If you’re looking for something to celebrate and didn’t get around to commemorating National Poison Prevention Week last week or aren’t into National Turkey Neck Soup Day (today) or National Bunsen Burner Day (Thursday), look no further. If I have not miscounted, this marks the 100th Ethical College Admissions blog post.
That’s not only 98 more than I thought I was capable of cranking out when I started the blog three-and-a-half years ago, but also a significant milestone. We should have a cake, but don’t, so have some leftover Easter candy (anything but Peeps) on us.
This is also the third and final post in a series prompted by the “Turning the Tide” report. The first two parts dealt with the report itself and with character as a factor in college admission. This post will focus more on the state of college admission.
College admission faces a perfect storm in 2016, with three major changes (the new SAT, the Coalition, and Prior-Prior) with combined power to alter the admissions process in profound ways. At NACAC in San Diego a long-time admissions dean offered his opinion that Prior-Prior has the potential to blow up the admissions process as we know it, including the May 1 Candidates Reply Date. I see that as possible but not inevitable.
The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success has been the biggest lightning rod for concerns about the changing landscape of college admission. As I wrote back in the fall, I am not as hot and bothered as some colleagues about the Coalition. I find the Coalition’s language about an admissions process that encourages self-discovery and reflection appealing, and yet the scanty details provided thus far about the Coalition application don’t seem to match that rhetoric. The Coalition presentations I attended at NACAC and College Board left me with more questions than answers.
I don’t seem to be the only one. Will Dix has written thoughtfully and critically about the Coalition in his blog, and devoted one post back in February to a series of pointed questions about the Coalition and the Turning the Tide initiative.
Going back to the very first post, one of the goals of this blog has been to pose thoughtful questions about college admissions and college admissions as a profession. That’s never been more important or timely than right now.
I see the Coalition as part of a larger discussion. Are we proud of the college admissions process we have today? Is it the process we want? The process we deserve? Does the college admissions process need overhauling, and are the changes needed evolutionary or revolutionary? If we were to design an admissions process that is educationally and developmentally sound, what would it look like?
Those are all examples of Essential Questions, questions that extend beyond a single application practice or platform to the essence of what we do. As described by educators like Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, Essential Questions are those that stimulate thinking and inquiry, spark discussion and debate, and raise more questions.
It’s probably worth having a conversation about what we want the college admissions process to represent. Some of the conventions of college admission, including letters of recommendation, personal essays, and the emphasis on extracurricular activities, date back to the 1920’s. Are they still relevant? I spend hours writing recommendation letters each fall trying to put my students’ transcripts in context and tell their stories, but should they be advantaged because I can turn a phrase and have the time to get to know them? I am guilty of making fun of colleges that allow students to turn in a video rather than an essay or even a transcript, but the truth is that this generation of students thinks digitally and visually in a way that I don’t.
Is it time to think differently about how we conduct the college admissions process? We know that the next generation of college students will bring different backgrounds and different experiences to college. Does the current process adequately predict who will be successful and who won’t? Are there personal qualities in addition to the traditional academic measures that are relevant, and can we find ways to measure them?
Here are some other Essential Questions for college admission:
Does the college admissions process serve the public interest? Does it serve colleges and universities well? Does it serve students well?
Are high school college counselors and college admissions officers part of the same profession, or engaged in fundamentally different enterprises? Is counseling an anachronism on the admissions side of the desk?
Does the college search and admissions process promote thoughtful reflection and discernment on the part of students?
Should the admissions process measure readiness for college? Does it have a role to play in the transition from adolescence to adulthood?
Do college admissions officers understand how high school students think and the reality of their lives? Is the acceleration of the application process developmentally appropriate? Does college admission ruin the educational value of the senior year of high school, and do we care?
Is college about producing good students or good persons? How should the answer to that question impact the admissions process?
Is the quest for selectivity/prestige out of control? Is there something wrong with a regular admissions process where 2% of applicants get admitted? Is selectivity at odds with access?
Does the admissions process reward substance or the illusion of substance? What is the difference?
Is the college admissions process sufficiently transparent? What message do we send students and parents about college admission? What messages should we send?
Are these the right questions? Are there others? Anyone want to suggest answers? In this year of potential unrest for college admission, I hope we won’t just criticize the changes in landscape that concern us but will also tackle the more important underlying Essential Questions.