I’m still following the college admissions scandal. I can’t look away. Not because I’m interested in the personal tragedies of the celebrity families of Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, but because of what it reveals about the college admission and selection process. You might be thinking (or hoping) that the college admissions scandal has no affect on your child, but it does. And it doesn’t just affect those students planning on applying to elite colleges. The college admission practices of elite schools affect just about every child in school – every child in America.
I’ve followed up on the college admissions scandal that I wrote about in my post last week, What are you willing to do to get into your dream college? Among the best coverage I’ve heard and read are those on NPR, and most of my links in this article will be to NPR stories
College admissions and sports scandals
The biggest benefit to come out of this scandal may be the spotlight it is showing on college sports and the roll preferential treatment of athletes play in the admission process.
This is the most fascinating take, a sports writer (no less) questioning the roll we allow sports to play in colleges and universities, and their admission process. While schools profess to treat all outside interests equally, it was sports the parents faked for their kids, not theater or academic decathlons. The schools allow there to be loopholes in admissions surrounding sports.
The college admissions scandal and the cost of college
The college admissions scandal is also focusing a spotlight on the cost college.
Does the college admissions scandal reveal that you can’t get into college without connections and money?
With all of this focus on money, it’s enough to make an average parent panic. You were worried about having enough money to send your kid to college, now you might not have enough to even get them in to college.
At the end of At Least 50 People Charged In College Admissions Scandal, college admissions coach Elizabeth Heaton says, “There aren’t enough slots for everybody. And it’s hard to take – to stomach the idea that a couple of those slots were taken by people who bought their way in.”
Maybe it was taken out of context, but it implies that there aren’t enough college spots for every student who wants to go to college. Is that true?
No, it’s not.
There are plenty of college admission spots for everyone. But it’s a misconception repeated by elite schools and publicized in the media to keep submitted applications – and their college rankings – high.
So it’s important to remember, that when you hear there aren’t enough spots for all the students who want to go to a school, they’re usually referring to elite schools.
Admissions inequality to elite schools is as bad as you’ve heard
In fact, college admissions inequality to elite schools might even be worse. Further proof showed up recently in the news, Carlos Ghosn’s Unusual Nissan Perk: $601,000 Stanford Tuition Fees for His Kids, is about an executive under investigation that has questions surrounding his kids college tuition.
Exactly how the transactions took place aren’t clear, but his four children attended and graduated from Stanford. It’s said all four of his children graduated near the top or at the top of their high school class, indicating that they were qualified. So from that standpoint they are saying that their admission was justified.
However, let’s look at that more closely. Stanford has an acceptance rate of under 10%. (In fact, they’re under 5% now, but I don’t want to go back and look up the rate for every year for each of his children.) If each child only has a 20% chance of getting in, (I explain why I use a higher rate than 10% in the linked post), what are the chances that all FOUR of children will get into Stanford? You don’t even have to do the math to know that it’s a really low chance.
In fact, preferential treatment of donors’ kids in college admissions is worse than you think
I admire University of Texas at Austin former Regent Wallace Hall for championing, before it was popular, the cause of more fair admissions policies.
“In 2011, [Wallace] began leveling a series of complaints against then UT-Austin President Bill Powers — including a claim that Powers had helped well-connected applicants gain entrance to the university even if their academic credentials did not measure up.” – After new admissions scandal, former Regent Wallace Hall says University of Texas’ rules are a “joke,” in the Texas Tribune
You can listen to an interview with Wallace Hall on the Texas Standard website, Former UT Regent Wallace Hall Wasn’t Surprised By Latest Admissions Scandal.
But going to an elite college isn’t as important as we think
I found it interesting and helpful to hear the history of how we got where we are with college admissions. Listen carefully to College Access And Inequality and you will hear them say that we give these colleges their prestige.
However, unlike other sources I’ve read, they also say that going to elite colleges will substantially increase the earning for everyone who’s not already in the upper earning tier. At least they break it down and say that you must take majors into account as well. This issue is one that I want to look into further, because there looks to be a lot of conflicting information that needs to be sorted out, when it comes to the real value of elite schools.
For example, you might want to consider things other than income. Poll: Prestigious Colleges Won’t Make You Happier In Life Or Work.
But that’s actually not what I want to focus on here.
The real cost of getting into an elite college isn’t money
Listen to College Access And Inequality, above, again.
Going to an elite college does’t make or break you, but the what you go through (or put your child through) to get into an elite college, just might.
A quote from Alexandra Robbins, author of “The Overachievers: The Secret Lives Of Driven Kids “ – “There is no best when it comes to schools. Parents think they’re doing something good for their kids when they try to push, push, push so hard to get these kids into schools. But teenage anxiety and depression rates are on the rise. Suicide rates are skyrocketing. Approximately 1 in 12 college students has a suicide plan, many of them because of this process…. Children are dying because of this pressure. Forget about the college admissions process. It’s not important in the big scheme.”
How the college admissions scandal affects you and your child
And that’s how the college admissions scandal affects you and your child. It exposes, to the bright light of day, how admission to elite colleges work. And admission to elite colleges is driving the design and curriculum of our entire educational system, from high school down to elementary school. And according to Harvard’s own research, it’s damaging our children.
Look again at the quote above. Robbins doesn’t just say that 1 in 12 students at elite colleges has a suicide plan. 1 in 12 students at all colleges have a suicide plan. Sadly, I know this to be too true. A student took his own life at my kids college last week. A student took his own life at the college of a friend this fall. These are not just numbers, they are real students.
The fallout of the college admissions scandal
If we take the opportunity, we can look at what this scandal reveals about the college admissions process, and we can make some changes that will affect the lives of all of our kids for the better. But it will take some thoughtful analysis. Quick responses like we’re already seeing aren’t going to be good enough.
In spite of my agreement with the spirit, I’m not thrilled with the idea of the legislation proposed in response to the scandal. We’ve had legislation before that’s supposed to be good for education, they are heavily debated, and then there are unintended consequences. The problem is, laws are hard to repeal and adapt. It would be so much better if schools would just act responsibly on their own. (And we could make them care, by voting with where we apply to college and look to make new hires.)
And I’m not sure I’m happy with the fact that colleges are now penalizing the students involved, even though initial reports from the investigation said the students were unaware of the fraud.
I think this is unfair to the students. Given how random the admissions process to elite schools can be, it’s possible that in some cases these students are just as capable as others at the school. The only way I think a school could justify this is if the students records showed that they weren’t able to keep up with the coursework at the school. Of course those records are private, so we’ll never know. Add to that The ‘Other’ College Scandal: Grade Inflation Has Turned Transcripts into Monopoly Money, and do schools really have any idea who deserves to be a student at their school and who doesn’t?