College Unranked: Affirming Educational Values in College Admissions

By Massa, Robert J. | College and University, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

College Unranked: Affirming Educational Values in College Admissions


Massa, Robert J., College and University


College Unranked: Affirming Educational Values in College Admissions LLOYD THACKER, ED., THE EDUCATION CONSERVANCY, 2004 (WWW.EDUCATIONCONSERVANCY.ORC) $19.95, 220 PP.

One rule from "Marketing ioi"is to have but a single purpose attached to each promotional activity. A brochure that is designed for prospective students and for guidance counselors, for example, rarely works. Lloyd Thacker and his colleagues brilliantly disprove this theory in College Unranked, a collection of essays on the current challenges in college admission from multiple perspectives written by admission deans and presidents. This important book also treats the reader to four interspersed chapters of true stories from the editor, himself a long-time college counselor, about the adventures of high school students and parents as they trudge the road of college admission. At once, College Unranked contains valuable messages for educators, the media, college admission vendors, parents, and students. It is a "deans tell all" book that defines the challenging issues and placing them in perspective, while offering sound advice to its respective audiences about how to end the commercialization and "high stakes" attitude that pervades the contemporary college admission process, restoring "studenthood" to its rightful place.

"Studenthood," a term coined by Thacker, is defined as "those qualities that equip a student to make education happen, to engage learning as a process. Curiosity, self discipline, effort, imagination, intellectual verve, sense of wonder, willingness to try new things, empathy, open-mindedness, civility, tolerance for ambiguity-these are some of the qualities that define and give value to being a student" (p.8). The irony is that while these are the exact qualities that colleges claim to be seeking in students, the current commercial environment does much to undermine these values. And the commercial environment does not only fall on the shoulders of the colleges themselves, all of whom are eager to fill their classes with the "best" students they can lure while netting the highest revenue possible. Students, parents, and high school profile writers are frequently more concerned about the "prestige factor" than about finding the appropriate match for a particular student. The media is obsessed with the most prestigious schools and focuses on a handful of colleges as representative of the world of higher education (which they are not), while at the same time persisting in the counterproductive "rankings game" which further betrays the concept of "studenthood."The vendors, large and small, profit and "nonprofit," play to the fears of admissions deans and students in their marketing of products to help colleges achieve their enrollment and revenue goals, and to help students "beat the odds." Where, oh where has education gone?

The essays cover a wide range of observations about college admission today. Many are written expressly for students and their parents-advice on how to enjoy the journey of college selection rather than to "play the game" and ruin the junior and senior year of high school in the process. Some are written for our admission colleagues and college presidents with the goal of promoting an understanding of how far we have strayed from the original purpose of a college education and what we can do to change our orientation. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars marketing our institutions rather than investing at least some of those dollars in the academic program.

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