3.3 at San Pedro High School – not, say, suburban High where many other UCLA students went to school. San Pedro High school is a luke warm school at best. I know this, my dad lives in the LA strip of Torrance, not far from San Pedro. Practically all my family (and its big!) on my dads side lives in the Harbor Area. I went to a similar school, Stephen White Jr High School for a semester (before being kicked out for fighting, but thats another story!) – a school that takes in students from Carson and Wilmington. Basically if you went to class, did your homework, and spent maybe 10% more time doing your homework than your classmates you are almost guaranteed a 3.0 and above…not much lower than the 3.3 she got. Again, this is probably why San Diego State rejected her.

    I want to stress that this is not intended to bash De La Cruz – though I am sure that is partly how it comes across – my point here is to stress the after affects of what happens when students get accepted to schools that are significantly higher than their academic talents. UCLA professors Sanders has followed the data through regarding law students, but he sees the same general pattern in other majors and undergraduates (at UCLA, after all, that is where he teaches, so he is directly relevant to this discussion). Remember, his point is in analyzing affirmative action, and affirmative action is more of a factor in undergraduate admission than graduate.

    I am curious, does the study you quote by William Bowen and Derek Bok look only at black students who got admitted to schools where they were academically underqualified or is it just black students in general? Remember, I am not denying that minorities who are academically similar to their peers do poorly at selective Universities, I am arguing that anybody, minority or not, who attends selective universities with an academic record significantly lower than their peers perform in the bottom level and have a significantly higher drop out rate. Do you have data showing otherwise? Cindylu writes regarding Sanders, “Moreover, he doesn’t have the data he needs to truly back up his hypothesis.” Well, he does have data supporting his hypothesis, as Gail Heriot, member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, wrote, “so far his work has held up to scrutiny at least as well as that of his critics, all fair-minded scholars agree that more research is necessary before the “mismatch thesis” can be definitively accepted or rejected.”

    But thats the problem: UCLA and other selective Universities don’t care about drop out rates or performance, they only publish acceptance rates. Professor Sanders has been trying to get a hold of further data that either definitively proves his case or disproves it…but UCLA and other selective Universities won’t give him that data. They won’t give him the drop out rates of students who are admitted significantly below their academic qualifications of their peers. They wont give him data on the performance of said students at school. They wont give him, in the case of law, bar exam pass rates. I wonder why? A little scared of what it might show?

    Gail Heriot writes:

    Some of the same people who argue Mr. Sander’s data are inconclusive are now actively trying to prevent him from conducting follow-up research that might yield definitive answers. If racial preferences really are causing more harm than good, they apparently don’t want you — or anyone else — to know….

    Students who attend schools where their academic credentials are substantially below those of their fellow students tend to perform poorly.

    The reason is simple: While some students will outperform their entering academic credentials, just as some students will underperform theirs, most students will perform in the range that their academic credentials predict. As a result, in elite law schools, 51.6% of black students had first-year grade point averages in the bottom 10% of their class as opposed to only 5.6% of white students. Nearly identical performance gaps existed at law schools at all levels. This much is uncontroversial…

    Specifically, Mr. Sander found that when black and white students with similar academic credentials compete against each other at the same school, they earn about the same grades. Similarly, when black and white students with similar grades from the same tier law school take the bar examination, they pass at about the same rate. (emphasis mine)

    I encourage you to read the article in full. It can be found here.

    So let me reemphasize: my point here is to point out the after affects of what De La Cruz will go through after the UCLA admission graduates pat themselves on the back for striking out for “another poor minority”. Its something that few people take into account but its a very real part of the whole process. That’s all I am saying.

  7. Momo says:

    Reading HP’s responses is always a downer. He always has to bring you back to some grim reality. I’m still happy for Karina because she gets a chance at making something big out of her experience at UCLA. That’s all we really want–the opportunity to “play on the same field.”

    We really should have success rates after graduation to prove that many of our minority “charity” cases do achieve success. My two cents: none of my first generation college-goer latino friends whom I met at UCLA dropped out. They may have been temporarily disowned by their parents or made to skip a quarter or drop a class to handle some drama at home, but they graduated. Several pursued graduate degrees including myself… and I took remedial English my first quarter y que! It made be a better writer. Nearly failed two classes but re-took them. Still graduated in four years. While my small sample includes roommates, friends, their boyfriends, and their boyfriends’ friends, the point is that while we may be set up to fail from the start, resilience and support programs are there to mitigate the obstacles. Just give us a chance!

  8. Momo,

    I agree with your general point: “We really should have success rates after graduation to prove that many of our minority “charity” cases do achieve success. ” That’s all I am really asking for here…and it says something that Universities guard this data vehemently. UCLA even refuses to give it to one of its own professors. Why do you think that is? I have my suspicions.

    Regarding particular incidents, I too know some that graduated anyway but also know many that did not (especially from forums). But it also depends on what major they took. If they major in something really difficult like Physics or Mathematics, the differences with their peers is likely to be more stark and they have a higher chance of dropping out. On the other hand, if they took some quasi major like Chicano Studies, it really doesn’t matter all that much anyway, since the average in the major is also likely to be lower than the average in the school (some postulate that that is precisely why selective schools have chicano studies…to graduate their affirmative action students – its reasonable). So they have a significantly higher chance of graduating.

    Aside from drop out rates and eventual grade point average, another subtle point that I didn’t stress in my response is “for what”? What do you gain by going to UCLA vs say Cal State LA? Why should De La Cruz pay more for her education, travel a significantly longer commute (2.5 hours each way!), take shorter education sessions (quarters instead of semesters), study harder just to keep up with her peers and overall sacrifice so much just to go to UCLA instead of Cal State LB? As I said in my first comment, the success rate in the private industry (holding IQ and admission rates constant) is not that different between UCLA graduates vs Cal State LA (or Long Beach, in this case). In other words, unless you just want to impress your friends, or go into a field that is high in status as opposed to merit (teaching, government jobs, etc), the school you go to has very little bearing on your success. This is called the signaling model of education (see more here and here), and data after data seems to support this (I know it certainly does in my case).

    In conclusion, what I am arguing here is that De La Cruz is the one that is going to pay the highest cost: she will pay more for college (when she desperately needs to pay less!), travel a much longer commute, suffer through a much more rushed class schedule (quarters instead of semesters), likely (statistically) suffer worse grades and/or be much more tempted to drop out. The ones that are going to pay the least cost are the UCLA administrators who ignored her academic credentials and decided to “help out another poor minority student who couldn’t do it on their own without the benevolence of the almighty liberal”. Of course they will sleep every night comfortably, never once documenting or verifying just how well De La Cruz is doing after being admitted.

  9. Tony,
    She seems quite determined.

    Momo,
    I had a similar experience. Our people are quite resilient.

    HP,
    Re: data on graduation/persistence rates
    Graduation and persistence rates are available by race/ethnicity. I’ve seen them, but this was 5-6 years ago when I was working with a program which offered counseling and mentoring.

    UCLA guards these data vehemently because of privacy concerns (ever heard of FERPA). UCLA did not deny Sander the data. That was the California Supreme Court. Again, there were privacy concerns.

    As for your other not-so-subtle points…
    UCLA has programs set up to offer tutoring, counseling and additional assistance such as mentoring for graduate school to students just like Karina. I was part of those programs. I would have been lost without them, but I did just fine (like Momo). Maybe administrators do care!

    Should poor students with long commutes not be admitted to UCLA? What if they have great grades? Should this be considered in admissions decisions? And if so, would that be discrimination by income and geography? It seems like the folks who decide on admissions procedures can’t win. First the regents and CA voters say race/ethnicity is banned. Now when other socioeconomic factors are used, you’re still complaining.

    I agree… Karina does need to pay less. She should be getting grants and scholarships (hello, DREAM Act) and the cost of education should be lower.

  10. Final clarifications:

    I disagree with the magnitude…not the principle. As I said previously, “I agree that non-academic experience matters – but only to a point. In the De La Cruz case, it was the overwhelming factor”. You, and I presume, Momo, were not so far below the mean, so a little extra hard work on your part and you could of overcame it (not to mention the Chicano Studies major, which didn’t hurt 😉 ). This is something completely different with De La Cruz.

    Regarding the data, he doesn’t need personal information. Call it person A with grade X and ethnicity Y…but its not just UCLA, its proponents of affirmative action more generally. Again, I recommend everybody read the article (the full article in the WSJ). Its an eye opener to see how proponents of affirmative action can on the one hand criticize him for not having complete data and then work behind the scenes to prevent him from getting the data he needs, because they fear, it “may stigmatize minorities”. Apparently to proponents of affirmative action, stigma is more important than actually hurting minority education prospects.

    Regarding commute, that part was analyzing De La Cruz’s decision (“what for” paragraph), not the UCLA administrators. My point there was that her friends were giving her the best advice: why not just go to Cal State Long Beach. Going to UCLA is overrated.

  11. HP,
    I know Sanders’ research design doesn’t call for personal information. However, with such small numbers of black students at highly selective law schools, you can figure things out. Statisticians usually don’t report such small sample sizes because of privacy concerns.

    Example: I’m the only Chicana PhD student who entered my program in 2004. I’ve filled out a few questionnaires about graduate student satisfaction with the program and/or advising. When someone sees my responses, they could easily figure out who I am. Usually someone writing such a report will take steps to protect my identity. They’ll report things in the aggregate. And that’s okay. But grades are heavily guarded.

    The Bar exam takers did not give consent for their GPA and scores to be used for additional research. They don’t even know their Bar scores. All they know is whether they passed or did not pass. Why should Sanders have this data?

    How do you know for certain that non-academic background was the overwhelming factor in the decision to admit Karina? We don’t know that. Karina doesn’t know that. She would not even have been considered if she had not met the minimum academic standards. She passed the threshold and then other things were considered, as they are for every single student. By the way, there are other factors considered “academic” besides grades and test scores. For example, how many honors/AP classes did Karina take? Did she have a tough senior year schedule?

    How do you know my test scores and GPA were below the mean when I was admitted? Or that my grades when I graduated were below the mean? Why do you assume such things? I don’t think Momo nor I have discussed our high school grades and SAT scores.

    Going to UCLA is overrated.

    What about going to UCSD? Huh? It’s still a UC, and a rather selective one at that.

    Regarding commute, that part was analyzing De La Cruz’s decision (”what for” paragraph), not the UCLA administrators.

    Seems like you are picking on her as you seem to think her decision was misguided and wrong. I thought conservatives were all about personal choice… Hmmm.

  12. Cindylu,

    It was clear from the article that her grades and academic test scores were far below those of the average. So since you can partition ones background into two groups: academic and non-academic, its safe to say that her non-academic background played the overwhelming factor, especially when you factor in the numbers you gave in comment #5. But as I said earlier, my comments should not be read as particular to De La Cruz – my point here is only with regard to students who attend schools where their academic credentials are substantially below the average. If De La Cruz, either by some misreporting by the LA Times, or some extraordinary circumstance we don’t know about, does not fit this scenario, then this does not pertain to her, she is one of many examples I could have used.

    You ask, How do you know my test scores and GPA were below the mean when I was admitted? I don’t. But it was in the context of the discussion. This discussion, as I have said upteenmillion times, is about students who attend schools where their academic credentials are substantially below the average. I am arguing that their GPA will be significantly lower and their drop out rate significantly higher than if they had just went to a school where their academic credentials were more in line with the average. Memo understood this point, and within that context rebutted with personal experience. You responded in kind. Hence, the assumption. Again, let me reiterate my point: this whole discussion, atleast to me, is about students who attend schools where their academic credentials are substantially below the average. I am arguing that said students will have a significantly lower gpa and a higher drop out rate. So responding with students in general you know graduating, or personal experience, even though these students had grades more in line with the academic mean, does not address my point. I never denied that minorities who are academically similar to their peers do poorly at selective Universities, I am arguing that anybody, minority or not, who attends selective universities with an academic record significantly lower than their peers perform in the bottom level and have a significantly higher drop out rate.

    You ask, What about going to UCSD? Huh? It’s still a UC, and a rather selective one at that. The reasons why I go to UCSD are simple: its convenient and its free (my company pays for it, even parking). Had San Diego State been in a more convenient location, I’d go there instead. And here is the point: from my company’s point of view, the two are the same. They really don’t care. What matters is performance on the job. I don’t get a special bonus, or special parking lot, or looked for promotion more closely if I have a degree from UCSD vs San Diego State. This is typically the case in the private industry (you will see, when ever you get the courage to leave the comfort of academia), where merit is more of a factor. The difference usually comes in where merit has been replaced by status (teaching, government, union jobs).

  13. HP,
    This is typically the case in the private industry (you will see, when ever you get the courage to leave the comfort of academia), where merit is more of a factor.

    You don’t need to get personal. Yeah, I’m in academia because I lack the courage to apply for a job in private industry. Of course!

  14. HP, I agree with you about school vs degree.
    My husband received his bachelor’s from Columbia University. He got a great job in the aero-space industry. When he needed a master’s in order to get a promotion and a hefty raise, he went to Cal State LA. It didn’t matter where the degree came from as long as he had it.
    I do wish you to elaborate on
    “The difference usually comes in where merit has been replaced by status (teaching, government, union jobs).”
    How do you figure status plays a role? Specially in teaching? Are you thinking of higher Ed.? I’d really like to know your opinion.

  15. Karina's friend says:

    Why are we basing so much on one article? You swear that the LA times was a source of all mighty truth. Maybe the writer exaggerated some points to get reactions like the ones above. Just maybe.

    Let’s focus on what’s at stake here. If she ever had to leave school, it would not be because she couldn’t hang. Privilege check time: It would be because she is *undocumented*. Period.

  16. Mooch,

    Sorry so late. I thought this discussion had died and no longer checked.

    Short Answer: In environments where competition plays a large role the method to distinguish yourself is usually merit – else companies that don’t distinguish themselves by merit go out of business.

    Long Answer: In environments where competition is absent, status becomes the distinction. Either because of human nature or the structure of incentives, I don’t know, but there is always a give and take between status and merit. Competition usually results in mitigating the human tendency towards status. So in economies where self-interest plays a lesser role status seeking becomes its substitute. Economist Arnold Kling explained it in more detail here.

    So because unions, government jobs, and academia are removed from the competitive forces that dominate the private sector, they naturally have a higher degree of status as an important indicator. For example, say you have a person with a Masters in Chicano Studies from UCLA talking to a person with the same masters in Chicano Studies but instead from Cal State LA, the person from UCLA will feel significantly superior, be admired more, and considered smarter than the Cal State LA grad even though in the private industry, both would probably be managers at McDonalds at best – and, yet, had they been in the private sector with a degree in something more meritorious, like say engineering, there is no real way to predict who would be where (I don’t want to push this too far though, because there is a link between IQ and position in the private sector, and because there is some correlation between university and IQ, the two are not 100% arbitrary – my point here is that IQ is what really matters, the school is just the signal of that IQ, the person with the same IQ going to a lower tier school will still, likely, wind up in the same position). The Cal State LA person may be the VP of the other, in other words, the degree is a very weak predictor of where you end up (for example, in my company, you have a guy who only has a bachelors from Cal State Fullerton managing and directing engineers from MIT, Stanford, UCSD who have even worked in the industry longer). In the private industry what matters most is results.

    Contrast that to areas that face little competition. In academia, to a much larger degree, what really matters is what school you went to. The person from UCLA, for example, has far more teaching positions, research positions, and overall opportunities open to her just because of the school she went to. Merit has a lower role (you should read stories of how professors from lower tiers schools are treated by upper tier professors – sometimes they dont even get heard…this would be unheard of in the private industry). This is why I say that if De La Cruz wanted to pursue a job in these status seeking environments, than it does matter a great deal whether she goes to UCLA vs Cal State LA – but its a problem, not a benefit of the system, IMHO.

    I should add one last thing here. In the case of unions, government jobs and academia, its not just human natures tendency to gravitate towards status, there is also the case of self selection. Because union jobs, government jobs and academia replace growth with stability (they give a very well protected downside in exchange for a sharp limit on the upside), people who consider themselves very motivated, intelligent, hard working individuals are gonna be more inclined to prefer a competitive environment where their traits are rewarded with opportunities for advancement and a shot at moving up fast, than a life in, say, a union or academia, for example. Whereas those who generally shy away from a competitive environment and fear job losses and a lack of security more than favor growth are going to self select towards academia, unions, and government jobs. So the long term trend is an environment that prefers status over merit even more – thereby, multiplying the status seeking involved.

    I hope that makes sense.

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