Three things to read this weekend

As a Boston-area commuter, I’ve had a lot – a lot – of extra time on my daily commutes recently to get some reading in. Here are a few of my favorite picks from the week’s reading:

The Rich Get Richer – and More Educated (The Atlantic): Just in case achievement gaps at the K-12 level weren’t worrisome enough, some recent research points to even more troubling gaps at the post-secondary level: in 2013, Americans in the highest-income bracket were eight times more likely to have earned a bachelor’s degree than those from the lowest-income households – up from five times more likely in 1970. Since a college degree is widely viewed as the most important ingredient in the recipe for financial well-being, this growing gap could create a self-perpetuating cycle that makes it ever more difficult for students from poorer families to get the educational leg-up they need.

How to Raise a University’s Profile: Pricing and Packaging (The New York Times): The writer uses the experience of Washington D.C.’s George Washington University over the past two decades as a lens to explore the branding of the college experience. His conclusion? Becoming a top-tier university is less about the academic experience and what students are actually learning and more about the luxury amenities a university has on offer and the sticker price a student pays to access them. Favorite (most depressing?) detail: that the former president of GW likens college to vodka (all vodkas taste the same, but people will pay more for Absolut because of the brand).

Cramming for College at Beijing’s Second High (Fast Company): If you thought the SAT created a pressure cooker, just wait until you read about what students in China go through preparing for the gaokao, a national exam that students must take (and score extremely well on) to be admitted to college. This article follows the lives of a group of seniors at Beijing’s Second High as they prepared for this exam – and in so doing paints an illuminating portrait of the educational system in one of the world’s fastest growing powers.