How *should* college admissions work?

Continuing the discussion from Kids have too much homework! Hasn’t this argument been around forever?:

I think it’s obvious that the current system of college admissions is broken. It’s created a vicious-circle escalation among colleges to offer more non-academic amenities at ever increasing cost. It’s created a vicious-circle escalation among students to out-do one another. And high schools as well, with grade inflation and non-academic activities. None of these things are a problem in moderation, but I feel that academic progress has become secondary to these “signals”. And leaves unaddressed the systemic racist and classist problems.

What are the possible solutions? Two come to my mind.

We could adapt the system used by medical schools. All students apply through the same system. Students state their preferences and schools have their criteria. The process impartially matches the students and the schools. We would probably need to make this multiple systems in parallel covering broad areas of study: Humanities, Arts, STEM, for example.

We could switch to a lottery-style system. A school would apply their criteria to every application. The goal of the criteria should ultimately reflect something like “this student has the values and skills necessary to graduate from this school”. Every student that passes the school’s criteria would be randomly placed on a list. The top N students would get admission. Each student that declined would admit the next student on the list.

Would either of these be better than the current system? Are there other systems that could work? Let’s discuss.

IMO a big part of the problem what our higher ed system values in the past few decades is schoold that have a low acceptance rate but high retention. Schools wind up trying to get as many people to apply to themas possible so they can make themselves more exclusive, and the risk of getting accepted to a top school that you wontbe able to handle is perceived to be lower.

I also think that the longstanding cultural trend inthe US of which college you went to being a marker for socialxlass contributes to this as well. I know people who went to some of the better state schools got a great education and set themselves up for life just as wellasme (who went to a private college). What Iwas thinking about when I was in highschool (and what I think many people inthe US think about at that stage) is worlds apart from what I think in post. I had this vague idea in my head of going to agood school and didn’t really think of it as something I was doing to set up my future.

IMO ttrying to make admissions more objective won’t really work. I think the way education works nowadays is the logical conclusion of private colleges that run themselves like businesses and a culture that attaches a lot of intangible status to college.

Getting an undergraduate degree at a college or university is very different than getting an MD from medical school, a JD from a law school, or a graduate degree. Two very different speeds and intensity. The undergraduate experience is where many people learn how to adult. It provides a safe environment where young adults learn not only about their chosen course of study, but about who they are, what’s important to them, etc.

Also, not everyone in society needs an undergraduate degree. The average US undergraduate graduation rate among public universities and colleges is only 33%. A fairly inefficient education process. I would expect that if acceptance rates increased, you would see the graduation rate decline even further, resulting in an even more inefficient education process.

College admissions are based upon admitting students that colleges believe have the highest chance of success of graduating, thus attempting to improve the education efficiency.

I think the OP is talking very specifically about the Highly Competitive Schools–schools with an admission rate of less than 20% (often much less) and where the average SAT/ACT score is in the top 5% of the nation. It has nothing to do with whether or not people can get a slot at NorthSouthEast University.

Since the majority of those schools tend to be private schools in varying states, is the OP proposing some sort of legislation that imposes its Federal will on these schools with a specific cut-off on which schools it applies to and which schools it does not?

I think he’s suggesting a voluntary shift. It’s an “ought to” discussion. But he can clarify.

I’m interested in what the admissions process should be, not how it’s enforced. Once we’ve picked a better process, then we can worry about how to change the world.


I’m not sure this is the case any more, at least for highly selective schools. The schools have a vast pool of candidates, which are or more less indistinguishable in terms of graduation prospects. The differential is now more about other features of the candidates—trying to match cultural or social goals instead of academic.

That’s only students that complete in four years – the six year graduation rate is almost double that. And there are all kinds of problems with how the feds calculate graduation rates. They only count students who began at and graduated from the same institution, which doesn’t capture students who transfer and complete at another school. They also do not count part-time students.

I’m not sure that the highly selective college process should change. I think what needs to change is our understanding that you are training for the Olympics, and then discouraging parents and students from - not reaching for that goal - but expecting it. I think we need a cultural shift that is more inclusive, more accepting of the wide variety of really good schools that are out there - Tufts is not a statistically significantly worse school than Cornell. But hey, they live and die by the U.S. News and World Reports rankings.

And we need our public colleges - like UT or Michigan to become more inclusive…if our tax dollars are paying for them, lets get them the infrastructure to support serving more of the population - particularly in state students. That may mean that their rankings go down - but I’m sure you will still be able to get an excellent education at Michigan even if someone else is picking up Gentlemen’s Cs in their Art History courses.

I think that gets to the meat of the debate; how should that work? Inclusivity is a great idea, but it’s fraught with a lot of valid concerns w.r.t. academic achievement, race, income, etc… Who gets in? is a hard question when there are a limited number of slots at any given institution. What should the criteria be, how should they be weighted, and so on.

Yes. There’s too much of “only the best” among both schools and students. When the reality is that there’s not much difference between the quality of education between top-tier and mid-tier schools. Nor much difference between top-tier and mid-tier students.

And as bump says, that skewed perception is fundamental to the escalation we’re seeing. I don’t think it’s good for the individuals or the system. The current system makes it too easy for inequities to continue. So how do we change it? I think my two ideas would help, but I don’t pretend to know.

How about “everyone who graduated from high school in the state.”

What I’m proposing is the state is obligated to treat all students equally in terms of education. You can’t discriminate. So if you are going to educate the 4.0 valedictorian, you have to also admit the 2.5 slacker. If you don’t have the infrastructure, build it - and possibly get rid of the out of state students. Now, you don’t need to pass all those kids, some of them will fail out. But you should accept all those kids.

I mentioned in the other thread that this is how the Uof M did it until I believe the early 90s. You might not get accepted to CLA or IT straight from high school with bad grades, but you would get accepted to the U and be on campus and stay in dorms (if you wanted)…and there was some mechanism to revisit your acceptance into CLA…it was functionally a community college set up that allowed an AA degree if you never managed to get grades good enough for CLA.

And that might involve making the state college system satellites of your flagship school, where everyone graduating from a State school in California gets a University of California diploma. And just a University of California diploma. Not one that says Berkley or Santa Cruz.

And private schools are private schools - they should get to handle admissions however they want. The change there needs to be from the outside … where we get rid of the idea that if you have a kid who went to Harvard, they are going to be a better marketing manager than a kid who went to the University of Iowa. And we need to spend more time talking about people who did go to Yale and didn’t make a zillion dollars and get a golden ticket to parties in the Hampshires (I’ve worked with a few people with Ivy League degrees who had rather ordinary careers).

Except private schools are not islands unto themselves; many of them get millions (even many millions) in federal research grants and other spending, their students get federal government guaranteed student loans and other money like Pell Grants and of course they get the tax benefits of being non-profit organizations. So the government rightly has some say in how they run things.

The government gets a say in how the grants are spent. The loans are to the students, who are the ones who choose where to spend them. And I guess the feds now need to get involved with how my Quaker meeting chooses our Ministry and Oversight Committee due to those fat tax bennies.

I’m curious about this model and having trouble finding the post again. Did they have other campuses at the time?

I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the whole thing. If I’m in remedial classes, I don’t benefit fully* from access to (and the expense of having) an entire research university. But I’m not sure the CC model I recall you saying they moved to is necessarily better.

*ETA I wouldn’t say there’s no benefit.

They still do have other campuses. At the time I think the entire University of Minnesota student population was over 60,000.

If I’m majoring in Art History at the University of Minnesota (which I did), I’m not gaining the benefits of an entire research university, its huge. But I am gaining from the things we are talking about - either I gain from the prestige of the University of Minnesota, or the perception that the University of Minnesota is the only state college worth going to (and the Twin Cities campus is the only one worth graduating from) is lowered and the degree has to be evaluated on more criteria than school name.

In the case of the UofM Twin Cities campus, there were other benefits - there really wasn’t another urban state school - so half of Minnesotans lived close to the UofM campus (we did have Metropolitan State, but that was and still is primarily a night school) and didn’t have easy access to other options (The UofM was a commuter campus primarily then, a larger percentage of students live on campus as Freshman now). Community colleges were out in the 'burbs - often the distant 'burbs - and the Twin Cities doesn’t have great public transportation to the 'burbs. There were VoTechs in the city, but not state options for a community college experience. The VoTechs and Community College systems have since merged. So then was hard for someone who lived within the city limits of Minneapolis/St. Paul to go to a state school if they didn’t get into the U.

But what this really addresses is that some colleges are better than others, and those colleges are better than others because they are hard to get into…there are other reasons, but that’s a big part of it. I’m not sure that should be the case for state financed schools.

I’ve known a few too. But I don’t know how much good talking about it will do - I’ve known many more people who were planning to send their kids to private (non-Ivy) colleges, often the same private colleges the parents went to. The parents would on the one hand complain about having to still pay their own student loans when they had a child going to college, and on the other hand talk about the benefits the kid would get from networking with the other students at the private college - all while I would stare at them , wanting to ask why they thought their kids would get these benefits when the parents clearly didn’t get them - since they were working at the same government job I got with my City University diploma.