Jay Mathews praises a new book, College Unranked: Ending the College Admissions Frenzy. It's a "collection of essays by some of the most thoughtful people working in college admissions today". Here, according to Mr. Mathews, is a representative piece:
It used to be that Americans aspired to go to college; now they hire consultants, take expensive classes, and spend countless hours creating the perfect application to the right college. For many high school students today, gaining admission to college has been reduced to a game to be played, and education to a prize that must be won. Their parents, driven by a desire to do the very best by their children, have unwittingly joined the race. . . .
Leading this rapid commercialization of college admissions are the rankings of U.S. News & World Report, along with those of several newcomers to the field of college rankings, the billion-dollar marketing and consulting industry servicing students and colleges alike, certain members of the media, and the corporatization of the College Board (a non-profit organization that sponsors the SAT and now offers online test prep, application prep, scholarship services, Advanced Placement (AP) exams, and enrollment management, among other things).
Curiosity, self-discipline, effort, imagination, intellectual verve, sense of wonder, willingness to try new things, empathy, open-mindedness, civility, and tolerance for ambiguity are some of the qualities that define and give value to being a student. They are the same qualities that colleges say they seek in admitting prospective students. Yet they are also qualities that have been betrayed and repressed by the business models that now guide much of college admissions.
Allow me a brief rant. The prestige purveyors of higher education are now charging $125,000 and more for their product. I"ll wager that the average American makes no more expensive purchase, except for his house, in his life.
How could a transaction this big be anything other than a business? If "thoughtful" admissions officers want jobs untainted by all that ugly commercialism, they should minister to the dying or teach first graders to read. Sheesh.