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How Berkeley is better than Stanford

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OCTOBER 09, 2017

It was a sweaty, political summer. I was feeling the Bern at my community college’s weekly Bernie Sanders meeting, and while disappointing results had eclipsed our youthful optimism, a sudden rush of electric suspense pervaded. With a hushed snippet preceding subsequent murmurs, one of my peers dashed outside. Like a spray of Axe in a middle school locker room, the news spread far and phenomenally quickly — my peer, a transfer student, had gotten into Stanford University.

Realistically speaking, Stanford might have UC Berkeley beat in sports, prestige, infrastructure and many academic fields, but gaze long into the Cardinal, and an abyss will stare back at you. I’m here to tell you that UC Berkeley is better than Stanford, but not for the petty propagandist reasons you’ve heard before. Stanford, like many private institutions, just doesn’t see the value in having transfer students.

Stanford consistently places in the top five of most college rankings — well above UC Berkeley — but such metrics never consider friendliness toward nontraditional or community college transfers. Its harsh transfer acceptance rate of 1-2 percent is just part of a larger indifference, if not outright prejudice, toward the poor and disadvantaged. Stanford and UC Berkeley is a tale of two colleges, but the real story is just how inaccessible and unmarketed top-tier education is to those outside of the wealthy, well-connected aristocracy.

I attended a competitive high school, so I’m used to the paranoia over small shifts in arbitrary college rankings. Yet, not once have I heard a single discussion about class-mobility-based outcomes, where schools like Stanford perpetuate an already-established cycle of poverty. For clarification, nearly as many of its students come from the top 1 percent of income earners as the bottom 60 percent. In more palpable terms, Stanford has more $630,000-plus students than it does $65,000 and below. The same data set shows that roughly 4 percent of UC Berkeley students are from the top 1 percent, while about a third of students are from the bottom 60 percent income bracket.

If private schools such as Stanford were to drastically increase their intake of transfers, most of whom are lower-income, they could greatly increase economic diversity and benefit from the unique experiences and ideas of parents, the working class, veterans and community college students in general. These key viewpoints matter when graduates of these elite schools go on to become leaders of technology, politics and the economy.

Finely trimmed-to-a-T lawns and saccharinely polished corridors intentionally make it clear that the affluent Palo Alto school revels in its low acceptance rate of about 5 percent. If inaccessibility is the rule, transferring is certainly not the exception: Each year, Stanford admits close to 30 transfer students. To this day, the aforementioned acceptee from De Anza College remains enshrined as the tall tale image of that one community college student who managed to break into the cardinal safe. Meanwhile, at a transfer acceptance rate of 24 percent, UC Berkeley admitted 214 De Anza College students last year alone.

Years of kissing Ivy League ass cannot be easily be forgotten. Naturally, private school prestige seems mutually exclusive with friendliness toward transfer students, who are generally assumed to be lazier and less intelligent. But Northwestern, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Rice, Columbia and many other expensive private schools all have far higher transfer acceptance rates that are more proportionally aligned with their regular admit rates. USC is a stellar example of a brand-name school seriously invested in both transfers and lower-income students, admitting thousands of transfers at a rate of 33 percent.

Nonetheless, the most-esteemed universities fail to streamline a coherent transfer process because they honestly just don’t care. At De Anza, I could use a single hand to count the number of community college students I knew who even bothered to fill out the Common App, despite the generous amounts of financial aid offered by many private schools. Take a stroll through a community college, and the outreach presence of UCs, CSUs and smaller private schools becomes quickly apparent. From the perspective of a community college student, these institutions at the very least recognize your existence.

There is a lot to say of UC Berkeley’s handling of the transfer community, but it still attempts to walk the talk. Money-hoarding, prestige-circle-jerking giants such as Stanford might express the “important role” of transfers, but their selection process and nonexistent community college outreach say otherwise. And the reality is, they just won’t care until the college-ranking hegemony is seriously challenged by asking a simple yet never-considered question — what is the purpose of your glowing prestige if you aren’t accessible to a socioeconomically diverse range of students?

Neil McClintick writes the Monday blog on transfer student troubles. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @neil_park.

AUGUST 16, 2018