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Conference Participants Discuss Barriers Between High School and College

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OAK BROOK, ILL.--More than 100 college executives and high-school guidance counselors met here recently to discuss ways to ease the transition from secondary to higher education.

"College admissions and high-school counseling is at a crossroads,'' said Frank Burtnett, the executive director of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, at the meeting sponsored by the College Board. "Counseling at schools will have to get better, and to get better, it will have to get targeted.''

Much of the discussion centered on trends that are forcing changes in counseling and admissions, including growth in K-12 minority enrollments, technological advances, the push for performance-based assessments and higher standards, college students' increasing reliance on financial aid, and nontraditional college-attendance patterns.

Donald M. Stewart, the president of the College Board, told the participants that the classic relationship between precollegiate and postsecondary education is not working and must be revamped to eliminate barriers that prevent some students from going to college.

"If we don't do it, it will be done by government,'' he warned.

Mr. Stewart said counselors and admission officers need to recognize and react to the following trends: the substantial increase in the number of women, minorities, older students, and part-time students attending college; and new technologies that could be applied in creative ways to ease the admissions process.

Other Topics

In other highlights of the June conference:

  • Fred Hargadon, Princeton University's dean of admissions, said traditionally selective institutions are becoming even more elitist for several reasons, including rising tuition, the nationalization of the applicant pool, and increasing disparities between secondary schools serving well-to-do and low-income students.

Mr. Hargadon added that admissions officials at selective schools have noticed over the years a decline in the number of academically gifted students.

  • Carolynn Reid-Wallace, the U.S. Education Department's assistant secretary for postsecondary education, said high schools must raise their academic standards and colleges must toughen their admissions standards.

"Standards have to be raised, and one can't debate that and be reasonable,'' she said. "One can't debate that and be honest.''

Ms. Reid-Wallace acknowledged that some students would be denied the chance to attend college if standards were increased. But, she added, maintaining the status quo would be "suicidal.''

Many participants said the federal government should back its call for higher standards with more money.

  • Dolores Cross, the president of Chicago State University, told the participants they have a "social and moral responsibility to address what should be this country's equity agenda.''

Ms. Cross noted that her institution spent $2 million to develop a program that brings students to the college, ensures their retention and success, and assists them in job searches.

  • Participants expressed concern over a recent Education Department ruling that allows students to inspect their admissions files. A student participant said, however, that the new rule opens up the admissions process and gives students insight into how admissions decisions are made.
  • Officials of the college-admissions counselors' association said they have formed a commission to explore the use of technology in admissions. It is expected to issue a report next year.
  • Several participants complained that disproportionate media coverage of elite liberal-arts institutions on the East Coast leads the public to believe that higher education is available only to the very smart and very rich, and that students always enter right out of high school and stay for four years until they receive their degrees.

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