Poison Ivy

How Elite Colleges Divide Us

An eye-opening look at how America’s elite colleges and suburbs help keep the rich rich—making it harder than ever to fight the inequality dividing us today

“The true story of American social mobility is stagnation.” —from the introduction

The front-page news and the trials that followed Operation Varsity Blues were just the tip of the iceberg. Poison Ivy tells the bigger, seedier story of how elite colleges create paths to admission available only to the wealthy, despite rhetoric to the contrary. Evan Mandery reveals how tacit agreements between exclusive “Ivy-plus” schools and white affluent suburbs create widespread de facto segregation. And as a college degree continues to be the surest route to upward mobility, the inequality bred in our broken higher education system is now a principal driver of skyrocketing income inequality everywhere.

Mandery—a professor at a public college that serves low- and middle-income students—contrasts the lip service paid to “opportunity” by so many elite colleges and universities with schools that actually walk the walk. Weaving in shocking data and captivating interviews with students and administrators alike, Poison Ivy also synthesizes fascinating insider information on everything from how students are evaluated, unfair tax breaks, and questionable fundraising practices to suburban rituals, testing, tutoring, tuition schemes, and more. This bold, provocative indictment of America’s elite colleges shows us what’s at stake in a faulty system—and what will be possible if we muster the collective will to transform it.


“Evan Mandery’s Poison Ivy: How Elite Colleges Divide Us offers the most systematic, highly accessible critique of elite colleges and universities that you are likely to encounter. . . . It’s anything but a polemic; the author draws upon the best social science scholarship and his own research to offer an impassioned and devastating critique of the mechanisms, rationales, and concessions that elite private institutions use to justify a system that reproduces the class order.”
Inside Higher Ed

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