Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Freedom to Succeed in College

            The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday concerns the process of being accepted at a university and why it is important. The college application process is meant to decide who is prepared to succeed as a university study and who is not. Since there are only so students admitted to any given university each year, there is a process to determine who should be invited to join the student body. When the process is corrupted, the wrong students are admitted, and the best prepared students are admitted. This means that the student who played through high school but has wealthy parents could be admitted, while the student who worked hard in high school and would do well in college is not. Corruption in the process hurts both.

            Last week The New York Times published an article dated March 12, 2019, about a racketeering scheme used by wealthy parents to insure that their children were admitted to elite universities. In the “largest-ever college admissions prosecution” the U.S. Justice Department charged fifty people in six states with corruption. There were thirty-three parents, admission officials, and coaches charged in the “nationwide bribery and fraud scheme,” but no students or universities were indicted. Twelve of the fifty charges were for racketeering. 

            This week we learn of other corruption in the college application process. This corruption involves the 500-word essay known as the personal statement. It seems that “helicopter parents or expensive college-prep counselors who cater to the 1 percent” have found a way to corrupt the personal statement. The Daily Beast interviewed “eight college application tutors” and found that their job was to edit, alter, or rewrite personal statements. These essay editors “painted the portrait of an industry rife with ethical hazards, where the line between helping and cheating can become difficult to draw.” 

One consultant, a 22-year-old Harvard graduate, told The Daily Beast that, during his senior year in college, he began working as an essay editor for a company that hires Ivy Leaguers to tutor applicants on a range of subjects. When he took the job in September 2017, the company was still young and fairly informal. Managers would send him essays via email, and the tutor would revise and return them, with anywhere between a 24-hour and two-week turnaround. But from the beginning, the consultant explained, his managers were “pretty explicit” that the job entailed less editing than rewriting.

“When it’s done, it needs to be good enough for the student to go to that school, whether that means lying, making things up on behalf of the student, or basically just changing anything such that it would be acceptable,” he told The Daily Beast. “I’ve edited anywhere from 200 to 225 essays. So, probably like 150 students total. I would say about 50 percent were entirely rewritten.”

            The personal essay may be the most important part of the application because it is personalized – at least it is supposed to be. According to this site, it is often easy to tell whether the essay was written by the applicant or the parent, so this may be one reason why would-be university students are going to places where real students are doing the work. 

The paradox of the overzealous editing of the college essay by many helicopter parents is that they don’t know what a college essay is really about. Unlike the other parts of the application, where high grade point averages and SAT scores reign supreme, the essay is less about being impressive than it is about being authentic.

It can take some convincing for many kids and parents to believe that when it comes to writing the essays, in particular, college admissions officers care about who students are. The essay should reveal their personalities, passions, dreams, weird talents, favorite foods, sickest playlists, inexplicable loves and undeniable quirks….

The college essay is about the true things students want the colleges to know about them that can’t be seen via grades and standardized tests. Are you kind? Resilient? Curious? Creative? Are you any fun? And contrary to popular belief, it’s not about unattainable standards or curing cancer. In fact, a good test of a college essay is: Can the writer convince the reader that she would make a great roommate.

            The bottom line of both types of corruption is that teenagers are entering universities unprepared to learn at that level. They get accepted to the university, and then they have to take remedial classes to learn the stuff that they should have learned in high school. Meanwhile, the universities have turned away other teenagers who are well prepared to study at the university level.

            This site claims that the current “college admission scandal grew out of a system that was ripe for corruption.” Two of the ways that allowed children of wealthier parents to enter college is through athletic teams and testing. Most college athletes are chosen because the college coaches saw them play at some tournament or camp. Two of my daughters played on traveling soccer team for the explicit reason to be seen by college coaches. From personal experience, I know that it takes money for athletes to play on such teams and to travel to tournaments and camps to be seen. This means that athletes from lower-income families, who may be the better players, are never seen by college coaches. “The pipeline system is far better at identifying the best payers rather than the best players.” 

            A second way listed by the site that money plays a role in college applications without doing anything illegal is in studying for the SAT and/or ACT. For a cool $l,000 any high school student can prepare for the tests and be guaranteed that they will receive higher scores. There are less expensive ways to study for the tests, but none of them carry such guarantees. This is a second way that wealth can help students get into elite universities without fraud.

            The site lists a third way that parental money can help children get admitted to a university of their choice – donations. If the donation is large enough, the student will be admitted. I heard rumors that such a thing happened with a young man that I know. This is perfectly legal even though it may not be considered ethical or fair. So the wealthy parents indicted in Operation Varsity Blues may have donated their half million dollars and had a building on campus named after them. Instead, they are facing corruption charges.

            I understand that some of the children of the cheating parents have dropped out of school because of the scandal. They realize what the scandal says about their preparation for college, and they do not want to face the other students. The bottom line is that many people are affected when corruption is allowed to taint the college admission process. The students who are unprepared and yet are admitted are not ready for university work and will have to face the consequences at some point. They may also face the embarrassment of knowing that their parents did not have enough faith in their ability to allow them to get into college on their own capabilities. The students who are prepared but rejected will have to attend a different school and possibly receive a lesser education, which could affect their careers.

            The end result is that the worth of a degree is devalued whenever the qualifications for said degree are lowered to enable the lesser prepared students to receive one. I am grateful to know that each of my children entered college on their own merits and received their degrees because they earned them fair and square. They worked hard during high school and were ready to attend the university. Their educations are blessings in their own lives and in their families as well as for many other people in their spheres of influence.

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