Monday, March 21, 2016

Turning the Tide: Contributing to the Decline of American Universities

Harvard Graduate School of Education has come out with a plan to radically overhaul the admissions process in American universities. The document has been endorsed by a huge, if that word won't trigger a trauma for someone, number of certified academic gatekeepers.

The report argues that the current university admissions process emphasises personal success at the expense of community engagement, puts too much stress on applicants and discriminates against students from disadvantaged communities.

Proposals include "promoting more meaningful contributions to others", "assessing students  ethical engagement and contributions to others in ways that reflect varying types of family and community contributions across race, culture and class" and  "redefining achievement in ways that both level the playing field for economically diverse students and reduce excessive achievement pressure."

Detailed recommendations include students doing at least a year of "sustained service or community engagement", which could include working to contribute family finances. The report recommends that what should count for university admissions is whether " whether students immersed themselves in an experience and the emotional and ethical awareness and skills generated by that experience.'

It is predictable that this will greatly increase the stress experienced by applicants who would have to find some sort of service for a year, immerse themselves in it, generate emotional and ethical skills and then be able to convince admissions officers that they have done so. Or, let us be realistic, find teachers or advisors who will show them how to do this. It will also prompt a massive invasion of privacy if colleges are really going to demand evidence that community service is authentic and meaningful.

Students will also be encouraged to undertake activities that  "deepens their appreciation of diversity." Would it be too cynical to suspect that this is code for political indoctrination?

The report also urges that students take fewer AP and IB courses and that colleges should consider making the SAT and ACT optional.

None of these are particularly novel but put together they are likely to cause a shift in the qualities required for admission to America's elite schools. Students will care for others, be passionate about community engagement, appreciate diversity and have authentic extra-curricular activities or at least they will be highly skilled at pretending that they are. They will also be less academically able and prepared and universities will inevitably have to adjust to this.

Also, admissions offices will require more money and responses to make sure that those diversity experiences are meaningful and that community engagement is authentic. But that shouldn't be a problem. Somehow money is always available when it is really needed.

Over the next few years look for a migration of talented students and researchers from the US.

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