A Response to '#1 National Rich Kid University'

On October 03, a Daily Princetonian opinion column titled #1 National Rich Kid University admonished members of the campus community for celebrating Princeton’s seventh-straight first-place finish in U.S. News & World Report’s annual college and university rankings, arguing Princeton’s commitment to its number one rank plays an integral role in the perpetuation of inequality. The column’s critique may be well-intentioned, yet it offers an oversimplified account of the factors U.S. News and World Report considers to rank colleges and universities. It also underappreciates the University’s commitment to increase the socio-economic diversity of the student body for years to come. Accordingly, the Board writes to reaffirm the University’s excellence in the programs that have earned it the first-place rank, and to critique the column’s account of “Princeton’s status as a bastion of upper-class privilege.”

The Prince column cites a POLITICO review, which contends U.S News & World Report’s formula for ranking colleges and universities creates incentives for universities to favor wealthy students in the admissions process. A closer look at the formula reveals Princeton’s practices are not nearly problematic as the column portrays them to be, especially when compared to practices of institutions sitting below Princeton in the USNWR rankings. U.S. News has fifteen independent metrics on which it ranks colleges and universities; these metrics can be lumped into seven categories. Graduation and retention rates represent 22.5% of the ranking formula. Universities earn highest ranks by offering robust financial and academic support systems to enable students to graduate within four years. Part of the reason Princeton consistently ranks as the top university in the country is because it is effective at offering students a clear four-year path to graduation. The Board recognizes students at lower-ranked universities typically fail to graduate within four years for financial reasons, often because financial aid packages are insufficient and students are forced to work part-time while attending school part-time.

Next, the opinion piece claims Princeton spends excessively on undergraduate students and faculty as a second means to inflate its ranking, citing another Prince oped in which the columnist highlights the high cost of providing food at public lectures and receptions. It attempts to link tuition collected from wealthy families to excessive spending on food and other perks for students – an argument first made about Bowdoin College by Malcolm Gladwell in his podcast, Revisionist History. It may be true that Bowdoin accepts more wealthy students in order to maintain its first-place “Best Dining Hall in the Nation” rank; however, the same cannot be said of Princeton. Over fifty-percent of Princeton’s operating budget is drawn from the endowment rather than from tuition dollars.

The column goes so far as to claim Reunions embodies Princeton’s culture of excessiveness, failing to acknowledge that Reunions represents the culmination of Princeton’s annual giving campaign. The hallmark event acts as important link between alumni and the University such that all alumni are incentivized to make gifts to the University. Reunions is certainly a larger celebration of alumni loyalty than other annual reunion events at peer institutions. However all students benefit from alumni loyalty and the alumni giving facilitated by Reunions. Moreover, the column suggests the Admissions Office admits children of alumni to incentivize giving. Surely the columnist would agree a three-day celebration in the end of May is a better way to maintain a loyal alumni body than promising to eventually admit the children of all of Princeton’s alumni. In short, while the column paints alumni loyalty in negative terms, the reality is that nearly 60% of all Princeton students benefit from this loyalty vis-à-vis scholarships supported by endowments.

Finally, the piece claims that Princeton tokenizes Pell Grant students, who make up nearly 20% of the Class of 2021, a significant increase from the composition of recent classes in which fewer than 10% of students were Pell Grant recipients. The Board does not contend that Princeton is a perfect institution, yet we must acknowledge the current administration’s commitment to making Princeton more accessible for students from underrepresented backgrounds. Specifically, the University recently allowed applications from transfer students for the first time in decades, and President Eisgruber intends to expand the undergraduate student body by adding a new residential college within the next ten years. He has been quoted in the New York Times discussing his commitment to diversity at Princeton.

In conclusion, we hope that the column’s author and those who share the author’s view will attempt to evaluate the merits of the practices that land Princeton at the top of U.S. News and World Report’s annual college rankings. These practices are well-conceived by the University to benefit all students, and they moreover confer the most benefits on the least advantaged students.