Tuesday, April 2, 2019

College Admissions Thoughts (Censored)

[“Let Inga Tell You,” should have been published by the La Jolla Light tomorrow (April 3) but they notified me this afternoon it was being pulled as “too controversial” and “potentially offending,” so just a blog post this week.] ©2019

The recent college admissions scandal actually didn’t surprise me all that much. 

When I applied to colleges in the fall of 1964, I think I was aware that the really rich and politically connected weren’t worrying about where they were going to college. They were already going to the right elite prep schools and their names alone made SAT scores moot.
At the same time, I felt that there were still plenty of spots, and if I didn’t get in some place, it was because there were more qualified candidates than me.

But by the time my own kids were applying to colleges thirty-some years later, the playing field had changed in really disheartening ways.  The mother of one of my son’s friends re-registered all of her kids as Hispanic maintaining that the family “identified” with her maternal grandmother who was allegedly Hispanic.  Never mind that their last name was so ethnically British Isles as to conjure up images of grain-based spirits. I don’t remember much in the way of Cinco de Mayo parties over there either. At the time, if you maintained you were even 1% of an ethnicity, you could claim it, not that anyone was checking.  You were what you said you were.

And that was probably why a quarter of the graduating class suddenly seemed to be Native American. I think now they at least make you identify the tribe. Not that it matters.  If the goal is to get people off the reservation and improve the prospects of future generations, admitting kids for whom the only reservation they’ve ever known was for dinner at the Beach and Tennis Club, what societal goal are they really fulfilling?

The easiest way at the time to game the system seemed to be ethnicity. And yet, astonishingly, college admissions staff seemed to fall for it.  In my younger son’s year, “Native Americans” and ersatz Hispanics who were way down the academic food chain were being admitted to highly selective schools while kids with far better credentials were turned away. 

If colleges were looking for stats, they got them. Otherwise, what would make an already-privileged applicant who may or may not possess some long-diluted American Indian DNA be a more desirable candidate?  

Crooked college coaches seem to be generating a lot of news lately which reminded me of a memorable encounter in the produce aisle of my local market. Another mom was querying where my son was applying to school and then volunteered that her son was going to Berkeley.  I expressed surprise since acceptances weren’t out yet, and also because this kid hadn’t been able to play high school sports for two semesters because he didn’t have the requisite 2.0 GPA. She explained that his uncle was a coach at the school and could get her son in as a recruited athlete.  He wasn’t even going to play the sport. And lo and behold, the kid did indeed go to Berkeley.

But some deserving kid didn’t.

Given that the shared last name of both coach and recruit weren’t particularly common, you’d think Berkeley should have been on to this. 

The multitude of articles about this scandal in recent weeks have proffered all manner of theories as to how this came about. Have parents lost faith that if you don’t game the system, your kid has no chance? Is gaming the system now considered fair game?  As more applicants vie for fewer places, is this a natural, nay expected, economic solution?  How many other Rick Singers are out there plying “side door” admissions?  Sadly, I’m guessing he’s the tip of the iceberg.

I was watching a talk show shortly after this story broke in which the guest maintained that in some selective schools, up to 80% of the spots are taken by recruited athletes, affirmative action, and legacies.  I know that most schools (and alumni) are really big on football and basketball, but I remain baffled why the excellent scholastic opportunities at top academic institutions with admission rates under 10% should go to academically-underachieving water polo and lacrosse players who would have no chance of admission otherwise. Ditto fake Indians and deadbeat alumni offspring.  While colleges strive to have a variety of students on their campuses, can this selection criteria really be improving the culture and quality of the school?

 It would seem that in the internet age, it wouldn’t be hard to identify the legitimate minorities who truly are the first generation in their families to go to college.

And as for the legacies, has this become academic incest (albeit endowment-building)? It sounds like a lot of  schools could use some new blood, the subsequent generations lacking the stand-out qualities that their parents or grandparents demonstrated to gain admission in the first place.

I really hope this is an opportunity for colleges to re-examine their admissions policies.  

Meanwhile, next up: financial aid scams.  Don’t get me started.


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