… Vacation Homes!  That’s what I’ve decided after reading this article in the NY Times.  Here’s what disturbed me:

This year, many of these colleges say they are more inclined to accept students who do not apply for aid, or whom they judge to be less needy based on other factors, like ZIP code or parents’ background.

Zip Code is a meaningful indicator of socio-economic status?  Here again, our effort to enumerate space will produce disastrous results.  Zip codes, like congressional districts and area codes, aren’t designed to represent the existence of a community or a homogeneous social group.  They delineate a useful area for delivering the mail.  But colleges will use them as a measure for ability to pay tuition?

My concerns are many.  First, zip codes will cut across populations, across complex social hierarchies without actually containing them.  Poor and rich may well be contained therein–unless social forces have pushed out the poor, especially minorities (or conversely, concentrated them).  So either it won’t represent what the college admissions committees are looking for, or it will double the deprivation of opportunity that comes from processes like gentrification.

Second, areas with high incomes are notoriously expensive to live in, and high income may go into paying high mortgages, high tuition, high taxes, etc.  A families financial reality might not be reflected by the income statistics of the area, and they may be less capable of paying tuition expenses out of pocket.  Conversely, success in a less affluent area may be ignored.  Such a family might be more resourceful when it comes to affording education.

Finally, there will be those areas in which the effects of poverty will be magnified.  Growing up in a poor household, going to a poor public school, now branded by applying from a poor zip.

Why vacation homes?  Because it will be the only true marker of disposable income that colleges can measure.  It has the advantages of geographic discrimination, but it would also measure families’ financial resources and resourcefulness.

(I wonder if people will fight to be included in particular zip codes–appealing to the Postal Service–as a way of increasing their social mobility.)