Frank Bruni wrote a provocative op ed essay in the Times awhile back about aggressive recruiting practices by elite colleges and universities. The spokespeople for these joints say they want to make sure they don't overlook "candidates of great merit" who might miss the golden opportunity to matriculate at tony institutions like Swarthmore.
But, as Bruni pointed out, private colleges maintain their elite status by keeping their acceptance rates low; and the only way elite institutions can lower their acceptance rates is to increase the number of applicants. So--in essence--colleges are trying to lure as many applicants as possible just to set them up for rejection.
Bruni quoted one person who said Tulane University sends everyone a "VIP application," and Rensselaer invites some applicants to apply with "Candidate Choice status!" (bold type and explanation mark supplied by Rennselaer).
The headline for Bruni's essay is entitled "Promiscuous College Come-Ons," and "promiscuous" is probably the right word. Our elite colleges are engaging in recruiting practices that are basically identical to the gambling industry: "You can't win if you don't play!"
All across America, high school students are sweating over college-application essays that will make them stand out when their applications are scanned by beady-eyed admissions committees at places like Williams, Wesleyan, Hamilton, Colby, Swarthmore, and Smith. Meanwhile, parents are trying to figure out the difference between the sticker price and the real cost of educating little Suzie or Johnny at an elite school after scholarships, grants, and loans are factored in. Very much like trying to get a good deal on a new Chevy.
And what is the value of the prize that little Suzie and Johnny win if they get into an exclusive college? For many of the people who matriculate at America's elitists institutions, all they will have received when they graduate is an expensive introduction to postmodern cynicism and a lot of student-loan debt.
I think it is time for bright young Americans to make the bold and courageous decision to just skip the whole elite-college experience. I think it is time for American young people to explore less exalted options for their post-secondary educations and training like attending a foreign university, getting a technical education in the energy field, or just staying near home and attending a nearby state college.
In my view, our brightest and most idealistic young people should be asking themselves if they want to become the kind of people who run our elite universities or who teach at them. I don't think they do.
Our best young Americans want a post-secondary education that will allow them enter occupations that are fulfilling and will pay enough for them to care for their families. They want educational experiences that will help them develop a reasoned basis for making ethical decisions. And I think they want educational experiences that will help them determine the ultimate meaning of their lives--something liberal arts institutions once purported to do.
It is true, as the higher education community constantly reminds us, that people who graduate from college make more money than people who don't. But I wonder if people who borrow thousands of dollars to attend our nation's most expensive elite universities make more money or have more fulfilling lives than people who graduate from West Texas University with no debt.
Frank Bruni. Promiscuous College Come-Ons. New York Times, November 22, 2014. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/23/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-promiscuous-college-come-ons.html?_r=0