Interesting Doings at The Curmudgeon’s Alma Mater

The Curmudgeon attended college at the University of Pennsylvania. Some people are impressed by this. Don’t be. He realized long ago, maybe even while he was still a student there, that while Penn truly is one of the great academic institutions in this country, its undergraduate programs, at least in his day, were…mediocre at best. Why? Because none of the people who are responsible for Penn being one of the great academic institutions in this country would ever dirty their hands doing something as menial as teach undergraduates. So who taught undergraduates? Mostly graduate students, some of them young enough that their faces still bore the marks of adolescent acne. Coming from a family in which no one had ever attended a four-year college and from a high school in which the only college guidance counselor was an ancient woman who did nothing more than process college applications – not a small job in a school in which the average graduating class had about 900 students – The Curmudgeon had no idea what the difference was between a college and a university and, as you can plainly tell from this paragraph, still holds a grudge against the university for what he felt was an overpriced, underwhelming undergraduate education.

That and, of course, that first fundraising pitch letter, which arrived in February of 1981, two months after The Curmudgeon graduated and at a time when unemployment was 11 percent – higher than at any time during the recession of 2008-2010 – and he still had not found a job. The Curmudgeon’s response to this horrendously timed plea for a contribution was so clear, so strong, and so sharp – surely you don’t have trouble envisioning this – that he has never received another money-grubbing pitch letter again from his alma mater.

It has been the bane of his professional existence, moreover, that in his past three jobs, all with small consulting firms, the same University of Pennsylvania has been a client of his employer and he has been forced to put aside his disdain for the university to help advance his interests. (And he is proud to say that he believes he has done so successfully and that no one associated with either his employers or the university would ever be able to discern his antipathy based on his work for his least favorite client.)

Nevertheless, The Curmudgeon is always tickled when he reads something negative about his alma mater, whether it was the discovery in the late 1980s of how animals were being abused in its research labs for medical research or the published reports very recently that the University of Pennsylvania, despite the considerable lip service it pays to being a part of and serving its community, which is located in a very large low-income community, actually has very few low-income students in its classrooms.

How few?

So glad you asked.

In mid-December, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a study found that

before attending Penn, 70 percent of U.S. students surveyed had lived in zip codes in the top two quintiles of median income. Not one student in the study came from a zip code in the lowest quintile of median income, and just 5 percent were from the second-lowest.

Not a single student from a zip code in the lowest quintile of median income and just five percent from the second lowest.

Even though the school is located smack dab in the middle of a low-income community.

It takes a pretty special skill to do something like that, don’t you think?

So just a day later, when The Curmudgeon ran across an article in that same Philadelphia Inquirer titled “Top colleges look to enroll more low-income students,” he thought to himself “Surely Penn is among those schools.”

Surely it is not.

According to the article, this effort is called the American Talent Initiative, and its founding members, according to its web site, are:

  • Amherst
  • Bates
  • Dartmouth
  • Davidson
  • Duke
  • Franklin & Marshall
  • Georgetown
  • Georgia Tech
  • Harvard
  • Johns Hopkins
  • Lehigh
  • Ohio State
  • Pomona
  • Princeton
  • Rice
  • Spelman
  • Stanford
  • University of California at Berkeley
  • UCLA
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Michigan
  • University of North Carolina
  • University of Richmond
  • University of Texas
  • University of Washington
  • Vanderbilt
  • Vassar
  • Washington University of St. Louis
  • Williams
  • Yale

Conspicuous in its absence: the University of Pennsylvania.

So when you consider the school’s extraordinary track record for failing to admit low-income undergraduates, even though it is obligated to provide a LOT of scholarships to students who attend Philadelphia public schools – The Curmudgeon received one of those scholarships – you have to wonder: is the school’s low enrollment of low-income undergrads just a coincidence?

Or is it by design?

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