Education Opinion

Who’s a Qualified College Applicant?

By Walt Gardner — April 15, 2016 1 min read
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Despite efforts over the years to accurately evaluate high school seniors for admission, colleges and universities have continued to give inordinate weight to traditional evidence. But that may be finally changing (“The Radical New Ways Colleges Are Sizing Up Students,” Time, Apr. 7).

Nearly 100 schools, including all the Ivies, have formed the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success. Its purpose is to rely more heavily on creative materials such as personal videos, digital portfolios and comic strips to help students present themselves as worthy candidates for admission. Such materials would not replace traditional data, such as standardized test scores, GPAs and recommendations, but supplement them.

I understand the intent of this change, but I question its fundamental value. How does the ability to create a personal video indicate the ability to write a research paper? Sooner or later, freshmen are going to have to demonstrate their academic skills. For example, research papers published by high school students in The Concord Review are seen by admissions officers at all marquee-name colleges and universities as impeccable proof of their ability to do outstanding work.

I have no problem with using alternative evidence to supplement traditional data, but I fear that the former will eventually overshadow the latter. We’ve seen the dumbing down of higher education over the years as we’ve become obsessed with college for all. Frankly, I don’t know what a bachelor’s degree means anymore. I support efforts to increase diversity on campus as long as that does not vitiate academic quality. Personal videos and the like certainly can demonstrate creativity, but is that creativity relevant to the reading and writing skills needed to succeed once students are admitted?

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.