College Entrance Scandal
The recent scandal regarding college admissions, and the falsifying of SAT and ACT scores as well as other criteria begs the question, “How can systematic changes bring more authenticity into the process?”
Fortunately, the notoriety and size of the cheating ring brings enough momentum to this question, that perhaps all the disparate groups that are involved can come together to find solutions. The approach currently employed at most institutions uses a catalogue of many data points, weightings, assessments of facts and subjective evaluations. While this is an evolving system, change happens over long periods of time incrementally, like changing directions for an aircraft carrier. Perhaps the outrage generated by this blatant disregard for authenticity will propel college admission offices to retool. If the goal is authenticity, the tool is to shift from data to demonstrated character. Perhaps conversations between those who advise and support students through this process and the institutions will find enough common need to work together to dramatically adjust how student applications are evaluated.
Current trends, driven by the number of applications to evaluate, and the ever growing need to achieve the lowest admission rate and thus the highest college ranking possible have dehumanized the process relying more on test scores and fast objective information that allows for falsification. Equity and authenticity have taken a back seat to the business of education. High school Guidance Counselors and Educational Consultants must join with the institutions to change directions. How can we do this?
Last Spring, President Adam Weinberg of Denison, spoke about personalizing the application process to the Independent Educational Consultants Association in Denver. He stressed that truly getting to know the student is at the heart of making good decisions. I would add that the most authentic piece of any application is a face-to-face interview with a college admissions officer. This once central part of the process has been waived all together by many large institutions, made optional by many others, or pushed off to alumni and then disregarded in the decision. What is left: test scores, GPA’s, geographic and demographic data, and essays that we all know have been at the very least adjusted with the help of parents, and the worst, written completely by some hired professional writer.
The personal interview is a time worn tool used by every business to differentiate who would be a good match. Yes, computers screening data points have helped weed through the ever-increasing numbers of resumes to select those who are offered an interview, but in the end, no one is hired unless their interview verifies that a candidate “feels right.” No one can interview for a candidate. You must show up in person and demonstrate who you are. Yes, it is time consuming, but no company will forego this most important step in the final decision.
Electronic job boards and search engines have dramatically increased the number of applications in the business world as well. President Weinberg suggested that we in education should take a look at their solutions to the same problem. They interview. They do not, however, interview every single applicant. The time involved costs too much money. Businesses have bottom lines that drive practice in ways that education sometimes looses sight. Businesses screen out all but three or four candidates for each position. Then they interview to find the best candidate. Why not use this model, adapted for our purpose, to re-establish authenticity and still keep streamlined and efficient?
If Colleges used the various data points to determine who should be interviewed, they could return to the days when admission personnel looked students in the eye and measured their character by the personal investment in their responses. Yes, there is the possibility that some students will lie. But it is easier to write a lie, or to hire some agent to write and submit the lie on the student’s behalf, than it is to sit eye-to-eye and effectively pretend to be what you are not.
The most authentic tool we have is the interview. We must reverse the trend of removing or devaluing this step. We must solve the efficiency problems. We must turn our aircraft carrier around. Perhaps this scandal brings enough national attention to power this important step in re-instituting a true American value: character.