A recent Time magazine story revealed some of the worst offenders in college admissions bad behavior. The story of Adam Wheeler lying his way into Harvard and a group of Long Island students who were paid to take the SATs for classmates made headlines. And while their behavior is reprehensible (and illegal: Wheeler spent a year in prison, and the test takers were arrested and charged with felonies), it's the scandals involving college officials that are the real shockers. And those scandals go well beyond the few offered in the Time piece.
When you're navigating a process that often feels shrouded in mystery, you'd like to believe that the statistics you rely on to make application decisions are reliable. Schools report numbers about their incoming freshman class and those numbers are used by high school students to determine where to apply. If your test scores, for example, are lower than the median reported by a college, you might decide you've already applied to enough long shots and skip it.
That's why it's disheartening to say the least that the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, in response to the growing number of reports of schools manipulating admissions data (find a list of offenders here), placed a new requirement on member colleges--from the ethics committee. A previous requirement that information about their schools must be presented accurately now reads that colleges must have "an official policy regarding the collection, calculation and reporting of institutional statistics. This must include a process for validating all institutional data."
David Hawkins, director of public policy and research for the National Association for College Admission Counseling, told Inside Higher Ed,"The emphasis placed on an institution's 'selectivity,' particularly as defined by standardized test scores, has gone beyond the rational and become something of an obsession. NACAC believes it is time for all stakeholders, including institutions, rankings, bond rating companies, merit scholarships, boards of trustees, alumni, and many others, to reassess the emphasis that is placed on 'input' factors like standardized test scores, and focus on the value colleges add to students' postsecondary experiences once they are on campus, regardless of the supposed 'selectivity' of the campus."
Let's hope the NACAC's call for greater vigilance and a more holistic approach to admissions starts to turn the trend around. Admissions officers must display the transparency and honesty that they demand of their applicants.