His main gripe? That with all its wealth, Harvard has not expanded the number of students to whom it offers an undergraduate degree.
Harvard spent [its] money on many things. But not a dollar went to increasing the number of undergraduates it chose to bless with a Harvard education. …That is remarkable stinginess. Harvard undergraduate degrees are immensely valuable, conferring a lifetime of social capital and prestige. The university receives many more highly qualified applicants than it chooses to admit. Because the existing class includes underqualified children of legacies, rich people, politicians, celebrities, and others who benefit from the questionable Ivy League admissions process, Harvard could presumably increase the size of its entering class by, say, 50 percent while improving the overall academic quality of the students it admits.
Carey dismisses the university’s recent expansion financial aid as merely “a fantastic public-relations coup,” on the grounds that…
…the true currency of elite higher education is admissions, not financial aid. And even more than graduate or professional programs, of which Harvard has many, undergraduate education is where colleges decide whether to narrow class divisions or make them wider.
What’s really happening here, Carey argues, is that undergraduates have become unimportant to the wealth- and prestige-obsessed institution except as window dressing.
Undergraduates are increasingly being used as decoration, passing strangers handy for photographs in brochures. That’s why admissions officers work so hard to get them in all manner of shapes, sizes, and colors. And that’s why nobody wants to admit more of them—you only need so many to fill out a brochure, and the more applicants you reject the more awesomely selective and unattainable—and thus attractive—you seem.
This is all a pretty broad brush. I’ll leave you to consider whether Carey’s strokes paint an accurate picture.