Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Malcolm Gladwell-Bowdoin College Food Fight Over Student Amenities v. Financial Aid To Low-Income Students

GBInside Higher Ed, Food Fight:

Why do some seemingly similar colleges admit more low-income students than others?

Malcolm Gladwell, the popular writer (The Tipping Point, among other books), has an answer for that question. Elite colleges that spend to have quality food and other amenities for students are making choices he finds immoral. Letting students make do with mediocre food would enable these colleges to admit more low-income students and provide them with the aid and support they need to succeed, he maintains.

In his new podcast series, Revisionist History, he makes this point by contrasting Bowdoin College, which is regularly cited by campus guides for outstanding food, with Vassar College, where students tell him the food is mediocre. Both are elite liberal arts colleges, with highly competitive admissions, respected faculty members and beautiful campuses. But Vassar enrolls a much larger share of low-income students than Bowdoin, and Gladwell blames the gourmet food Bowdoin students enjoy.

Gladwell doesn't just gently suggest that Bowdoin spend more on aid. He says that the college's dining services represent “a moral problem.” And he closes his podcast by saying, “If you’re looking at liberal arts colleges, don’t go to Bowdoin. Don’t let your kids go to Bowdoin. Don’t let your friends go to Bowdoin. Don’t give money to Bowdoin or any other school that serves amazing food in its dining hall.”

The reaction -- from Bowdoin, its alumni and higher education observers -- has been intense. While many agree that colleges can and should do much more than they are doing now to increase the admission of low-income students, many question whether Gladwell's focus on dining makes sense.

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Relax, Malcolm: students at both institutions will be malnourished intellectually with a steady diet of liberalism.

Posted by: Lag | Jul 20, 2016 9:13:09 AM

Right - forget that Bowdoin has much better career services than Vassar, that their average net costs are barely $4k/year apart and both around 1/3 of their sticker cost, that Pell Grants aren't the only way to gauge lower-income students at a given institution, that Bowdoin is a no-loans institution while Vassar is not, etc. Just more flip Gladwellian analysis by Gladwell.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jul 20, 2016 8:05:40 AM

@Sullivan. Ditto.

Posted by: Tom N. | Jul 20, 2016 7:07:29 AM

Let Malcolm open his own college and he can serve whatever food he wants.

Posted by: sullivan2day | Jul 20, 2016 5:24:25 AM