19.5.08

THAT EXCESS DEMAND FOR CREDENTIALS. I've been working on this post for some time. In March, a graduate of Yale and Wharton who turns students away from Stonehill College suggests that fevered applicants get a grip. The "easy for you to say" is left to the reader as an exercise. The column makes some valid points.

Curiously, there is not enough pressure for the right reason: finding the school that is the right fit. Today, students can receive a top-notch education at any number of the 2,629 U.S. colleges and universities. If an applicant simply focused on the top 10% of those institutions, they would select from a pool of 260 schools. Given the relatively fixed supply of seats in prestige colleges, there are other ways to view this world.

On many campuses today, students can learn from a professor who holds a Ph.D. from an Ivy League or similar top research institution. Thirty years ago, in most cases, students had to attend one of a small set of colleges to accomplish that feat. But the supply of U.S. Ph.D.s has grown from 32,946 in 1976 to 45,596 in 2006, according to the Survey of Earned Doctorates.

So why are parents pushing their children so hard for admission to an elite college? Regrettably, admission to a first-choice college has become a referendum on Baby Boomer parenting skills, and the popular rear-windshield decal is often seen as the ultimate prize in our "winner take all" society.

Yet, I remain hopeful that we can correct our collective shortsightedness. Let's start by revisiting why we send our children to college in the first place. Certainly, our desires for their better economic future play a predominant role. But college still claims a larger public purpose, which includes preparing critical thinkers to engage productively with the wider world.

Parents and students would be wise to examine the missions of the schools they are considering (even the second-choice ones), and the way that the institutions are living their missions. They will find that such public purpose is not the monopoly of a handful of "brand-name" elite colleges, but instead pervades a community of scholars that extends to campus after campus, from coast to coast.

A Greg Easterbrook article in The Atlantic elaborates, concluding with the suggestion that the status obsessed also get a life.
Surely it is impossible to do away with the trials of the college-application process altogether. But college admissions would be less nerve-racking, and hang less ominously over the high school years, if it were better understood that a large number of colleges and universities can now provide students with an excellent education, sending them onward to healthy incomes and appealing careers. Harvard is marvelous, but you don't have to go there to get your foot in the door of life.
Advice notwithstanding, a New York Times article reported that the excess demand for the Gotta-Get-Ins was no April Fool.
The already crazed competition for admission to the nation’s most prestigious universities and colleges became even more intense this year, with many logging record low acceptance rates.
Perhaps the universities could learn something about load management from the airlines, or perhaps from treating their economists properly.

“We love the people we admitted, but we also love a very large number of the people who we were not able to admit,” said William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard College.

Some colleges said they placed more students on their waiting lists than in recent years, in part because of uncertainty over how many admitted students would decide to enroll. Harvard and Princeton stopped accepting students through early admission this academic year; that meant that more than 1,500 students who would have been admitted in December were likely to have applied to many elite schools in the regular round.

Many factors contributed to the tightening of the competition at the most selective colleges, admissions deans and high school counselors said, among them demographics. The number of high school graduates in the nation has grown each year over the last decade and a half, though demographers project that the figure will peak this year or next, which might reduce the competition a little.

Other factors were the ease of online applications, expanded financial aid packages, aggressive recruiting of a broader range of young people, and ambitious students’ applying to ever more colleges.

By May, the New York Times was reporting that the overbooking algorithms had broken down, with the Gotta-Get-Ins digging deeper into the wait list.

Although colleges turn to wait lists to fill out their classes, it is unusual for the most selective to go so deep, college officials say.

For high-school students graduating in an unusually large class and for colleges trying to shape a freshman class, this has been an unusually challenging year, with the changes in early-admissions programs and the broad expansion of financial aid at many elite universities.

Right up until the May 1 deadline for students to respond to admissions offers, colleges have been unsure what to expect.

“Our class is coming in exactly the way we wanted it to, fitting into the plan we had to get to a class of 1,240,” said Janet Rapelye, dean of admission at Princeton, which, like Harvard and the University of Virginia, eliminated early admissions this year.

Ms. Rapelye said that with such a big change in policy, it was difficult to predict results, so “we deliberately aimed to have a slightly smaller group.”

The Los Angeles Daily News reports on overbooking and bumping in California.

"There is one great myth about going to college today - that is that there are only a handful of good schools," said Katherine Harrington, dean of admission and financial aid at the University of Southern California.

"There are more than 3,000 colleges and universities in the country and many, many, many of them provide an excellent education," she said.

"This notion that someone's life will be ruined if they don't get into the top 20 or 50 universities in the country is just not correct and we choose as a matter of practice not to do anything that encourages that notion."

Harrington, who saw 36,000 applications this year for 2,600 available slots, said avoiding the waiting-list process also makes things easier for her office, which gets to skip having to sift through applicants again.

Even as waiting lists swelled this week, several top colleges across the country announced that they would be receiving more students from their waiting lists.

The swap could cause a domino effect that might get [El Camino Real valedictorian Nielson] Weng admitted into one of the five schools that have kept him on hold. Stanford is his top choice, with California Institute of Technology a close second.

Until then, Weng said he'll work to get into one of his dream schools by gathering transcripts, awards and letters of recommendation.

"When people ask me where I am going to school, I say Berkeley, but I know they were expecting me to go to an Ivy League school," he said.

Still Weng, who has tentatively accepted an offer from the University of California at Berkeley, said the waiting game is growing tiresome.

Now that Massachusetts is proposing to tax what its Guardians of Public Morals deem to be idle assets in endowments, can "denied boarding compensation" be far behind?

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