Ready or Not, Here They Come

Fifth in the IMTE series

My reflection on October 6, I’m Mad, too, Eddie,” (IMTE) suggested that admissions offices accept students without basic skills or diminish standards and dole out scholarships to enhance enrollment.

Last week Rose – Hulman Institute of Technology unveiled a new approach to admissions that includes 30 reflective test questions for applicants in addition to traditional considerations regarding undergraduate admissions.  An internally conducted study over the last few years shows a positive relationship between patterns of answers and academic success at Rose-Hulman.  This excellent undergraduate engineering school (US News ranks it in a tie with Harvey Mudd as the best undergraduate engineering program in the nation) should be complimented for its efforts to consider a range of aptitudes for success in college.

 Ready.

Many institutions are eliminating the ACT or SAT as a marker of aptitude, and therefore success, in college.  Adding additional insights is a good idea.  Collectively, standardized test scores, grade point ratios, class standing, and the menu of courses taken in high school all provide valuable insights into a student’s likelihood of success in college. In isolation these indicators have low value, but it is too early for Rose-Hulman to run from the wash tub exclaiming, “Eureka.” Such action could be misread as easing standards — a false conclusion, I believe.

A 2014 study by the National Association of College and University Business Officers shows a dramatic increase in tuition discounting, up 25% over a decade, for first-time, full-time freshmen, with the nearly omnipresent goal of increasing institutional attractiveness to students and families. Such discounting shows no evidence of increasing the quality of the experience, and appears to be little more than a marketing scam. I warn students and families to look carefully at the actual cost rather than the apparent cost of attendance. Frequently the public institution with little or no scholarship or discount support is less expensive than a private institution that might knock 30% off the sticker price. Additionally, discounts and quality may have little or no relationship.

Or not.

Deceptive marketing strategies to attract student/family resources, federal financial aid dollars, or G.I. Bill support are too common. For-profit institutions are some of the most egregious offenders. The targeting by for-profit colleges of underrepresented groups is particularly offensive as many family members may not have had college experience to judge the validity of various offers from lenders and institutions, according to the Center for Responsible Lending. Equally disturbing are practices that take advantage of veterans who have served our nation and are now targeted by reprehensible marketing and lending shams.  Some states, such as Minnesota, have been diligent in pursuing college marketers who by any other definition appear to be crooks — little more than loan sharks in three-piece suits.  The concept that students and veterans should be protected from higher education scammers reveals a lack of leadership in too many corners of the higher education enterprise and disgusts me as a lifelong educator.  A candidate for attorney general in Wisconsin is making the protection of students from feckless institutions a cornerstone of her campaign.

Frequently, the desire for enrollment growth is hooked to athletics. The fiasco at the University of North Carolina with 18 years of deceit regarding student performance in academic matters in exchange for athletic prowess is a travesty: a glowing case of impropriety. Less obvious cases of hyping students with false hope pervade institutions at every level of the educational spectrum from two-year trade schools to colleges that sell their souls to the devil for headcount. Students not prepared for university-level work are recruited for athletic prowess, skin color, seat filling capacity, and federal loan dollars, with little or no regard for the likelihood of their success. What the for-profits do is a crime. States attorneys general are looking into it nationwide. When public institutions are engaged in deceptive practices, it is equally criminal when the motivation for investigation against such actions is tempered by political expediency and the chimera of success for all.

Here they come.

Too frequently, the perpetrators of fraud, admissions officers or campus executives, have a twisted view that dishonesty is ultimately good for the student. After all, it provides access to a career and a better life, a treacherous notion that harms everyone: those students who have not earned a degree as the university’s reputation is diminished, those students who don’t complete the process as they have wasted time and money, and students whose hopes and dreams are undermined by a fretwork of deception. All the while the perceived integrity of universities is trodden underfoot.

Appropriately related cost and value are the bedrock of a free economy and a free society. Universities that mislead students, whether for athletic participation or the promise of a happy life, undermine the value and escalate the cost of a university education to the individual and society.

Principles of academic rigor and honesty with potential students about what they will gain, for what price, at universities or community colleges are critically important to the future of institutions and society.

 

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