Admitting the Pathologies of Admissions

September 8, 2011

Worth reading:  a new report “The Case for Change in College Admissions: A Call for Individual and Collective Leadership.” It’s the summary of a conference co-sponsored by the USC Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice and the Education Conservancy.  It’s a very useful summary of the pathologies of the the college admissions marketplace.  I was especially struck at this distillation of factors working against this nation improving the percentage of young people with college degrees:

Six elements of the higher education system – and its admission process in particular – work against the nation’s progress in increasing college participation and degree completion rates among lower-income students:
• The practice of conferring significance to standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT beyond what they actually measure;
• A substantial shift of student financial aid away from awards based on financial need toward merit-based awards – a practice that directs funding away from needy students toward those who are already economically and educationally advantaged;
• The systemic under-funding of education for students at the lowest end of the economic spectrum, not just in K-12 schooling but in higher education as well;
• The inability of many states to provide financial support for their public universities and colleges in the same degree as before, causing tuitions to rise as higher education comes increasingly to be regarded as a private rather than a public good;
• The disinclination of many traditional universities and colleges to reach out to students of lower income for whom a college education could yield a life transformation;
• The increasing institutional competition for standing and prestige, often achieved at a price of neglecting external social costs and public interest obligations.

Also included in the report is a must-read essay by Sandy Baum and Michael S. McPherson entitled “Sorting to Extremes,” which lays out, with breath-taking clarity, how the competitive dynamics of the admissions marketplace deliver up much better opportunities for wealthy students than poor students despite a good deal of intention and expectation that we are working towards equal opportunity.

The Baum and McPherson essay is also available in Change.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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