Why I Resist The Coalition Ambition

Getting young ones launched in life is a noble mission and my life’s work and I’m happy to report that I’ve been more successful than ever as I hone my skills and take on even greater challenges.  The trick is keeping up with the accelerating chaos created by well-intentioned college admissions folk who are utterly clueless about their applicants’ reality, and either don’t know that or are not willing to go there.

Is that ignorance or arrogance?  Hmmm…probably a shade of each.

The recent Coalition commotion has caused a minor stir in the everyday world but a major one in the world of guidance counselors.  No one describes this better than my esteemed colleague, Will Dix, who has kept up a steady stream of superb pieces aimed at reaching the hearts and minds of our former colleagues in college admissions.  Will understands the needs of both cohorts well and is doing his best to stop the generational meltdown that will surely come as a result of the silly Coalition expectations.  GCs everywhere are near apoplectic over these expectations since they can easily anticipate the unintended consequences that will ensue.  Yet, oddly, they have never been included in the Coalition’s planning, which is where the ignorance and arrogance come in.

Admissions officers and guidance counselors have long seen themselves as partners in the launching of young adults, but this decision to change the college admissions process without consulting their GC partners and then dissing their protests over same has revealed just how broken the process is.

Anyone who every worked as a college admissions officer will feel their Bravo Sierra barometer engage as they read the Coalition’s plans since this proposal doesn’t pass the smell test, meaning that even the most experienced among us can’t imagine how creating an online ‘locker’ for 9th graders to post their work for review by college admissions officers years later could possibly lead to more underprivileged Black and Hispanic kids being admitted to top tier schools, which is supposedly the point of the whole exercise.  It doesn’t take an MIT PhD to see that this scenario will just spawn a new cottage industry of consultants eager to help advantaged 9th graders produce admissions worthy documents from the get go, thereby throwing the advantage to the wealthy once again while increasing the stress levels of young teenagers who are already medicated in unprecedented numbers to get through their days, courtesy of our helpful medical community in bed with the pharmaceutical industry.  No matter that data shows these meds are counter-indicated for teenagers.  No matter they actually trigger suicidal behaviors in growing brains.

Who cares?  At least those advantaged teenagers will have a better shot at getting into an Ivy school.  And isn’t that what life is all about?

Let’s face it. Underprivileged minority students are not in the Ivy + schools’ applicant pools, but not because they just need to plan earlier by putting 9th grade assignments in a Time Capsule Locker.  They aren’t there for a million different reasons and here’s where the cognitive dissonance comes in.  These schools know that, but at the same time they are looking for that one diamond-in-the-rough kid who pulled himself up by his boot straps and earned all As and at least a 2100 on the SATs.  In the real world, this is an urban legend, but that myth has kept those admissions officers hooked in its illusion.

For the past 30 years these schools could have taken minority students with mixed grades and/or low scores and leveled the playing field but they haven’t.  Know why?   Do you think for one minute that Harvard will let its SAT mean score drop and lose the coveted top place in the USNWR ranking system, just to bring social justice in the admissions process that is stacked against certain populations of kids?  Nah.  It won’t happen, folks.  We’re talking Big Business, Big Egos here, not education.

Look at what these schools DO, not at what they SAY.

Bottom line: the Coalition’s big ambition will only widen the access gap by creating a system that the wealthy know how to play very well and, count on it, they will win the day, leaving another generation of disadvantaged kids locked out of the American dream.  And over time, the difference between the haves and the have nots will wreck all that’s good about America.

So here’s a big shout out to Will Dix, a champion for children and a true hero to the rest of us in this fight to rescue education from the corrupt clutches of Big Business.  You aren’t alone, Will.

There are many of us out here calling Bravo Sierra on this idea because nothing short of the future of our Republic is at stake.

Yeah, it’s that important.

Toddlers With Hormones

I actually saw a commercial on TV in the wee hours one morning a month ago that made me stop in my tracks and watch, it was so compelling.  It featured a young toddler (you know, the ones who struggle for balance and walk like Godzilla), teetering from side to side in slightly slow motion as he walks down his home’s long corridor toward the glass paneled door.  The ad is for Air B&B and though many thought it creepy, I love it.

That little human, so proud to be up on two legs, struggling to hold his balance as he moves towards the object of his desire (what’s out there in the big world?) reminds me of teenagers getting ready to apply to college.

They say that human development is one big spiral, repeating over and over as we age. Teenagers go through toddlerhood (you’re not the boss of me!) but in a more sophisticated way. They share the same biological imperative to move on up, albeit with much more fear than they had when they were two and learning to literally keep up with the others around them.

When they were two and fell one hundred times learning to stand upright, modern teenagers were greeted by smiles and loving encouragement from the adults around them.  No adult would think of criticizing a little cruiser trying to walk.

But God help them if the same Big Toddlers fall when they are in high school.  All hell rains down on them.  They are most often medicated to adjust their attitude.

I’ve had several students call me in a panic over the past month.  They were over-committed in their senior year and their grades went down this spring after their college acceptance because “I was hurrying to get all I could from my high school experience”, meaning “I was struggling to meet everyone’s expectations of me.”  The colleges they committed to on May 1 were suddenly not as committed to them.

It used to be that seniors’ grades slipped due to ‘senioritis‘, as they blew off school to do nothing.

Now their grades drop as they try to finish the many commitments they developed in order to please the adults in their world and get admitted to college.

Sorry, college admissions colleagues, but you guys are culpable here.  You can’t expect teenagers to be perfect over-achievers in order to give you bragging rights when you admit them and then cut them off when they struggle to keep up at the end.  Kids live in the real world where things are complicated and genuinely unforgiving.

Admissions officers live in a vicarious one, making decisions on applications – not real humans – and think they understand KidWorld because they read so many essays.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Kids will always tell admissions officers what they think they want to hear.  They inflate their applications and have many other adults write their essays.  I’ve experienced applicants one way as an admissions officer and a completely different way as an educational consultant in the trenches with them.  All admissions officers should spend a year or two as an independent consultant before becoming Gatekeepers again so they can get rooted in the reality of applicants’ lives.

The focus on pleasing the Gatekeepers (admissions officers) supercedes everything because in this era, it’s about spin.

Kids just want to keep moving and are doing what adults tell them is necessary to get in.  Admissions officers want to admit “the best” to leverage their position on USNWR and to brag to their board of trustees, alumni and specific audiences.  Gone are the days of the real and true ‘match’.  It looks to me that all of the nations’ best universities, maybe even including my own beloved MIT, have been usurped by a business model and so are driving down the wrong road, however well-intentioned.

If all of us adults involved in college admissions would see applicants as Big Toddlers (or better yet, Toddlers with Hormones), we would be more likely to do things right and train the next generation of human beings to revel in their authenticity.

And their authenticity is why they have come.

Am I The Only One Mad About This?

Stanford’s Math Tournament, the largest high school math tournament in the US and maybe the world, was abruptly cancelled within 36 hours of the event this past weekend.  The 2015 competition was the largest ever with over 1000 registrants from across the US, China, Russia and India.  It’s safe to say that some of the best young mathematicians in the world were planning to duke it out for the pure love of math.

What happened?

Evidently there was a White House Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection on Stanford campus scheduled for the same time (Obama was a speaker) and the university decided not to risk…I don’t know what exactly.  Too many seriously smart kids doing their thing within 1 mile of White House personnel maybe?  Are they kidding?

It seems that everyone except for the SUMO (Stanford University Math Organization) students who organized this world-famous math competition knew about the presence of the White House event on campus for months. So why did university officials notify the SMT 2015 organizers at the last possible minute?   The timing couldn’t have been worse.

The Beijing teams were already on the ground when the plug got pulled and many teams were en route.

Luckily, an organization in nearby Santa Clara called A-Star, working in conjunction with Rice University and Johns Hopkins, literally created a math tournament overnight to fill the void.  They ended up with a smaller 50 team event but the best players got to compete as planned.

Meanwhile, there appears to be no statement from Stanford about this.

Am I the only one who thinks of universities as sacred sites in the secular world?  That education itself is sacred?  Universities are there for their students, not to kiss up to any president for any reason.  Obama and his team could’ve gone anywhere, but it’s clear that ego won the day and the Stanford president was all too keen to say yes to the DC Big Dogs and no to the best young mathematicians on earth.

I have no particular beef with the US President, but there was that disturbing event over the holidays when a couple had to move their wedding in Hawaii, scheduled for the next day, because the President wanted to play golf at the site on their wedding day.  The Feds alerted the couple at their rehearsal the day before.  Thank God they were both Army officers and were OK with that decision.  And not to worry, Obama called them to apologize and congratulate them.

What, he didn’t offer to pick up their tab?  Or send a gift or host them at the White House later to make it up to them?  His wife Michelle didn’t say, “You did WHAT??” and then quickly act to make it right, since her own focus is military families?

I guess just a call from a busy president is all it takes to make it all better.

But be honest.  If your wedding had to get moved at the last minute because somebody else wanted to play golf, wouldn’t you be angry?  Or if you had been planning an A-list party for 1000 superstars for months and your landlord cancelled it the day before because somebody more special than you and yours was in the house, wouldn’t you be angry?

There’s an arrogance here that just dissed high school math stars, the kind of people universities compete for and White House administrations should want to reward.  But come to think of it, when was the last time you saw a White House reception for the US Math Olympiad team instead of NCAA basketball or Superbowl winners?

How are these same math stars supposed to think about Stanford now?  Maybe when the time comes to apply to college, they’ll remember just how important they were to Stanford on Valentine’s Day 2015.

Whose Privacy Matters More?

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Stanford undergraduate students have begun to pepper their admissions office with requests to see their application files.  While that seems harmless enough since these are the lucky students among the 5% who were admitted to Stanford, it is shaping up to be much more complicated. Because in addition to the letters of recommendation, guidance counselor reports, transcripts and essays, these file components also include notes taken by admissions staff readers during the selection process as well as any ratings assigned to the applicant.  In short, students can read the very documents used to admit them.

it was only a matter of time before this idea, the brainchild of a group of anonymous Stanford students who produce an on-line publication called Fountain Hopper, occurred to college students, given the arcane nature of private college admissions process and all the insane speculation it produces.

At MIT where there are no scared cows, we’d been there, done that long ago.

Enrolled students have always been able to see anything in their original application files except documents they previously waived their right to see.  Always ahead of the curve, in the 1990s MIT students began to demand to see not only their files, but also the internal admissions office notes and ratings on their cases.  Shocked, we admissions officers were advised by MIT lawyers that we had to share that information since students had the right under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) law to see everything attached to their names.

If you have ever been an admissions officer, you can imagine how embarrassing this could be for all concerned.

Admissions readers are tasked with reading literally thousands of applications within a very fixed timeframe of six weeks for the early selection process and 8-12 weeks for regular selection.  That’s a lot of cases to read per day x 7 days/wk for weeks on end.  After the 20th case in a day, one tends to get bleary-eyed.  As the weeks go by, one also tends to get more efficient and more brutally honest in one’s assessment of the case.  Depending on who the reader is (experienced or a newbie?) and when it was read (at the beginning of the cycle or toward the end, at the beginning of the work day or toward the end), summaries can be warm and glowing or cold and precise.

As with any team anywhere, admissions officers are colleagues who grow to know each other’s biases and personality quirks, which is why all decisions are made by committee so biases can be cancelled out. Since the admissions process at private US universities and colleges is 100% subjective, the preferences of each staff reader are taken into account in committee deliberations.

It’s a normal thing for any one staff’s opinion to be over-ridden by the group on occasion.  This is a deeply human enterprise.

I watched many MIT students come into the office and read their files.  Most came and went.  But sometimes someone got upset by what was written by one of us staff members who got flippant in our summary comments written late one night in exhaustion.  I, for example, was famous for my own little drawing of a round bomb with a lit fuse accompanied by the words “tick tick tick”, meaning that I thought for some reason the applicant was unstable and might explode if admitted.  (I know I know, but gallows humor does release the steam of judging so many outstanding students.)  It was impossible to explain the context of such comments to the student, one of those “you had to be there’ moments.  It broke my heart that something that was never meant to be shared was now available and on occasion, when read, undermined the confidence of one of our students.  Confidence is so important for college students.

As a result, we shredded all of our internal selection documents thereafter before the next class enrolled.  We lost valuable information that faculty would often use to understand their classes better.

We also learned to be more politically correct which can be the death of trust among a team.

Admissions officers need to be truthful in their assessment of applicants and should somehow be protected from the Monday morning quarterbacks who do not admit students for a living.  Admitting students is a tough and grueling job that is often deeply uncomfortable.  There are months of 12+ hr work days within 7 day work weeks.  During reading season social life disappears under the relentless crush of files to be read within fixed deadlines.  It can be heartbreaking to fall in love with applicants who will never make the cut.  It can also be heartbreaking to fall in love with applicants who are admitted and then choose to enroll elsewhere.

I’m guessing that Stanford admissions was taken by surprise by this and they are about to have their own embarrassing experience.  Some Stanford students will be shook up by what they read and have no context to understand.  It will raise more questions than can be easily answered and the process will be tweaked accordingly.  I suppose that’s a good thing in the end, but in my opinion it’s all so unnecessary.

Even as I write this, college admissions officers are changing the way they write case summaries, cloaking them in caution in case they are read out of context.  I’m also pretty sure that some students who are about to read what was written about their application long ago will be in for a surprise.

So my best advice to students is this: don’t look back – admissions comments and ratings were meant for one moment in time for the purpose of evaluating students for admission that year.

In all cases for the students in question, the process worked.   There is no need to dig up and analyze the past when it helped launch the student forward.

Don’t Let the News Affect Your Joy

I know the deaths of so many children in CT is unbelievable.  It’s even worse than unbelievable.  It’s heinous, heartbreaking, horrifying.

As the news of this is breaking, so many are being admitted early to the college of their choice.  They are in hog heaven and should be, since they’ve worked so hard for this moment.

As awful as this sounds, this is how life is…it goes on.

I have lost many loved ones in my life.  And each time someone close dies, it’s a shock when the world goes on, as if my parent or sibling or loved one didn’t matter in the most existential way…when my world has come to a complete halt.  Or at least that’s how it seems.

If your child was admitted somewhere early, please make an effort not to talk about this awful tragedy.  Let them enjoy the moment without guilt or disappointment.  Let them have their day.   It’s OK for your family to rejoice even as other families are experiencing the worst news possible.

I send the families involved Light and love, and every Sacred Being I can muster, to carry the families through.  I have been through a few worst moments but nothing can compare to the pain of the parent of a 6 yr old who was murdered.   Unbelievable.  Unspeakable.

Thank God It’s Not Me

This is Thanksgiving weekend and here’s what I’m grateful for:

I’m grateful that I’m not applying to college now.

I’m grateful that I don’t have to apply to 12 colleges in the hopes that just one will take me; that I don’t have to write 24-30 short supplemental essays to the tune of hours of work for those 12 applications, totally guessing at what the admissions officers want to read since I have no earthly idea what they are looking for; that I don’t have to respond to endless email requests from colleges that bought my name from the College Board or the ACT in order to show “demonstrated interest” to schools I’ve never heard of just in case I need them as safeties; that I don’t have to pay a boatload of money to visit campuses in order to show same for fear those colleges will not admit me when I apply because I never showed my love by visiting their campus; that I don’t have to do all of that while keeping my coursework up and sports and activities going too; that I don’t have to cure cancer or male pattern baldness to get into the college of my choice.

This is what it’s come to (or at least it seems like that).

I work with all kinds of teenagers.  US, international, wealthy, poor and everyone in between.  And the one thing they all have in common is this getting-crazier-and-crazier process we call the college admissions process.

I swear, college admissions officers really have no clue what the lives of their applicants are really like.

They think they do, of course, because they read hundreds and hundreds of applications and meet teenagers all the time.  But I respectfully remind them that they are reading the virtual applicant and meeting students on their absolute-best-behavior-ever, kids who are dying to be who the officer wants them to be just to get in.  Not authentic at all.

Last year the Common Application underwent a radical upgrade and was a catastrophe for all involved.  This year it’s Naviance, a beautiful product that needed no major changes but they did it anyway and now it’s twitchy, leading to more frustration.  Oh, and if that’s not bad enough, Harvard et al the elites plan to create a third new application platform (joining Common App and the Universal App) for reasons I don’t quite understand though I’ve read their press release multiple times.  I know what’s being said.  I just don’t believe it.

Yup, folks, just keep piling on the chaos.  The great masses are expected to just suck it up and deal.

Can you tell how frustrated I am that the college admissions process largely serves the wealthy, is ego driven and no longer functions with education at its core?  That it teaches young people to be cynical and manipulative, which is the worst crime of all?

My heart goes out to teenagers today who have little time to do anything but perform for adults, who get less than 6 hrs of sleep nightly and have no place to be silly (social media is owned by adults now) without the prying eyes of adults who want to sell them a product or judge and prod them.

People, they’re kids, for God’s sake, and if you haven’t noticed, we’ve left them a world of trouble

because we adults are too immature to get a grip and act like it.

Like I said, I’m grateful I’m not 17 again.  I don’t think I’d have the nerves or maturity for it.

On Creating A New Move…

I tend to get cranky when I’m not creating.  And I’m not creating when I’m working 12 hr days/7 days/wk and that’s the roll I’m on now.  Luckily, my old friend The Universe has a way of intervening with crazy curve balls just when I’m settled in.  Like right about now.

The UWS building I live in is being sold and I have to move out by the end of October.  WHAAAAT??  This is my favorite neighborhood where I actually know my neighbors and recognize people and their dogs, this being a major dog walking street, a straight shot to Riverside Park and the Hudson River.  For the past 2+ years I’ve been living a “Cheers” life where everybody at least knows my face, where my garage guys have my car out and waiting for me every morning so I won’t be late for work, where my nail ladies give me extra long shoulder rubs after any procedure, where the grocery delivery guys from Westside Market stay and chat a moment after dropping my grocery bags in the same place each time.  In that human way of connection, I love these people and see them as city-friends.

So really, now I have to move?

Who am I going to make extra meatballs for now that Nadine won’t be my downstairs neighbor?

She gets to stay because she’s rent-controlled, having lived in her apartment for more than 30 years.  She’s been such a gift to me.

But this being NYC, things move fast and I need to focus and get creative.  When I need to open the creation spigot, I read anything written by Melea Seward, my old buddy who left Brooklyn and moved out to Portland OR.  Melea changed my life by encouraging me to own my story, patiently coaxing me out of my sense of stun to dig in and get real again.  I joined her “Board of Us” and made excellent friends with other women seeking similar creativity and success.  And yes, I also joined the legions of people star struck by her complete and utter genius.  Melea must be experienced.  She’s one of the Wonders of the World.  I just read her last 5 blogs.

So now off I go to find a new neighborhood filled with friends I just haven’t met yet, kinda pumped by the possibilities, surfing that creative surge.

The Power and Destruction of MSU*

We’ve all been there, finding ourselves in a situation that didn’t make sense, without a full set of real data, leaving us confused and worried.  To regain a sense of control, we start connecting the pieces of info we do know, filling in the gaps with our imaginations.  In other words, we Make Sh*t Up (MSU), creating the reason for this situation that’s confusing us.  Believing that we now know what is going on, we proceed to act on the story we just MSU’d.  And we make our own weather.  And it’s always wrong.  We screw it up and make the situation worse.

MSU is the basis for soap operas, failed love affairs, international relations and college admissions ranking systems.

MSU brought that Malaysian Airliner down over Ukraine.  MSU makes Israel and Hamas launch bombs at each other and kill children and completely innocent citizens who would actually like each other if they were allowed to mingle and connect as human beings.  MSU shatters half of the nation’s marriages.  MSU is the reason why the average private college applicant applies to 12 schools now, sending the entire college admissions process into imbalance, leading to more MSU.

Making Sh*t Up always leads to heartache because when we’re left to figure out what the other party is thinking and doing, we’ll always default to the fear factor.

Examples?  How about:

Why didn’t they text me back? (MSU= I knew they didn’t like me.)  Why did they walk right by me when I said hello?  (MSU= they’re a snob.) Why did that school put me on the wait list? (MSU= they just rejected me because I’m not good enough. )

In reality, they didn’t text you back because they were in meetings all day and haven’t gotten the chance to get back to you.  They walked by you because they are myopic and don’t like to wear glasses in public.  They put you on the wait list because they want to take you after May 1 if they have the space because wait list is “admitted pending space” and not a “soft rejection” as urban legend would have it.

Our culture trains us into the MSU mind set, asking us to vote online to judge people and situations we know nothing about.  It encourages opinions at the end of news articles and allows the anonymity of haters.  It has raised celebrity gossip to a high art, dishing the dirt over the air waves about the perceived foibles of public people.  We make sh*t up about strangers and friends alike, judging them with great emotion.  Feeling all righteous and right.

But MSU is stupid.  It always leads to the wrong conclusion, bringing misunderstanding and pain.  Worse, it reinforces the notion that there are good people and bad people in the world, instead of the real truth that there are just people, each of us wired to be both good and bad.

It makes imperfection a sin when, in fact, imperfection is the genesis of creativity.

So the next time you find yourself making sh*t up (you can substitute ‘stuff’ if you aren’t vulgar like I am), stop and ask yourself what you actually know to be true.  Do you know that they didn’t text you back because they don’t like you?  Do you know for a fact that they are a snob?  Do you know that you were just rejected when in fact you were actually waitlisted?

Time to use our gray matter.  Clarify instead of MSU.

When Right is Short-Sighted

In a conservative blog The Campus Fix (“Student Reported.  Your Daily Dose of Right-Minded Campus News and Commentary from Across the Nation”), a young reporter interviews a UCLA faculty member who has written a book about the use of race in admissions at UCLA.  Since The Campus Fix is covering it, you can assume that this particular faculty member disagrees with how things are done at his school.  In reality, Prof. Tim Groseclose, is a conservative political commentator and author about liberal bias.  He used to be on UCLA’s admissions oversight committee and had reason to believe that the staff there was violating CA state law by using a more “holistic” selection process to increase the number of black and hispanic students enrolling at that top state university.

As Benjamin, my hair dresser/favoriterabbi would say, Oy Vey.

In my long experience doing college admissions, I found that most faculty who join an admissions oversight committee have agendas; some have children who have entered high school and they want to learn how admissions works, some are frustrated by the quality or composition of the student body.  At some schools, it seems, a few fall under the Groseclose-nightmare-category of committed partisan who is looking to write another book to supplement his media career.

You know this kind of person…the “believing is seeing” kind,

the one who feels they are the only rational person who will speak out about this.  The one who believes that numbers, alone and out of context, can fully describe a human’s past experience and future performance.  Thank God I didn’t have this type on any of my Committee on Undergraduate and Financial Aid (CUAFA) committees over the years.  Thank God MIT faculty are legitimately interested in fact first and then make rational and mature decisions from what is learned through a human perspective.

I’m sorry to hear that UCLA Admissions refused to supply Prof. Groseclose with the data he requested. My philosophy as dean was that members of CUAFA should have complete access to everything in admissions including all data because they were our check and balance, we all wanted to do the right thing and there was nothing to fear.

It just kills me, though, when guys like this – white, entitled, highly educated – judge people who don’t look like them as ‘other’, refusing to see that every coin has two equal yet different sides, that everyone’s unique experience in this world affects their behavior in life. I’ve read some of Groseclose’s writing and he has this simplistic thought process.  He seems to believe the SATs mean something and are predictive of future academic performance. He also doesn’t seem to accept that racism/sexism actually exist and that we humans compulsively judge each other by how we look.

Well, the data is out there if he wishes to find it.

Black kids are treated different from white kids in the US, just as asian kids are treated different from white kids.

The difference is that the stereotypes about these populations are not the same, having much to do with how they came to US shores.  White people love to say that slavery is over and should have no place in the conversation, but that is just not facing reality with the respect it deserves.  The legacy of this terrible national trauma is a lingering PTSD in the form of a concept called ‘stereotype threat’  in which the descendants of the traumatized absorb the culture’s view of them in a deep way.  The same can be said for some hispanic populations who are assumed to be illegal because of a history of border wars and illegal immigration patterns.

The worst thing about Prof. Groseclose, though, is his short sightedness, his lack of long term vision, his failure to think deeply about how his actions will affect the lives of his descendants.  In an era of insecurity, people like him seem to be winning the day.

Here are the facts.  We know that in America, education is the fastest way into the middle class.  We know that societies with broad, deep middle classes thrive in peace and prosperity, because people with homes and kids and jobs they love do not want to go to war.  We know that what we adults do now will affect life for the generations to come.

We also see with great alarm that as education has been usurped by a business model and colleges make admissions decisions based on reputation-building by leveraging their ranking on USNWR and no longer on what is good for the nation, the gap between the upper and middle classes is growing.  Precious financial aid funds that should go toward needy students are increasingly awarded by colleges in the form of ‘merit aid’ to affluent students whose parents can afford the cost of tuition. Every dollar spent on students who do not need funding is one dollar less for students who do.

Projected outward a generation, the US is clearly moving into a society of extremes.

Societies with little or no middle class, societies with extremes, are unstable and dangerous.  The truth is that we are becoming agents of our own demise.

If universities do not educate all races and socio-economic groups, do not dedicate themselves to moving students from the lower classes into the middle class, democracy as we know it will be done within 50 years.  We will have dissension in this country that will bring hardship and danger to our grandchildren.

Is this the legacy we want to leave them?

Affirmative action works, folks.  We are into the second generation of an evolution that will take a full three.  It’s a long-term solution to a long-term problem.

The real problem is, in modern America we’ve lost the knack of investing in a future that we will never see.

We have been acculturated into immediate gratification, which is not only selfish, silly and a relinquishment of our human obligation to leave this world better than we found it, it’s also a damn shame.

No black student is taking an education away from a white student.  There is plenty for everyone.

It takes moral courage to do the right thing here.  It takes university presidents who are willing to be educators and not Salesmen-In-Chief taking huge salaries and benefits to satisfy the needs of their trustees, 1/3rd of whom are business people with sharp pencils focused on short-term gains so characteristic of American capitalism 21st century style.

Education is not business.  Education is the ‘why’ to business’s ‘how’. It is sacred to the human race.

I’m still looking for that university leadership to rise. I’m looking for university presidents to understand that they are in service to the Nation , to Humankind itself, and not just to their own turf.

Caveat Emptor – College Admissions Edition

I’ve been crazy busy with many different constituencies since the beginning of the year and though the spirit was willing and eager to write every few days, the flesh was too exhausted.  Today is another snow day in NYC, though (YAY!!! I think I must be the only person in this City who loves snow except for personal trainers who live for skiing on the weekends), so I finally have the bandwidth to put some words out into the ether.

Here’s another lesson in College Admissions Is A Business.  I share this with you because I want you to know the rules of the game you are about to play so you and your child have a better chance of making good decisions.

Colleges are sending their Search mailings now and it’s worth a column or two because it’s where the college admissions process begins and where truth begins to go off the rails.  Wonder why your child is beginning to get mail from colleges?  Here’s the skinny: colleges buy the names of students based on the PSAT score ranges and other demographic information desired by those individual schools (a process called Search).  A selective liberal arts college in the NorthEast, for example, might buy the names of males (under-represented in liberal arts colleges) with PSAT scores of 60+ in Critical Reading, 65+ in Math, 60+ in Writing.  That school might target students on the West Coast if it wants to bring in more Californians or target certain zip codes if it wants to reach out to more full-pay applicants.  Colleges can parse these parameters in many ways to fill or balance up their needs because this is the first big net they cast to scoop up lots of potential applicants.

The Search mailing is very important and is a large line item in the admissions office budget.

Once the names are purchased, the mailings are sent.  Yes, mailings.  As in, brochures and viewbooks large and small.  Colorful.  Glossy.  You might wonder in this age of virtual everything why colleges would continue to invest in paper (and such costly paper at that) when an email or tweet might do.  The simple answer is – parents.  If colleges did their Search outreach to students at this point, most of their efforts would be wasted because communicating with a teenager is notoriously difficult – kids have these nasty habits of ignoring email and most social media, actually.  They live in their own worlds and they rarely come up for air.  The point of sending a colorful publication through the US mail is for the parents to see it – get the full visual hit – and feel warm, happy and appreciative that this college has reached out to their child and thinks their child is special.  The parent will take it from there, nudging the poor kid to look at that school and maybe even apply.  Sadly, this is where parents begin to develop unrealistic expectations about their child’s chances of admission to some of these colleges because colleges know they’ll end up admitting just a fraction of the students who respond to the mailings.

Rule 1:  Just because it sent your child a seductive mailing out of the blue and is encouraging them to apply, doesn’t mean that college wants to admit them.

The whole point of the mailing is to encourage the application because that college lives and dies by its application numbers.  Remember the Holy Trinity of the college admissions business:  high number of applications, low number of admits (called the admit rate), high number of enrollees (called the yield).  These are 3 of the 4 aspects of the 17 aspect algorithm of the USNWR ranking system that the admissions office has control over and these three numbers matter.  A lot.  (oh, BTW, did you know that 25% of the algorithm is based on the opinions of peer institutions, utterly and completely subjective?)

So when the mailings come in by the boxload, remember that what the schools are really looking for is an application, not you or your child.  With this filter in mind, now go read through the material and see how it feels.  Fore-warned is fore-armed.

Never let your child fall in love with a college that won’t love them back… that’s called unrequited love and it hurts.