Tag Archives: college

Legacy Admissions: a handout to the already haves.

Legacy admissions are not a leg up, they are a hand out to the already haves.

Data shows that the number one predictor of the likely education level a child will receive is the level of education the parents have already attained. This is not due to some sort of amniotic intelligence transfer but rather the tendency of most teachers (parents) to teach others, to simply do what they did.IMG_9436

People who have gone to elite colleges are more likely to know the application process, understand the school’s expectations, and better yet, they often know the people making the admissions decisions.IMG_9508

If you look at those who attend elite schools you will find that most of them had parents who went to elite schools, or at least good schools, and as one might guess, these parents also have a good amount of money. Whether the schooling or the money came first doesn’t really matter, but there is surely a solid correlation. In addition, you will find that most of those who are accepted into elite schools had tutors and took test prep classes during grade and high school. These kids being tutored are the A students, not the ones at risk of athletic ineligibility. On top of that, you will also find that most who gain entry into elite colleges attended high schools that have previously sent other students to elite colleges. Turns out that following well-traveled paths is more likely to get you there than forging new trails.

There are few, if any, immaculately conceived scholars who rise from nowhere with potential so obvious that Harvard can see it.crew guys

Most people who haven’t been to Harvard don’t know many others who have. Most who never attended Princeton, don’t really know what Princeton is looking for in an applicant. Most at mediocre high schools, are unaware that most at great high schools are taking extra SAT prep classes. Some, who never went to Yale but still managed to accumulate wealth, spend some of that wealth to send their kids to schools where the children of Yale grads go.IMG_9500

That is how people get in.

If you want to investigate potential unfairness in admissions to elite schools, maybe we should look first, I repeat first (not as an afterthought), at the practice of giving preference to those who are already advantaged in the application process.

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College Admissions: how it works

In light of the Department of Justice’s announced intentions to investigate colleges that enact affirmative action policies in admissions decisions, it might be helpful for the public (and the Whitehouse) to understand a few things about college admissions.

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First, you need to know that college admissions is not like the NBA draft. Schools do not collect a pile of applicants and then rank them all starting at their number one draft pick and then start moving their way down the board until they run out of spots. It does not, nor has it ever, worked that way.

While most all colleges are a little different and policies and ideologies vary, the basic standard is that rather than starting at a ranking and working their way down, what admissions boards do is start by setting a floor, or basic cutoff at the bottom, below which the school doubts the applicant’s ability to handle the course of study. This normally consists of a minimum GPA or SAT/ACT score. Once the minimum is set, everyone above that cutoff is “qualified” and fair game for admission. Past that, whatever policy, practice, or magical spell the school wishes to employ to fill up their freshman class, is up to them.

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This gets tricky when the school has more qualified applicants than openings, or in some cases, more openings than qualified applicants. In both cases, there are fights, arguments, exceptions, and shenanigans all around in every direction. But however these dust ups get settled, and in all cases, what you need to know is that there are no draft style leader boards with applicants ranked 1-2,000 and consequentially it is impossible for one applicant to take another “more qualified” applicant’s spot.

Why this is important to know, is to help you avoid the mistake of thinking that there are regular, or even rare, scenarios where candidate A loses their spot to a less qualified candidate B. This does not happen because, in almost all cases, the only students being reviewed are above the predetermined floor and consequentially they are all “qualified”, and if they are all qualified, it is up to the committee to decide who they want to let in, or who is “most” qualified. Consequentially, determining who is more qualified than another is so subjective that it is impossible for you, or I, or anyone outside of that closed-door room, to be able to make that determination. Some schools (public) decide that within the pool of qualified applicants they will privilege kids from in-state. Some (private) may decide they want a sampling of students from all over the globe. Some schools work hard to recruit students to specific programs, like math or science, others may value racial and ethnic representation and the experience diversity brings to a campus, but in all cases, remember that the admissions committees are assembling these classes from a pool of candidates who have already been deemed qualified.

But of course there are always exceptions, or things that look like exceptions. Folk lore holds that these exceptions normally come in the cases of athletes and racial minorities. In addressing this lore, allow me to be a little crass for a moment.

What colleges care about most, are rankings and money. While rankings are nice for bragging rights, they are mostly relevant in how they can translate into more donations and applications, which ultimately means more money. So really, what colleges care about most, is just money.

If you have money, or the ability to bring in money, a college will let you in. Period. This is why the NCAA gets very finicky about minimum academic requirements. This independent third party has set some minimum academic standards for all schools to follow and then deems any applicants below those standards ineligible to play, and thereby unable to bring the college more money. So those kids don’t get in. This is also why some rankings, like US News & World Report, put certain metrics like graduation rates, incoming class GPA, and SAT scores, into their formula. If a college compromises on their admission standards, they get a lower ranking. Colleges do not like to drop in rankings.stadium (2)

Please keep in mind that normally the NCAA minimum standard is way below the average college’s admissibility floor, and that the desirable US News reported averages are way above the normal college’s admissibility floor. With this in mind, when and why would a college violate its own standards to let in an unqualified or less qualified student?

For money.

The two biggest, or most frequent, instances of compromised college standards are for athletes and legacies. Most Americans are familiar with the reasoning of the athlete exception, you might even be able to name their names, but in case you are less familiar with what a legacy is, this is an applicant who is the child of an alum. Legacies get preference because they are more likely to not only translate into future tuition dollars via children and grandchildren, but they are more likely to become donors. Every University and college wants to become a part of your family. More specifically, they want to become that charming, lovable, member of your family that shows up to every family function, but is probably broke and will definitely pull you into a side room and ask for a small loan. This family member will let Junior in, despite Junior’s C- average. Colleges will take Junior because he brings along extra money.

Racial minorities do not naturally bring along extra money. Diversity is indeed a metric considered in most rankings, but it is only one of many and henceforth far outweighed by GPAs and SATs. Because of this, colleges are not likely to let in any applicant who is below their admissibility floor simply because they are a minority… unless they have money.

So to review, let us say the floor is a 3.5 GPA and the college in question only has one spot left.

Scenario 1: Applicant A is a white male with a 3.4 and applicant B is a black female with a 3.4 and a very sad story. Neither are admissible, neither get in.

Scenario 2: Applicant A is a white male with a 3.6 and Applicant B is a black female with a 3.5 and no sad story. Both are admissible, I probably take B.

Scenario 3: Applicant A is a white male with a 1.7 and a huge trust fund and applicant B is a black female with a 3.9 who conquered poverty to get a great SAT score. A gets in.

Scenario 4: Applicant A is a white male with a 3.9 and great SAT while Applicant B is a black female with a 3.6 and a moderate SAT. A gets in.

One last scenario just to make a point: Applicant A is a white male with a 1.7 and a rich alum parent and Applicant B is a black male who runs the 40 in 4 seconds flat and can bench press 400 pounds. A gets in.

A gets in because A already has money and B might break his leg.

College admissions is a high stakes, high stress, poker game for sure, but let one thing be clear. If you are a qualified candidate, you will not lose your spot to an unqualified competitor simply because they aren’t white.

Unless they are rich.

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the USC in California

The University of Southern California is not in South Carolina. You would think this goes without saying but some people need to hear it. They are known as the Trojans, they have almost 40,000 students, and every year the school receives more donations than almost any other university. They need those donations because while New York is the old world of inherited position, Los Angeles is the new world where nobodies just buy their way in, and USC is not just IN LA but in many ways IS LA.IMG_4586

I have been to more than 200 hundred American college campuses and nowhere have I been surrounded by so many kids who look like well-manicured super athletes. Remember that one sociology class you had sophomore year with all the football players? They would show up in sweat pants, unshaven, with bed head. At USC they arrive in crisp ironed t-shirts with tweezed eyebrows. These polished Adonises appear in white brown and black, male and female, with the only requirements being that they appear chiseled and leave behind first place trophies. There are so many trophies.IMG_4573

Winning is a big deal at USC.

At Harvard you can find a statue of John Harvard. At Penn you find a bronze Ben Franklin. At USC you find statues of a dog wearing a cap playing with a football, the 1969 defensive line nicknamed the Wild Bunch, a white horse named Traveler, several bronze Trojan warriors, actor Douglass Fairbanks, and six, count them six, Heisman trophies. There would be seven but Reggie Bush lost his due to NCAA violations. O.J. Simpson’s is still on display in the Hall of Champions.IMG_4683

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It Is Worth the Trouble: depending on how you measure it.

The first time I graduated I didn’t “walk”. I took my last final on a Friday and on Saturday morning I moved 5 states away. I stayed away for seven years. I was jaded and disgruntled and just wanted to get out and to be done. I wasn’t sure my degree was “worth it”.fromthestage

The second time I graduated I sat through two ceremonies, walked in one,  and I milked everything I could out of all of it. I wanted more. I loved it.IMG_9247

Now I have the opportunity to sit up on stage at graduation ceremonies every year and it gives me a moment to pause and reflect at the differences between my first and second ceremonies. Or rather, compare my attitude relating to the two educational experiences.

What I have learned from this reflection is at the heart of why I do my job.IMG_4375

What I learned is that I did it all wrong the first time. The worst part is that I didn’t know I had done it wrong till I did it the second time.

I had done it all wrong and because of that I didn’t think it had been worth it. I worked hard, and scrimped and scratched to pay for it, and I needed a degree to get a job, and sure I learned some stuff in there and I definitely needed a job, but in the end I felt spent and it was almost as if any real lessons I had learned were in spite of, rather than because of, school.IMG_7487

Then, thinking I was only pursuing career advancement in a trade school sort of way, I went to school again and it was as if fireworks, a choir of angels, and all the possible light bulbs surrounded me in glittering explosions of song and light.

I was risking more, spending ten times more, and it was the most wonderfully indulgent experience imaginable.

And because of it, I am happier every day after, than I was any day before.procession

That happiness is how I measure worth.

Education is worth it… when you do it right.

School is worth it.

Worth, all of it.

That is why I love my job. There are things about my job that are hard, that are drudgery, that frustrate me to no end, but I love it because I can feign some wisdom from what I have learned along the way and I can help others know how to do it right the first time.

You can do it right the first time.

Happy graduation season everyone!

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HBCUs and the Current Administration

Yesterday the white house played host to presidents of historically black colleges and universities. You may have seen the picture. It is the one with our nation’s president at his desk, a smiling Amarosa at his side. The office is packed with black people in dresses and suits, and of course Mrs. Conway kneeling on the couch.main-bldg

I wasn’t there. I don’t really know what happened and I can only guess at why.

But Dr. Walter Kimbrough, the President of Dillard University was in that room and he wrote about it. Oddly enough just last week three freshman were in my office asking me questions about student support and I printed out two different peer reviewed articles written by Dr. Kimbrough to help them.

Here is what he said about yesterday, “…the goal was for officials from a number of Federal agencies (about 5 were there including OMB) and Secretary DeVos to hear about HBCUs. That all blew up when the decision was made to take the presidents to the Oval Office to see the President… there was very little listening to HBCU presidents today- we were only given about 2 minutes each, and that was cut to one minute, so only about 7 of maybe 15 or so speakers were given an opportunity today.”

Today is the last day of Black History Month. The image I saw online had the potential to communicate some hope for these institutions. Sadly, as is the precedent, it fell far short.

Then I saw the Education Secretary’s statement following their meeting.

“Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have done this since their founding. They started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education. They saw that the system wasn’t working, that there was an absence of opportunity, so they took it upon themselves to provide the solution.

HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”front-gate

This is the kind of statement you make if you aren’t listening. But again, I wasn’t there so maybe she did listen, or maybe she didn’t get a chance to hear them, or maybe it is worse. Maybe she listened and then still chose to release the above.

It should be clear that Black colleges did not start because of too few choices, they were founded because of exclusion. There was a system in place that was working for white people, and those people fought hard to keep this benefit exclusive.

Once these schools were founded they did not represent an additional choice, or even an alternative, they represented the only option.

Had the Secretary chosen to listen to Dr. Kimbrough, the president of one of these lauded schools, here is what he would have said (which we know he would have said because he published it today),

“Fifty years ago a philosophy emerged suggesting education was no longer a public good, but a private one. Since then we’ve seen Federal and State divestment in education, making the idea of education as the path to the American dream more of a hallucination for the poor and disenfranchised.”

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Back to School

I am a bad parent. I failed to post back to school pictures of my children on Facebook. I am not against doing so. I just didn’t do it.img_1661

Posting those pictures means I have to help the third grader memorize her times tables. It also means that it is after Labor Day and my white shoes are once again a defiance rather than simple footwear. I like being defiant but defiance doesn’t help the kid learn 7×4.

Speaking of kids, I went outside my office door for some air the other day and there were kids everywhere. It caught me off guard. But then I remembered I work on a college campus. I got to see lots of parents taking first day of school pictures of their 18 year old children to post on Facebook.img_0785

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Emigration Longboards

Somehow I found myself at the summit of Emigration Canyon at 9pm, prepared to ride a skateboard down a lightless winter road. I had planned to spend the evening watching TV but there I was with sweaty palms and shaky knees, all because I didn’t know the guys who invited me up there well enough to say no. Brooks and Daniel had knocked on the door of my dorm room and said “hey, we need a third. Wanna come?” I had no idea what they meant by a “third” so of course I said yes.longboard

Riding in their Volkswagen bus up the canyon they explained to me that the idea is that two of us would ride the longboards down the canyon road, and the third would drive the van behind the skaters, to both give them light as well as block the way of any traffic that may be coming down the road. I assumed I was to be the driver. “Naw man. You can drive the next run. You are doing us a favor so you should get to go first. Besides, Sophia gets kinda nervous without me in the car.” Sophia was the two year old girl smiling at us from her car seat. This was Utah after all and it is not uncommon for an undergrad to be married with a two year old named Sophia.

“Uh. Cool. Thanks. Uh… I have never ridden a longboard before. Maybe I shouldn’t go first.”

“What? No way! Don’t worry bro, we have never ridden the canyon before either so we are like even. No worries bro.”

I was a very good student so this made perfect sense.

It was explained to me that longboarding is nearly the same as snowboarding, which I had plenty of experience with, except for the whole stopping business. Since you can’t really stop a longboard they told me that the key is in checking your speed with weaving turns, and when that doesn’t slow you down enough, you simply jump off the board before you get going too fast. I asked how fast is too fast and they just chuckled and responded that it would depend on how fast you can run as you jump off onto your feet. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that concept but I was already in the car. It was too late.bowboardtreescopy

So there I was. The headlights of the van cast our shadows down in front of us and Daniel just smiled and said, “Here we go,” and pushed off. He was a good ten yards out ahead when I did the same. I could feel the rumble of rough pavement travel through the wheels, past my feet, and into my knees. I made a couple of awkward turns and leapt off the board landing on my feet. The board just rumbled into a snowbank. Daniel had done the same up ahead and looking back shouted “This ain’t so bad is it?” We both pushed off again. As we made our way down the dark canyon road I started to get the hang of it. I was cautious at first, jumping off at the slightest hint of discomfort, but I began to sprout some courage. Perhaps it wasn’t real courage but more a mix of adrenaline and embarrassment. I started pushing myself a little more than before.skater

I started leaning into the turns and holding on instead of bailing. I shifted my weight to the front foot and with my back foot I slid the tail of the board out making turn after turn. I felt fear slip away replaced by fun. I started to like it. I liked the winter wind biting my face, the blur of the yellow dashes as they sped past my feet, and the rhythmic sway of carving turns down the road. Yes. I liked this. But then a shaky turn snapped me out of it. My wheels caught just a little and as I regained my balance I regained my senses. I was going just a little too fast. Daniel was behind me now and the headlights were behind even more. I was right at the edge of controlling the board, but unfortunately going much faster than I could run. I turned by leaning back on my heels- an awkward angle from which to jump. I tuned the other way leaning on my toes- not as awkward but twice as fast. Stuck. Stuck riding a plank projectile. I began eying the snowbanks on the side of the road, planning, or timing, my last hope of escape. Not that one, there is a ditch between me and the bank. Not this one, I’m not quite ready. Too afraid. Going faster. It has to be the next one. I have to hit the next snow bank. I prepare to eject.

And as I leaned into the turn aiming at the snowbank, the glow of the snow disappeared, replaced by the dull grey of a guardrail.

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Time stood still in my mind as I floated in air above the pavement. I moved my legs as if to run, hoping that when my feet finally touched down I might, somehow, stay upright. I did not. My legs were moving at the speed of me and the ground was moving at the speed of light. When feet hit ground they slowed, but torso head and arms did not. I tucked my head as I rolled bottom over top and put my arms out in front before I did tumble number two. The board clanked off the rail and ricochet back into a ditch on the other side of the road. I, having caught myself in push-up position, stood upright and stared at nothing. “Duuuuuuuuuude!” Daniel shouted as he came bounding up beside me. Startled back out of my slow motion daze I grinned and sauntered off to reclaim the board. “You cool?” Daniel asked. “Yeah. That scared the crap out of me. We are almost to the bottom, let’s finish up.” “Hecks yeah,” he agreed.

I tried to push off but couldn’t stand on the board. My legs had obtained this uncontrollable wobble that I didn’t notice till I tried to stand on the board. Two legs were fine, but when I lifted one foot up to stand on the board I was all Jell-o from the waist down. I was done. I expressed my unfortunate failure to Daniel and he compassionately replied, “Well broham, looks you got the wheel for the rest of the night.”

Back up at the top of the canyon Brooks stepped on the emergency brake and hopped out. I jumped over into the driver seat, smiled back at the kid in the car seat, and tried to grab the wheel. It wasn’t till I gripped the wheel that I realized that where I once had palms, I now had a mixture of flesh, gravel, and gore. Hamburger is great on a grill but gross on your hands and I figured the polite thing to do would be to simply drive with my finger tips.

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When I got back to married student housing my wife was sitting on the couch. I said “Hey babe,” nonchalantly and she mumbled “hey,” staring at the television. I went right to the bathroom, normal behavior, but once inside I didn’t pee but rather flushed the toilet with my foot as my hands were in the sink trying to rinse away gravel and blood. I walked back into the other room and flopped onto the open end of the couch.

“What’s on?”

“Scrubs. Where ya been?”

“So funny thing. Brooks and Daniel came by and invited me to go longboarding with them.  I had never been before. It was cool.”

She looked at me sideways in the way she always did when I talk about, or do things, that she did not understand or have any desire to understand; which was normal and often.

“”Oh. Cool.” Was all she said. It was at about this point, the two of us quietly looking at the screen, when she instinctively reached over to hold my hand. Her fingers brushed my palm and my hand involuntarily jerked away. It startled her. She looked at me. Looked at my hand. She looked at me. Then without a word she just shook her head and turned back to the television.

On my next birthday she bought me a longboard of my own.

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