How has the recent college admissions scandal affected the world of higher education? originally appeared on Quora, the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.
I don’t think the recent college admissions scandal has wracked the world of higher education as much as it has shaken the public’s perception of it. Colleges are businesses, after all, so public perception will likely impact choices colleges make about how they conduct their business down the road. A number of colleges have already seen the light about the ways standardized tests can be exploited and have chosen to avoid those tests altogether and declare themselves test-optional—a move in the right direction, in my opinion.
Having worked inside of college admissions offices, I know first hand that as a whole, the college admissions process is not an evil operation. My colleagues have deeply good intentions. They got into this business to help create a vibrant learning community. Many ended up working in admissions specifically because they are extroverts and enjoy interacting with teenagers and their families. They want to be helpful. They are committed to being more inclusive of previously under-represented populations. They want to find (and recruit) students who could make the campus they represent a more spirited, inspiring place for all students to learn and grow. Many are idealists, trying to do right by the student applicants, as well as the college, as well as the world those applicants will go on to impact after graduation.
So let’s start with the premise that those working in higher education mean well because the vast majority of them do. Then I’ll add to this premise my optimism—based on many years of working with parents of college applicants as well as students themselves—that the vast majority of parents are not breaking laws to ensure their child’s acceptance to a prestigious college. It’s true that a number of parents act in crazy ways and stretch boundaries when they let the fear swirling around in the current admissions climate get the better of them. But when I remind those afflicted parents to focus on their child instead of what others are saying or doing (and take a few—okay, many—deep breaths), they usually snap out of it and stop approaching college admissions as such a cutthroat competition (which was the downfall of those parents who wandered astray in the scandal). Even those parents who have lost all sense of perspective when inundated with college rankings and hearsay about the objective “best” colleges that they must get their kids into (which, of course, is rubbish) stop short of breaking the law. And most parents who let fear and anxiety overwhelm them regret their behavior after all is said and done and their child lands at a college that suits her well.
Am I shocked and saddened to learn about those parents accused in the scandal, who have allowed the college admissions frenzy to seep in at such an egregious level? Yes, I am. Do I think the scandal speaks to how out of hand the competition has become? Of course, I do. That’s why I started a movement I call “The Chill Parents’ Revolution” on my website jillshulman.com. Do I think it will change the way college admission evaluators review applications? Not unless they can find more hours in the day during reading season. Within admissions offices, there has always been a system of checks and balances in place. When time permits, admission officers will call high school guidance offices if they spot a discrepancy in an application, and sometimes they’ll Google a claim that’s especially exciting or suspicious. Most of the time, they have too much work to fact check each application, so they give applicants the benefit of the doubt to adhere to a code of conduct befitting a college student (aka an honor code).
As far as athletic recruitment goes, 99.9% of coaches who recruit athletes have always been ethical. They have more to go on than a student’s face photo-shopped onto someone else’s body in uniform. Coaches attend season and showcase games and invite students for recruitment weekends. There are, however, bigger systemic questions about athletic recruitment that this scandal has brought up that I believe are worth addressing.
Beyond lies, misdemeanors, and actual felonies enacted by a small fraction of parents and coaches, the scandal has shed light on common admissions practices that generally favor the wealthy. A silver lining of this scandal is that the general public is now aware of and questioning how colleges tend to favor athletes as well as legacy applicants in the college admissions process. When potential customers question business practices, leaders within that business are forced to question those practices too. At some point along the way, favoring these athletic recruits and legacy applicants, who generally harken from more privileged families, became a ritual that may very well have become outdated. Because of all the publicity surrounding the recent scandal, professionals working within the world of higher education will be forced to reassess what they’ve always done. Just because practices have historically been legal does not mean they are right.
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