6 Ways Colleges Are Behaving Badly

For many years I was a financial journalist and in that role I became extremely cynical about how Wall Street and the rest of the financial industry operated. After I switched  to writing about the higher-ed world, I became just as cynical about the practices of colleges and universities.

I bring this up today because of a report just released that summarizes some of the craven behavior of administrators at colleges and universities, who are preoccupied with making their institutions more elite, prestigious and wealthy.

The report was published by the University of Southern California’s Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice and The Education Conservancy. It summarizes the discussions that took place among senior administrators, senior admission officials and academics earlier this year at a conference at USC entitled, The Case for Change in College Admissions.

6 Ways Colleges Are Behaving Badly

I wanted to share just a few of the problems that the conference participants, according to the report, found troubling about the college admission process:

1. The process distorts students’ relationships with learning, causing them to regard the high school years as an Olympic training season demanding ever-greater feats of accomplishments in order to qualify for admission to a selective university or college.

2. Provides incentives for institutions to elicit large numbers of applications from students only to turn them down in order to reinforce an image of selectivity.

3. Bestows unwarranted value to standardized test as a supreme measure of academic competence, creating the impression that test scores are more important than a student’s actually learning or development, and giving rise to the multi-billion dollar industries in testing, test prep and test coaching.

4. Diverts funds from need-based aid to merit-based financial aid, effectively excluding substantial numbers of lower income students from college participants.

5. Feeds a sense of inflated self-esteem and superiority in many students who succeed in gaining admission to highly selective institutions – an attitude that hinders the capacity for empathy and widens the separation between the most and least privileged in society.

6. Hinders colleges and universities from taking any action out of step with prevailing practices, from the fear that such divergence would cause an institution to lose competitive standing with its peers.

If you’d like to learn more about this important subject, I’d urge you to read the entire report, A Call for Individual and Collective Leadership, which includes many suggestions for change.

What’s Next?

It would be great if this self examination leads to positive changes in behavior at institutions – starting with college presidents – across the country.  I wish I could be optimistic. But I’ve seen the same seemingly heartfelt calls among college admission officials and college presidents over the years to stand up against the destructive US News & World Report’s college rankings and nothing has happened.

This time I truly hope I’m wrong.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes college blogs for CBSMoneyWatch and US News & World Report.

Read More:

What Ever Happened to Shakespeare?

4 Ways to Check Out Colleges and Universities

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2 Responses to 6 Ways Colleges Are Behaving Badly

  1. Kate September 7, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    As a parent of a high school junior this concerns me. My child is taking a harder schedule than I would have reccomended because of pressure from the school to do all you can for maximum college admissions possibilities. She is a very good student, and standardized test taker, and I’m sure she’ll have a great year academically, but she won’t have as much time for non-school stuff as I wish she would. Life is too short for that and so far she is not interested in elite/prestigious colleges.

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