Jewish World Review April 19, 2004 / 29 Nissan, 5764
College craziness; diversity of the affluent; downgrading Princeton
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Sky-high test scores, straight A's in honors classes and extracurriculars don't guarantee a spot at elite colleges, says Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. Even high school stars are being turned away, as increasing numbers of students apply to the same list of colleges.
David Weinstein, a senior at Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, is an academic star by any definition. His grade-point average is 4.68. His SAT score is 1500. He has served as student body president and co-editor of his school newspaper, all while struggling with the challenges of Tourette's syndrome.
Ten years ago, he would almost certainly have been ensured a place at one of the Ivy League colleges. But within two hours on April 1, as he checked the admissions messages on his computer, Harvard, Yale, Brown and Pennsylvania all slapped him with wait-list or rejection notices. Princeton delivered the bad news two days later.
Weinstein did get into Northwestern, Johns Hopkins and Emory.
Once he gets to college, he'll be told to relax, go slow and enjoy learning for its own sake.
Colleges are offering a range of services for stressed students, says the New York Times.
There are now free massages and dogs to cuddle in exam seasons, biofeedback workshops and therapists available to help students work through their first C.
At Harvard, the training given to graduate students who live in the undergraduate houses has in recent years expanded to include ways to help students fight perfectionism -- a theme on many campuses -- as well as negotiate matters involving race, class and sexual identity.
...Washington University in St. Louis has established stress-free zones during finals, where students can get chair massages and listen to New Age music.
On a student blog, Social Justice Friends, Libertaria blames the college admissions mania.
Some pressure is healthy, but sites like IvySuccess.com are just ridiculous. They charge $8,995 for a "Standard Consultation" and $18,000 for a "Complete Strategy." Absurd.
There were no free massages in my day, I can tell you that. We had to pay for our own marijuana!
Princeton is considering a plan to limit the percentage of "A" grades to 35 percent. That’s about the percentage earned by undergrads from 1987 to 1992. Like other elite universities, Princeton has been trying to limit grade inflation. In 1971, the average Princetonian had a 2.99 grade point average; that rose to 3.36 in 2000.
Diversity of the Affluent
Race-based affirmative action lets us ignore economic inequality, writes Walter Benn Michaels in the New York Times Magazine. He's an English professor at University of Illinois-Chicago, a non-elite college that serves students from low- and middle-income families. Elite universities serve the children of affluence, Michaels writes.
(At Harvard) 90 percent of the undergraduates come from families earning more than $42,000 a year (the median household income in the U.S.) -- and some 77 percent come from families with incomes of more than $80,000, although only about 20 percent of American households have incomes that high...The fact (and it is a fact) that it doesn't help to be white to get into Harvard replaces the much more fundamental fact that it does help to be rich and that it's virtually essential not to be poor.
...When student and faculty activists struggle for cultural diversity, they are in large part battling over what skin color the rich kids should have.
I'd say it helps to be very well-educated, and it's a lot easier for the children of the affluent to get the schooling they need to qualify. But he's right about the lack of economic and class diversity at highly competitive colleges.
Holes in the K-16 Pipeline
If you talk to a class of ninth graders, nearly all will say they want to go to college. But nationwide, only 18 percent will earn a two-year college degree within three years of leaving high school, or a four-year degree within six years. Only 68 percent of students who start high school earn a diploma, says a study of K-16 success rates by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. About 59 percent of graduates -- 40 percent of the original ninth grade class -- go directly from high school to college. By sophomore year, one third have dropped out, leaving 27 percent of the original ninth graders still enrolled.
Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Iowa have the highest K-16 graduation rates at 28 to 29 percent, while Nevada and New Mexico rank at the bottom with a 10 percent college completion rate.
Of course, the assumption of all this is that the ideal is to send every student straight from high school to college to a degree. That's not the best path for everyone. And the National Center doesn't consider that if everyone gets a college diploma, the value of a diploma will decline even more than it already has.
However, I think we need to look seriously at the huge gap between students' ambitions and reality. In New York, 43 percent of students who start high school leave without a diploma. What's a realistic path for these kids? And let's explain to students that there's no point going to college if you don't have the skills or the drive to pass classes once you get there.
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