Decline Watch: Ivy League universities are now India’s safety schools

Decline Watch: Ivy League universities are now India’s safety schools

In its seamless blending of globalization, “rise of the rest,”  and the gnawing anxieties of upper middle-class American parents, the New York Times piece which arrives just in time for college admissions season comes pretty close to hitting the NYT trend story sweet spot. (All it needs is an animal and a health trend to achieve ultimate most-emailed status.):

NEW DELHI — Moulshri Mohan was an excellent student at one of the top private high schools in New Delhi. When she applied to colleges, she received scholarship offers of $20,000 from Dartmouth and $15,000 from Smith. Her pile of acceptance letters would have made any ambitious teenager smile: Cornell, Bryn Mawr, Duke, Wesleyan, Barnard and the University of Virginia. 

But because of her 93.5 percent cumulative score on her final high school examinations, which are the sole criteria for admission to most colleges here, Ms. Mohan was rejected by the top colleges at Delhi University, better known as D.U., her family’s first choice and one of India’s top schools.

“Daughter now enrolled at Dartmouth!” her mother, Madhavi Chandra, wrote, updating her Facebook page. “Strange swings this admission season has shown us. Can’t get into DU, can make it to the Ivies.”

Ms. Mohan, 18, is now one of a surging number of Indian students attending American colleges and universities, as competition in India has grown formidable, even for the best students. With about half of India’s 1.2 billion people under the age of 25, and with the ranks of the middle class swelling, the country’s handful of highly selective universities are overwhelmed.

This summer, Delhi University issued cutoff scores at its top colleges that reached a near-impossible 100 percent in some cases. The Indian Institutes of Technology, which are spread across the country, have an acceptance rate of less than 2 percent — and that is only from a pool of roughly 500,000 who qualify to take the entrance exam, a feat that requires two years of specialized coaching after school.

Decline watch: Like I said, this one’s going viral because, like Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, it feeds into the fears of American parents that they’re not doing enough to prepare their kids to compete with a massive influx of smart kids of India and China. But the real story here is that India doesn’t have enough elite educational institutions to meet the demand of its qualified students. The fact that students like Moulshri are willing to pay$41,736 per year for Dartmouth instead of $500 for an Indian school says a lot. 

See Ben Wildavsky’s Think Again: Education for more on this topic.