Monday, October 09, 2006

Light in the Darkness on College Admissions

Inside Higher Education (motto: "the cheekier, cheaper alternative to the Chronicle of Higher Education) is carrying a suitably cheeky and cheap article on the absurd state of elite college admissions. The author is Peter van Buskirk, a consultant and former admissions officer who, along with unsurprisingly touting his consulting services, makes some superbly trenchant remarks.

Here's one that applies to more than college admissions:

Rather, the frenzy that engulfs colleges and consumers alike is the product of a pervasive cultural phenomenon — a potent cocktail of social, emotional and behavioral ingredients that produces neurotic obsessions with having or being the “best.”

Indeed, ours has become a culture that values the best appliances, the best cars, the best vacations — and the best colleges, often at the expense of good values that would be more appropriate choices. And for each critical distinction we need to make, there is a consumer guide replete with research and rankings to make our jobs “easier.” In this instance, families are eager to buy what colleges are selling especially at colleges that hold the right amount of cachet. Much like a cultural virus, the frenzy associated with having or being the best has come to both transcend and permeate college campuses with tell-tale symptoms of paranoia and bold ambition.
And here's one that warms our SWNIDish heart:

Moreover, the propensity for focusing on top-tier colleges suggests that academic quality is reserved for a select few institutions (another of the fallacies that feeds the frenzy). Regrettably, a lot of the good and encouraging news of events taking place elsewhere in education fails to make the headlines. Educational success stories at colleges that lack cachet and innovations taking place at institutions outside of the limelight don’t seem to have the sex appeal to draw against the storied courtships involving the recruitment of students to elite institutions.

1 comment:

JB in CA said...

Nice post.

I would add that "the best," in these contexts, almost always means "the most prestigious," which almost always means "the greatest number of publications." Not only is teaching virtually ignored in such rankings, so is quality of research. "Greatest number of publications" trumps "quality of publications" every time.

The reason given for ranking institutions this way is that it's too hard to measure such things as teaching and quality of research. Oddly enough, those who offer this excuse don't seem to think it constitutes a reason to abandon rankings altogether.