The output is always the same: Admit more rich kids.
September 10, 2019 8:27 AM   Subscribe

What College Admissions Offices Really Want: Elite schools say they’re looking for academic excellence and diversity. But their thirst for tuition revenue means that wealth trumps all. (SLNYT by Paul Tough)
posted by crazy with stars (51 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
It will be “interesting” to see what happens with choices of whom to admit, starting about six years from now. The Great Recession caused enough of a fertility drop that most schools are going to have to... embrace new strategies when it comes to luring the walking dollar signs managing enrollment. When ever-declining state support (at public institutions) meets fewer students, along with maybe a post-trade-war recession, it’s gonna be ugly.
posted by cupcakeninja at 9:18 AM on September 10


The best are rich academic underachievers who don't qualify for academic scholarships, which is pretty much exactly at odds with a university's educational goals.

If we have to have rich idiots to subsidize everyone else, let's make tuition a true sliding scale. Median household income in the US is $59k. Cost of attendance at Harvard is $67,580, or 115% of median household income. The children of parents in the top 1% of income should pay ~$483,000 per year. Seems reasonable to me.
posted by jedicus at 9:25 AM on September 10 [26 favorites]


I think this article actually undersells or underemphasizes the disparity, at least based on the (spotty) research I have done, to wit: it's not just the bottom quintile (those unicorns might actually be slightly over-represented).

It's actually that if your parents make less than $100k a year, you are in the bottom 20% of students (which is actually again over-inflated because a few like MIT for example are slightly more egalitarian which skew the stats) at the elite universities.


When ever-declining state support (at public institutions) meets fewer students, along with maybe a post-trade-war recession, it’s gonna be ugly.

I actually disagree with this, in that if a recession comes, yeah, the worst managed might disappear, but most will drop the pretense of diversity and go back to admitting the upper percent who can pay and are not hurt by recessions.

Which would theoretically be fine, but these places aren't just universities, and it's legitimately wrong to treat them that way. They are gatekeeping institutions for our government and public and private institutions and should probably looked at under anti-trust/anti-competitive reasons under a more radical/liberal Presidential/Congressional party.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:34 AM on September 10 [5 favorites]


I'm thrilled to learn that he instituted test-optional admissions at Pitzer, but it's not the only issue with this stuff. When I was there, the difference in admissions standards for students who could pay full tuition versus the rest of us was a full grade point - 3.5 for the smart kids, 2.5 for the rich kids who tended to major in things like cocaine and being too busy socializing to go to class. After I graduated, Pitzer turned into a full-on party school for a while and I hope very much that that's changing now - but it won't if they haven't fixed the difference in admissions standards. At the time our college president also refused to fundraise, meaning that she was fine with these issues getting worse.

This stuff also created a lot of conflict among the students - I distinctly recall some of the rich kids complaining that they should go through room draw first, and thinking that this would be fine as long as those of us there on academic merit got to pick our classes first.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:36 AM on September 10 [4 favorites]


But their thirst for tuition revenue means that wealth trumps all.

Hello, international students! 20+ years ago we knew they were the only people on campus who were paying full price.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:38 AM on September 10 [18 favorites]


And, let's not forget, much of that money is simply... vanishing.

Teaching staff is paid less today than it was in the 1950's. Sub-managerial level administrative staff is paid vastly less today than it was in the 1950's. Maintenance staff is paid a pittance compared to what they were paid in the 1950's.

Sure, slightly nicer dorms and a few upgrades to the cafeteria eat a bit of money, but nowhere near enough to explain where all the extra money being charged today is going.

They want more and richer students to pay dozens of times what college used to cost and the money just disappears into a carefully maintained fog. Presumably this means some very rich people are secretively adding some zeros to their bank accounts by jacking up college tuition at obscene rates.

And for the worthless scions of wealthy families, the sort who go to university to pick up an MBA while they party, that doesn't matter. But every one of the useless idle rich who want to play going to college is a real student who can't attend.

If you're poor, male, and **EXTREMELY** lucky you can caper and perform for your betters while getting CTE and other lifelong debilitating injuries to attend school without crushing debt.

If you're a woman, or not skilled and lucky enough to get a CTE scholarship, you're out of luck. The price gouging done to extract more money from the rich kids pretending to go to school will leave anyone else who wants to go with a lifelong debt that can't be repaid.
posted by sotonohito at 9:50 AM on September 10 [20 favorites]


Nice article! Although I don't work in admissions so I may have some misunderstandings, I'd like to bring up a few things:

1. The Department of Justice is trying to change the early admissions process. As mentioned in the NYT article in the OP, early admissions currently functions by "locking in" students who apply early ("students admitted early...are bound by the rules of early decision to enroll"). The DOJ is accusing the national organization of admissions officers (NACAC), and, by extension, nearly all U.S. colleges and universities who adhere to NACAC's Code of Ethics and Professional Practice, of breaking antitrust laws by not fully competing for students. (Those with a good memory might remember a similar accusation against the Ivy League institutions and MIT made in the early 1990s; those institutions used to compare admission and financial aid offers prior to making them so they could avoid competing with one another given the immense overlap in their applicant pools.) To some, this may seem like an overreach or perhaps a misapplication of the law which may result in some better outcomes for a few individuals but much worse outcomes for our society as a whole.

2. I have immense ethical problems with the idea of "undermatching." Much of this article revolves around this idea and I'm baffled that the author doesn't actually use the word. In summarizing some research done by Hoxby and Avery, the author gives us a decent definition of undermatching: "many high-achieving low-income students...making self-destructive decisions as high school seniors, applying to local community colleges or nearby public universities rather than the highly selective institutions where their academic records would likely win them admission." I take umbrage with the subjective, judgmental part of this idea, the part where we assert that these decisions are "self-destructive." I really hate this idea that we - higher education researchers - know what is better for young people than those young people and their families. I really hate the idea that someone who decides to stay close to home to attend a local or regional college is making a bad decision just because they didn't make the same decision that we would have made or think they should have made.

3. Like nearly all of the reporting about U.S. higher education, this article focuses almost exclusively on the most elite institutions. By enrollment, they are an incredibly small proportion of U.S. colleges and universities. It presents an extremely distorted picture of a very diverse population (whether you're talking about institutions, students, or faculty) when you focus nearly all of your attention on a handful of institutions that are different from most other institutions. Moreover, most of the focus on admissions in this and many other articles assumes a national market; it assumes that most or all students are genuinely interested in attending college nearly anywhere in the country so all institutions are effectively competing with all other institutions. This is true only for a small fraction of applicants.

4. One small quibble: The article says that admissions offices are now more commonly known as enrollment management offices. I may be wrong but in my experiences most admissions offices are still admissions offices. They tend to be part of new(ish) enrollment management units but those units include more than just admissions. In fact, a large part of what drove the growth in enrollment management units in the 1990s and 2000s is the recognition and admission (hah!) that it's often much cheaper and morally defensible to focus on helping students who have already been admitted than focusing solely on trying to admit new students. In blunt terms, it's cheaper and better to help someone who is already here graduate.
posted by ElKevbo at 9:55 AM on September 10 [25 favorites]


Every (public)university I’ve studied at or worked for now has specific programs that effectively target rich international students. In many scenarios, international grad students aren’t even eligible for fee waivers through TA/RA gigs, and they also won’t be eligible for certain types of federal grant support (hello DHS). I believe a professional master’s student from India or China may be worth around 4x the hard cash of a typical US citizen, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:38 AM on September 10 [3 favorites]


I am currently incoherently sputtering because a master's program I work with requires a standardized test score - can be SAT/ACT - and not only is there no date cutoff, making such data useless because what does a ten-year-old SAT score tell you about an applicant's worth today; and when I asked why or how we can even compare asking for SAT OR ACT OR GRE, it's not even a school requirement; the licensing body associated with this master's program requires that we "collect data" on applicants for some mysterious reason.

So we're either making students dig up dusty old scores; pay money to take a pointless test; or know the system enough to know you can technically get permission to apply without the scores. Fun fact, many community college students never took any of those tests!
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:42 AM on September 10 [3 favorites]


Yes, saltysalticid, I've also been wondering when the English proficiency score rules are going to be 'loosened' or appeals become more and more commonplace as the true test becomes not "is this student ready to do graduate study in English", but "if we reduce it X amount can we get Y more dollars?"
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:43 AM on September 10


At the same time English proficiency scores can be used to unfairly prevent foreign-born/educated students from attending higher education. My wife in an immigrant and did her undergraduate education outside of Canada from a non-English speaking country and she had to take the TOEFL in order to apply for Teaching programs here in Ontario. Most of the schools had score requirements which the Canadian students wouldn't be able to achieve. Thankfully for her the program she wanted to get into the most had saner requirements and that is where she is going now.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:08 AM on September 10 [3 favorites]


I really hate the idea that someone who decides to stay close to home to attend a local or regional college is making a bad decision just because they didn't make the same decision that we would have made or think they should have made.

I really hate the idea that a kid could go to Ivy and do well there but doesn't because (a) never even looks at it, thinking that "Ivy isn't for the likes of me"; (b) doesn't get adequate support from whatever college admissions staff is at their high school to put their best application forward; (c) doesn't realize the potential career and intellectual (yeah, I think there are such) consequences of choosing a much less competitive institution; (d) doesn't get the real financial and emotional support for themselves and their family needed to make and sustain such a big transition. That is, I don't think "undermatching" is an invention of snobs, I think it reflects very very real problems of lack of information and support and encouragement for a particular set of students. This tracks with my own experience having gone to a very poor 90(?)% black public high school for two years and a very expensive 80(?)% white private high school for the last two. I graduated from An Ivy summa cum laude. I honestly don't even know that I would have applied to that school if I had stayed at my first high school. I probably would've gone to State. Not a catastrophe, but, yes, it would have affected my career and intellectual trajectory, and the dropoff between the Ivy and State in my state isn't as bad as it is in many contexts.
posted by praemunire at 11:33 AM on September 10 [15 favorites]


"making self-destructive decisions as high school seniors, applying to local community colleges or nearby public universities rather than the highly selective institutions where their academic records would likely win them admission."

1) Are those applications free?
2) Do the schools those students attend, or those students' parents, know how to apply to a wide variety of colleges?
3) Would their academic records win them not only "admission," but rent and living expenses for the full run of college?
4) Do those colleges have a support system for students living far from home for the first time?

It is absolutely ridiculous to claim it's "self-destructive" to limit college-focused energies to schools where they might actually be able to attend and graduate.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:34 AM on September 10 [12 favorites]


Followup thought:

If it's such a tragedy that low-income high-achieving students aren't attending "the best" colleges, why aren't they scouting out junior colleges and local colleges, looking for high-achieving freshmen students, and encouraging them to transfer?
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:39 AM on September 10 [6 favorites]


At the college I went to, the number of spots available for transfer students depended almost entirely on how many freshman and sophomores left, not to return (usually because of transferring themselves). This number was really low, so transfer admissions was both incredibly competitive, and did not really affect the number of low income students attending very much. I think the situation is similar at many other schools, though there are some elite schools with pretty established transfer programs.
posted by chernoffhoeffding at 11:50 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


I work at a not-top-of-the-heap public institution, and I don't really see this play out with respect to admissions. I definitely do see it play out with respect to financial aid. All that stuff with the hardcore quantitative people using predictive analytics to give out financial aid to students who are most likely to enroll because of it? That's huge at public institutions, and it's also a big part of enrollment management.
Every (public)university I’ve studied at or worked for now has specific programs that effectively target rich international students.
I think that's actually pretty significantly challenged by the current political situation. But it's worth saying that international students tend to focus even more than domestic students on the US News rankings, so the recent emphasis on rich international undergrads has played into this whole dynamic.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:07 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


This framing doesn't really challenge the structural inequality of "elite" vs. non-elite higher academic institutions. The very existence of elite universities (the Ivy-plus group mentioned in the article) is a holdover from centuries of classism and racism. Public universities should be given the resources to offer a high quality college education, and in many cases they do. The remaining edge for the elite universities is social networking and name/brand recognition, which is much obviously harder to counteract with policy. This continues to be a blind spot of liberal/Democratic "meritocracy" thinking.

The non-academic competitive advantage offered by these institutions should not exist. That advantage should be counteracted and equalized, not given as a sweepstakes prize to the most "deserving" of the poor.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 12:21 PM on September 10 [12 favorites]


I wish a discussion of rich American kids being admitted at elite institutions at higher rates than based on merit alone wouldn't immediately become a discussion about rich foreign kids. It feels like the same kind of xenophobia you see in the right-wing, but somehow justified because you're talking about rich kids.
posted by peacheater at 12:29 PM on September 10 [7 favorites]


I'm not sure if my comments came across weirdly but I intended mine along the lines of "foreign students are recruited and preyed upon and sometimes they too are not really that rich but colleges are more able to get away with it", not "rich fatcat foreigners are taking good American college slots."
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:45 PM on September 10 [7 favorites]


I really hate the idea that someone who decides to stay close to home to attend a local or regional college is making a bad decision just because they didn't make the same decision that we would have made or think they should have made.

I also had a huge issue with the normative statement. You don't know why this student chose to stay closer to home - maybe they had care-giving responsibilities for siblings or other relatives, were contributing to their families' rent, or maybe (like me), no one would give them any firm numbers on financial aid until they had applied and were accepted, and since they couldn't afford to go anywhere without financial aid (and knowing EXACTLY how much they had to spend), they chose not to waste the application fees.

(Seriously, the local student loan program wouldn't even estimate how much loan I would qualify for until I had enrolled in an out-of-town university, but since I had no money to pay for residence and food without loans, I couldn't afford to enroll anywhere outside of my local city. My choices were limited right at the application stage.)

I was also shocked that the researchers were shocked that lowering tuition didn't increase low-income enrollment. I can't help but think that they hadn't been paying attention to admission issues in any detail. In the early 2000s, I was following the public media about elite undergraduate admissions, and all evidence pointed to the fact that actual tuition has very little importance compared to the pipeline (not just getting the right grades, but also the right preparation, extra-curriculars, knowing how to apply, how to write application essays, etc. Interesting, a lot of these pipeline issues don't apply to academic graduate programs - no one cares about your extra-curriculars, your undergrad supplies mentors experienced in the process.)

It was clear 20 years ago that preparation and pipeline were bigger barriers than tuition. Oxbridge had a fraction of the tuition costs that the Ivy Leagues did at the time - and had the same percentage of students from private/independent schools as the Ivies (about 50%).

Their plan for getting more low-income students into elite universities seems like it helped, a little, but it was more like a bandaid on pretty messed up system. I wouldn't care, but - as noted above:

these places aren't just universities, and it's legitimately wrong to treat them that way. They are gatekeeping institutions for our government and public and private institutions and should probably looked at under anti-trust/anti-competitive reasons under a more radical/liberal Presidential/Congressional party.

This is the real problem: so long as the powerful/influential people in your society are all funneled through the same gate, access to that gate will be fought over - and captured - by the powerful.

The only way to undermine this is to actually democratize access to positions of power and influence - which would probably some kind of revolution.
posted by jb at 12:54 PM on September 10 [9 favorites]


The non-academic competitive advantage offered by these institutions should not exist. That advantage should be counteracted and equalized, not given as a sweepstakes prize to the most "deserving" of the poor.

Amen! Or, what overeducated_alligator said.

Changing who makes it to the top of an unequal system doesn't change the inequality of that system.
posted by jb at 12:56 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


Changing who makes it to the top of an unequal system doesn't change the inequality of that system.

I mean, it can (otherwise equality measures are useless [forex: adding women and minorities to congressional seats]~ think about inherited wealth vs no estate taxes), but it takes a really long time and 'changing' can't mean going from 2% to 5% of the total, it has to be a meaningful percentage.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:05 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


So many universities have such enormous endowments, Harvard's is $38.3 billion, that I wonder why they need to charge tuition at all.
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:26 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


Bee'sWing: It's not useful to try to compare any other institution to Harvard. It's the oldest university in the U.S. and the oldest extant corporation in the western hemisphere. It's also the richest university in the world. It's one of the few need-blind universities because it provides a lot of financial aid, much of it on a sliding scale depending on your (family's) income. Their latest financial report shows that tuition accounts for only 22% of their revenue. My current employer, a public land-grant university, uses tuition and fees to account for nearly half of the annual budget.

However, you might be interested in knowing that many people in Congress agree with you so last year they passed a law that levies a tax on the wealthiest institutions. Specifically, it's a "1.4 percent excise tax on net investment income at private colleges and universities with at least 500 tuition-paying students and assets of at least $500,000 per student."
posted by ElKevbo at 1:49 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


(b) doesn't get adequate support from whatever college admissions staff is at their high school to put their best application forward;

My high school guidance counselor told me not to bother applying anywhere "better" than our local state university. He said I wouldn't get in.

Half the reason I went to a high-ranked school was because fuck that guy. I can only imagine what he told my classmates who were POC.
posted by bile and syntax at 1:56 PM on September 10 [8 favorites]


So many universities have such enormous endowments, Harvard's is $38.3 billion, that I wonder why they need to charge tuition at all.

Cooper Union worked on that basis for most of its existence.

Then they messed up one real estate transaction, and *boom* the interest on the endowment was no longer enough and they had to start charging.
posted by ocschwar at 1:56 PM on September 10 [7 favorites]


This is the real problem: so long as the powerful/influential people in your society are all funneled through the same gate, access to that gate will be fought over - and captured - by the powerful.

The only way to undermine this is to actually democratize access to positions of power and influence - which would probably some kind of revolution.


I feel like another strategy would be to devalue certain institutions as sources of powerful people. The Ivies and its siblings are subject to bribed admissions, after all, so what's the big whoop about the name on the sheepskin? Candidates themselves could make an issue of this, opening the door to a wider range of histories.
posted by rhizome at 1:58 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


So many universities have such enormous endowments, Harvard's is $38.3 billion, that I wonder why they need to charge tuition at all.

Because the size of the endowment is another one of the measures of how 'good' a university is, and not just in terms of the US News and World report but other similar measures as well. Spending it on actual research or paying tuition would make them 'worse'.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:06 PM on September 10


I was also shocked that the researchers were shocked that lowering tuition didn't increase low-income enrollment.

The researchers thought lowering fees would bring in swarms of low income students? Hah. Where is that info? At the university websites? If they made the decision to lower the fees but didn't broadcast it (because, y'know, they don't want to be flooded with applications from all those average and worse low-income students - they only want the high-performing students to apply, so the school can welcome them in), students who know that private schools are expensive don't even look for the actual price.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:32 PM on September 10


I'm really surprised this article didn't cover international students.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:37 PM on September 10


The University of Texas System's (more than one school) endowment is $26.54 billion, it's not just Harvard. Elizabeth Warren has expressed support for taxing endowments, one of the things I like about her. Otherwise that money will just end up going to fantastic salaries and retirement plans for university regents and the like.
posted by Bee'sWing at 3:49 PM on September 10


A 1.5% income tax is nothing. Nobody here pays only 1.5% income tax.

Large private universities should be taxed like the large corporations they are. They should not be subsidized by tax payers. Donors to private universities should not be subsidized by taxpayers. Taxes should go to public institutions, not private universities and private millionaires.
posted by JackFlash at 4:21 PM on September 10


Public institutions are doing this stuff, too.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:31 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


Interesting, a lot of these pipeline issues don't apply to academic graduate programs - no one cares about your extra-curriculars, your undergrad supplies mentors experienced in the process.

Well, they do, because you have to have walked through the door of one of the "right" undergrad institutions to begin with. (It certainly helps, anyway.) You have to know you're supposed to go to office hours so someone knows you well enough to write you a good letter of recommendation. You have to know to ask for advice on applying to grad school. I asked my (arbitrarily assigned) undergrad advisor. He said "You send them applications and they send you offers." It was the department staff advisor who sat me down when I declared the major and told me what to do if I wanted to be competitive for good PhD programs. But if she hadn't had N years of experience, would she have known what to tell me? Someone has to tell you PhDs are funded and if no one from your department goes on to a PhD, it might not occur to anyone to tell you in time for you to maximise your preparation. I could have been at a university no one had heard of. (One of my references was from someone fairly famous, even.) I could have been at a university where I couldn't take graduate classes as a undergrad. I could have had family obligations that meant I couldn't go to a random part of the country to do math in the summer. I could have needed to earn more than the standard REU stipend in the summer. On and on.
posted by hoyland at 4:47 PM on September 10 [14 favorites]


It's not useful to try to compare any other institution to Harvard. It's the oldest university in the U.S. and the oldest extant corporation in the western hemisphere.

In the English speaking part maybe, but I think the Cathedral Chapter in Lima is older, having been formed in the 16th century. If the chapter still exists in Cusco (I'm not sure if it does) it would be even older.
posted by Jahaza at 5:57 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


Well, as the mother of someone considering college soon, who definitely can’t afford to pay even half the inflated price, this is bleak as fuck.
posted by corb at 6:00 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


Are cathedrals typically considered to be corporations in a formal, legal sense?
posted by ElKevbo at 6:48 PM on September 10


Well, they do, because you have to have walked through the door of one of the "right" undergrad institutions to begin with. (It certainly helps, anyway.) You have to know you're supposed to go to office hours so someone knows you well enough to write you a good letter of recommendation. ...

You have to know the GRE exists and that you're going to need to apply for accommodations in advance. ("What's the GRE? Does it have math on it?" I asked my the disability office, senior year of college, when they passingly asked if I was going to want accommodations on the GRE). You need to know how many schools is a reasonable number to apply to and be able to afford all of those fees. You need to know that you apply to a specific research mentor, and that you need to reach out to them individually before you apply. You need to know you have to be prepared to fund travel for interviews, rather than just getting an accept/reject decision in the mail.

The only reason I knew how to do any of this, and everything hoyland mentioned, was I had a professor who made applying to grad school a literal class requirement. You didn't have to actually go through with it, but you had to do the whole application. Without his encouragement I wouldn't have ended up in grad school. My advisor, bless her, saw me as an independent hard worker and probably assumed I knew what I was doing and if I wanted to go to grad school I'd bring it up with her. Which I didn't even realize was an option, until I had that assignment. I didn't even really know graduate school was a thing. I knew about PhDs vaguely, as a concept, but I never really understood where they came from or how you got one. I definitely didn't realize it was a thing that could happen right after undergrad. And I was a lower-middle-class suburban white kid who read a LOT and knew how to use the internet. But I was first-generation, so I didn't even think about these things.

I volunteer at a teen youth social group, and one time I mentioned "not being that rich" (in reference to telling them to be careful with my game system 'cause I wouldn't be able to replace it). One of them said, "Of course you're not, you're a grad student!" And that stunned me, because that's a piece of social knowledge I did not have at that age. I didn't even know that grad school existed, much less that it's a stereotype (well, truth) that grad students are poor. Which told me something about the difference between how I and that teenager grew up.
posted by brook horse at 7:06 PM on September 10 [10 favorites]


I really like the article. There are at least three points that IMHO would justify the entire article on their own:

- The clear discussion of "SAT discrepant" applicants, which boils down to the privileged making up for mediocre grades with high SAT scores.
- The reaction of the faculty at Trinity to the new student classes--more rewarding to teach.
- And of course the details on the algorithmic slicing of the class to manage tuition income.

That being said a reminder that (according to google) 75% of college students go to a public college or university. I think the emphasis on private schools in the Times and other places automatically skews the discussion right at the outset.
posted by mark k at 8:26 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


What has happened with SATs and ACTs is an example of Goodhart's Law (any measurement which is used to guide policy will become corrupt). What happens if grade point average is taken more seriously?

I still think taking grade point average more seriously is a good idea, but it's only going to help for a while.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 4:05 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


It is unbelievably effed up also, that elite colleges and universities achieve part of their elite status by the metric of “selectivity,” i.e., how few people they admit relative to the applicant pool. So there is a push-pull between trying to get qualified applicants to apply, and purposefully encouraging people who would never be accepted to “apply anyway! You never know...” Schools benefit in rankings by rejecting people, so they try to generate a higher and higher rejection rate.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 4:07 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]


Public institutions are doing this stuff, too.

The University of Minnesota has a clause in their - charter? - not sure what the word is - that once they finish construction, they have to provide free in-state tuition. So they stay in constant construction because that's cheaper.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:52 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


What has happened with SATs and ACTs is an example of Goodhart's Law (any measurement which is used to guide policy will become corrupt). What happens if grade point average is taken more seriously?

I'm sorry, are you saying that GPA isn't already thoroughly corrupted? My teenager spent all last night telling me how people were gaming it to get into the parking lottery at his high school.
posted by Etrigan at 6:03 AM on September 11 [5 favorites]


Etrigan, any further details will be appreciated.

If GPA helps predict college performance, it might not be thoroughly corrupted. Or possibly college GPA is equally corrupted.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 7:15 AM on September 11


Someone has to tell you PhDs are funded

Amen. I had no idea. My girlfriend in undergrad transferred to a better institution and was assigned campus housing in the graduate student dorms (largely international). Because she was now making friends with graduate students she learned how it went and was like, "did you know that you don't have to pay for a grad degree?" and explained RA and TA roles. I was like "get the fuck outta here". Then she dumped me for an older sophisticated european gent.

And that is how I learned that graduate school was an option for me. And going grad school changed my whole life. I am living a life so much bigger than I ever even knew was possible.

I really hate the idea that someone who decides to stay close to home to attend a local or regional college is making a bad decision just because they didn't make the same decision that we would have made or think they should have made. I have no kind words for this sentiment at all, it is the sentiment that held me back and held me down.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 7:18 AM on September 11 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry, are you saying that GPA isn't already thoroughly corrupted? My teenager spent all last night telling me how people were gaming it to get into the parking lottery at his high school.

Oh, it's thoroughly gamed. I have a student this year who wanted to take one of my courses. But His GPA is over 4.0 and even an A in that course would lower his GPA. So I encouraged him to be a TA for me instead, and I'd let him audit the course and do the work if he wanted, but not get a grade for it.
posted by parliboy at 7:28 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


b) doesn't get adequate support from whatever college admissions staff is at their high school to put their best application forward; (c) doesn't realize the potential career and intellectual (yeah, I think there are such) consequences of choosing a much less competitive institution; (d) doesn't get the real financial and emotional support for themselves and their family needed to make and sustain such a big transition.

Yeah, my mom was the first person in her family to graduate from college. She went to a fancy schmancy high school (Music & Art in NYC) full of rich Manhattanites because she could draw well and the guidance counselor didn’t help her at all. Her parents were willing to let her live at home in the Bronx after high school, but couldn't afford to pay for college and wouldn't co-sign any loans for school.

My mom’s best friend went to Barnard, because her parents had money and knew what they were doing, and my mom wound up going to City College - that was the only place she applied. (Not that City College is bad, but her best friend wound up with a PhD and a fancy job at the Met, while my mom wound up with a non-art-related corporate office job in NJ. She's still a success story, but not the same kind of success story.)

You have to know you're supposed to go to office hours so someone knows you well enough to write you a good letter of recommendation. You have to know to ask for advice on applying to grad school...

When I was in college, I applied for an REU program at my school because I saw a flyer and thought it sounded cool. I actually got an interview, but I didn’t know how to interview well, and I didn’t get the spot. I learned how to interview better after that, but I couldn’t get letters of recommendation to apply in subsequent years, since I didn’t know about the importance of office hours. My advisor in biology wound up being the same person who rejected me for the REU, and she spent her entire time as my advisor steering me away from research and graduate education.

I wound up getting an advanced degree in a different field because of a computer science lecturer (not even a professor) who actually gave a shit about preparing us for careers in the field and gave me a ton of (mostly unsolicited) advice and help.
posted by marfa, texas at 8:06 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Someone has to tell you PhDs are funded and if no one from your department goes on to a PhD, it might not occur to anyone to tell you in time for you to maximise your preparation.

I went to a fancy college of the sort where lots of math majors go on to get PhD's. I come from an upper-middle-class family. I still didn't know PhD's were funded until my junior year of college. Somehow I managed to get one. (But I think I missed a lot of the "how to have an academic career" hidden curriculum, which is probably part of why I don't have an academic career but have a "real job" instead.)
posted by madcaptenor at 9:32 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]


Interesting, a lot of these pipeline issues don't apply to academic graduate programs - no one cares about your extra-curriculars, your undergrad supplies mentors experienced in the process.

Well, they do, because you have to have walked through the door of one of the "right" undergrad institutions to begin with. (It certainly helps, anyway.) You have to know you're supposed to go to office hours so someone knows you well enough to write you a good letter of recommendation. You have to know to ask for advice on applying to grad school....


hoyland's and others' points are good: I hadn't realized how they mattered. Where is not so important: if your institution has faculty with PhDs and offers 4-year BAs, you have the ingredients you need. You need to be at a solid, but not stellar university; my university, for example, had graduate programs, but was non-selective for the undergraduate programs (you needed C+ grades in high school to be accepted, and the graduating average was C/C+).

But I hadn't thought about the advice I'd gotten from non-university connections - not from my family (I was a first generation university student), but from my boyfriend's parents who were (still are) academics and who helped me substantially in my graduate school applications. My professors - all of whom (obviously) had gone to graduate school - were not as helpful as they should have been. Part of me wants to give them some slack - I was a good, but procrastinating student and did all my applications late (late fall of my senior/fourth year) - but they should have given me more guidance about where to apply, benefits of different programs, how to write my letters/essays, etc.

What I think is really different about graduate applications is that universities - specifically departmental faculty - can and should offer that support. My soon-to-be family helped me, but they shouldn't have had to. Maybe I would have done better in graduate school if I had done things like graduate courses (not offered to undergraduates at my university) or intensive language training (French was available for free in Canada, but I couldn't afford to not work during the summer to do it), but none of that was necessary for acceptance to a very competitive graduate program.

As for funding: I was coming from Canada where, at the time, humanities graduate programs were not funded. I knew that going in and it was at least 60% of the reason that I went to the American university that did fund PhD students (and also did direct entry PhDs, which Canada also doesn't do). I felt so rich with $15k/year - the most money I'd ever had :)

So, if any faculty are listening: I know you all are totally over-worked, but maybe one of your priorities could be supporting non-traditional students to apply to graduate programs. You know who they are, and you probably are the person who asked them/ told them they should consider graduate school. (I was thinking of a teaching certificate at most, before faculty in my department suggested I look at graduate training). But it will take more than just that suggestion: they'll need help figuring out what they need to apply, where to apply, how to apply, writing application essays, and in general professionalizing themselves, etc. - stuff you may not even realize that you know, but you do (at least, you did it once upon a time, and if your institution has graduate programs, you probably are involved in assessing applicants and thus know what programs are looking for).

Also, that senior professor who supervised my senior thesis was pretty useless. I should have done my thesis with the actually supportive just-about-as-senior professor, but I had this idea I wasn't going to study enclosure so I should work with someone else. Stupid me. She was way better, and also I ended up studying enclosure even after trying to run away from it - it was like destiny or a bad rash or something ...
posted by jb at 2:00 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


I think both sides are actually correct (I know, barf) when it comes to the "undermatching" debate. There are definitely people who self-select out of applying to an Ivy because they don't realize they have a decent shot and that tuition would actually be free for them, or at least cheaper than in-state tuition (in-state tuition at UNH is $17K a year which is actually an insane number to me). There are definitely opportunities at an Ivy that you can't get at a two-year college and that you would have a harder time gaining access to at a huge public state university, and access to those opportunities makes the biggest difference in terms of future earnings, etc. for the people who are the most disadvantaged coming in. But also -- applications aren't free, which for some people is a significant barrier; Ivies don't always know how to actually support lower-income students and, based on my anecdata, do a much worse job graduating them than they do rich students; and people often do have very good reasons for choosing community college, including family responsibilities and/or needing to fit their classes around full-time job(s).

Currently I'm in California where there are relatively good transfer pipelines between community colleges and the best UCs (Cal, Davis, UCLA, etc.), which I think is awesome and necessary especially given how expensive public schools are these days (remember how boomers are always telling us how they could work a part-time job and put themselves through school?), but like, good luck transferring from a community college to Harvard.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:11 PM on September 12 [2 favorites]


Schools benefit in rankings by rejecting people, so they try to generate a higher and higher rejection rate.

And generally each of those applications represents a cost around $50 for the applicant, which already privileges the . . . privileged.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:53 PM on September 17


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