All of us were outraged by the college cheating scandal, and for many reasons. I recently wrote about this and addressed what I felt were many important issues, and discussed what’s at stake. In this post, I want to focus on something else: what we expect and what we experience. Many have written and spoken on this topic to date, including what Don Lemon of CNN reported about the system being “rigged.”
What we expect: I wonder if too much is expected of a truly decentralized admission process? College admissions requires the indirect coordination the following individuals:
- High school teachers (recommendations)
- High school coaches (recommendations)
- High school guidance counselors (submitting transcripts, college list, recommendation)
- The College Board (SAT, SAT Subject Tests, AP Tests)
- ACT (ACT tests)
- College Admissions counselors (at least two typically read, if not more during committee)
- College Coaches (if athletics are a factor)
This list of individuals above does not count the following sample who may also play a role in supporting college admissions or providing enrichment experiences for high school students:
- Independent college counselor
- Test Prep (online for free like Khan Academy) or paid through in person or online sessions
- College Visit companies
- Summer College Experiences (like Summer @ Brown)
- Summer volunteer organizations, in the U.S. or abroad
- And more.
And, let’s not forget professional organizations that support the process as well as standards for best practices:
This list of organizations, companies, and individuals, depending on what students have access to, is not centralized but rather has grown over time to accommodate the varying ways which colleges have to select an incoming class. That selection process is wildly difficult. Why? So many students may merit admission to a particular school, but there are more factors than academic excellence alone or test scores to ensure that students, together, have a positive and fulfilling college experience as an incoming class. With more and more students applying to more than 10 colleges, the statistics for admission are increasingly skewed and complex to interpret. Let’s not forget, meriting admission does not mean one will be admitted. If a college received 100,000 applications, and 50,000 technically would succeed based on academic standards, can that college logistically admit all 50,000? Of course not. So, who not to admit becomes such a complex challenge.
So, to put expectations in check, let us remember that we have multiple people and entities contributing to or reviewing applications, and not centralized as it is in other countries, so that there is hope of a meritocracy or some semblance of democracy in the process beyond if we simply had a single college entrance exam. For many countries, that is the alternative to our process. Imagine the inequity in that process, and the many unique and fascinating students who would miss out on various schools due to a single test?
Our process is not perfect, far from it. It’s also very complex, and there are many unfair elements to it. But, it’s not a system, and it is not rigged. That would require a conspiracy of epic proportions, by definition. Could it be, instead, that college admissions exposes aspects of inequity that is preexisting? That is, despite the attempts by many colleges and testing organizations to help level the playing field in the spirit of equity, there are so many factors that touch education and issues of equity that a single application process alone cannot be the fix? Is that too big a burden to take on solely through applications themselves? Is it reasonable to ask this of the process? Or, is the solution more systemic and wide reaching?
Certainly, as education professionals, daily, we attempt to do the best we can for our students. What we experience as students, as parents, and as educators may vary, but let’s remember that morality has no price. This college cheating scandal should catalyze discussions about equity in education more broadly. But, the problem is far more complex than the process alone, and the solution goes beyond the horizon of what we can see today. In the meantime, let us continue helping all students find their way toward their future, with more accurate knowledge and information, working to removed or reduce barriers while championing their success based on hard work.