Wednesday, June 14, 2006
I'm not unsympathetic to the kinds of worries expressed here about the ways in which colleges and universities conduct their admissions (though my worries are more directed to the ways in which financial considerations play a role). But four things strike me about the article. First, the fact that a few highly selective and already very wealthy liberal arts schools are thinking about changing how they do admissions doesn't seem all that important to me. Because students are more willing to travel across the country and have access to better information about schools, these sorts of colleges, whose incoming classes probably number no more than a thousand (and likely a good bit less), don't have to worry about filling their slots with qualified students. Big state universities don't have that kind of luxury. Second, nowhere does the article mention what I would take to be a big motivator in dropping things like the SAT: finding ways to increase "diversity." That is, these schools are trying to get more black students on campus and they can't do it without watering down entrance requirements or changing them significantly - hence, the drive to get rid of the SAT. Third, I worry significantly about the push to get rid of merit-based scholarships. Maybe because that's how I was able to afford to go to school, I'm a bit sensitive on the point, but if you get rid of or seriously limit merit-based scholarships, what you are doing is pushing middle-class kids out of elite colleges. If your family makes, say, $70,000 a year, you aren't going to get much financial aid (and what you get will be mostly loans). And families that make that kind of money can't afford $30-$40,000 a year schools. Finally, I should say that I think this article is more hope than reality. There is a certain segment of the population that firmly believes that if their child does not attend an elite college or university, they will be severely limited in what they can do with their lives. I've seen parents stress over preschools (even preparing 3-yr old CVs "Participation in Play Circles; Date of Potty Training; Number of Vocabulary Words" - I'm not kidding at all) because which preschool the child gets into determines which elementary school which...determines whether one has a happy and flourishing life. That's not going away.