I am writing to comment on Steven M. Warshawsky's article. I attended Cornell University (undergrad and grad-level) in the 80's. My family background (though ethnically WASP) is blue-collar suburban, so I was a scholarship student. This gives me some basis for empathy with minority affirmative-action students.
The "social status" aspects of an Ivy League degree are most frequently found in the legal profession and in the executive suite in business. I studied engineering, where the halo effect of a prestige degree wears off quickly in the workplace. I have repeatedly seen graduates of no-prestige schools zoom to success in engineering due to their own brilliance; and also seen Ivy Leaguers fail spectacularly because of their inflated egos and entitlement mentality. To this day I hesitate to hire any technical graduate from Princeton, for example.
During my years at Cornell, I knew several African-American students and one Tejano student (all engineers) who were affirmative-action cases. They were earnest, hard-working, and out-classed. Of the four individuals I can remember now, only one graduated. The rest dropped out, and I'm sure they felt like failures. I have no doubt that they all would have done very well at a less-competitive school. As young and non-political as I was back then, I still remember being angry that these guys were thrown to the wolves in order to assuage the white guilt of some liberal on the admissions committee.
Any student who lacks the academic preparation to succeed at an elite university takes an enormous risk by enrolling under affirmative-action or special-access programs. It would be much better for them to excel at a less-competitive state-funded school, and then use their grades (and money not spent on elite tuition) to enroll in a prestigious graduate program.
Paul from Orlando