Here is news and commentary from the past week in the college admissions world:
HEADLINE: Simon Newman Resigns as President of Mount St. Mary’s.
It turns out that Newman’s plan/public relations disaster to improve retention by forcing out 25 at-risk freshmen before the end of the first month of school (and the date by which enrollment numbers have to be reported to the Federal government) failed to meet its retention goals in at least one key area—his own job.
There are several lessons here.
Lesson #1: Before you try to “Drown the Bunnies,” make sure you know how to swim.
Lesson #2: When you do something stupid and get caught, don’t make it worse by firing those who recognized from the beginning that it was stupid.
Lesson #3: Success in the business world (Newman previously worked for private equity firms including Bain, the firm founded by Mitt Romney) and resulting wealth are not the same thing as wisdom and leadership. Higher education may be a business, but it’s a business where the product is hard to measure and where the most important kind of capital is human capital. (NOTE: Lesson #3 may hold for areas of American life other than higher education—if you catch my drift.)
HEADLINE: New SAT Debuts: Some Registrants Uninvited
This past Saturday marked the first administration of the “new and improved” SAT, but one group of test takers missed the party. Early last week a number of those registered to take the SAT on Saturday were informed that their test administration was being rescheduled for May.
The “uninvited” consisted of non-high school students, in most case employees of test prep companies hoping to get an “up close and personal” look at the new SAT. According to a Chronicle of Higher Education article, the decision was made for security reasons, to lessen the likelihood that test content would be stolen and shared.
The concern was certainly well-founded. The test prep industry has been flying blind ever since the announcement of the new test, and I have had to remind parents and students during the past year that anyone claiming to offer a prep course for the new SAT was only guessing at what might be on the test. For the test prep industry the chance to see actual test questions must be like Milan fashion week for those who make their living producing fashion knock-offs.
What is most surprising about the decision is that the College Board would pass on an opportunity to make a few bucks, but there are also several interesting questions raised (long-time readers of the blog are aware that we are much better at throwing out questions than we are at providing answers), some serious, some not.
What does the College Board mean by security? Industrial security or national security? Should we think of the test prep industry as engaged in theft of proprietary secrets or as terrorists, stealing a national treasure? Will the Department of Homeland Security get involved?
Is the College Board’s partnership with Khan Academy an attempt to level the test preparation playing field or an attempt to squeeze out other test prep providers and obtain a monopoly, a potential antitrust violation?
Is taking the SAT a right or a privilege?
Is the College Board guilty of ageism in deciding whom to exclude?
Is test preparation a form of cheating? That’s the broadest question underlying the decision to exclude adults working for test prep firms from taking the March test, and the answer is the same as the answer to so many college admissions questions, “It depends.”
A number of years ago an admissions dean friend stated that taking an SAT prep class is a form of cheating. I am hardly a fan of the test prep industry, particularly its suggestion that test prep is necessary, but I don’t agree that preparing for the test constitutes cheating. Clearly having test questions in advance would constitute cheating, but practicing for the test and receiving instruction on test strategies is not inappropriate. The question is whether test prep destroys the equity, and therefore the validity, of a standardized test. Do kids who pay for expensive test preparation get an advantage? My heart says no; my head says yes. But is that cheating? It may be cheating the system, but if the system encourages or rewards the test prep industry, the problem is not with the industry but with the system.
HEADLINE: Author Pat Conroy Dies at Age 70
Pat Conroy, author of books including The Prince of Tides and The Lords of Discipline, died last Friday of pancreatic cancer. I never met Conroy, but feel a connection with him in two different senses, one of them related to college counseling.
The first magazine article I ever sold was a piece back in the 1980’s for Southern Living on the football rivalry between Randolph-Macon and Hampden-Sydney, the oldest small-college rivalry in the South. I was trying to begin a career as a free-lance magazine writer, and Southern Living had a special section on football in the South each September, including team previews, tailgate recipes, and one feature article. If I’d done careful research, I would have realized that the article had no chance of being published, because the previous feature stories had been written by Pat Conroy and Willie Morris, both legendary Southern writers. My naivete ended up being a virtue, because the article was published, and I was able to say that I had something in common with Pat Conroy.
It turns out I have two things in common. In Conroy’s memoir of his senior year as a basketball player at The Citadel, My Losing Season, he wrote about the high school English teacher who turned him on to literature. That English teacher was none other than Joe Monte, legendary college counselor at Albert Einstein High School outside D.C. and a former President of NACAC. Joe is a friend and an inspiration, and every time I see him he has a list of books he has read that leave me in awe. When Conroy was doing a book tour for My Losing Season, he did an event in D.C. and talked about Joe Monte’s influence on his life, not having any idea that Joe was in the audience. I’m glad that Pat Conroy had and I have the good fortune to know Joe Monte.
I am working on the final installment of my three-part series on issue related to the Turning the Tide report released in January. This part will focus on some larger questions about whether it is time to rethink how we conduct college admission. Last week the Washington Post published an article by Jon Boeckenstedt at DePaul questioning whether letters of recommendation are unfair. It’s worth reading and discussing.