College. University. An opportunity which has been sold many times as the “promised land” of education – one which is often sold as being a place where freedom, opportunity, change, and learning are guaranteed to all who can enter its gates.
As an American who recently graduated High School, College has been a concern on my mind recently. Yet the entire process (to both myself, my peers, and even some contacts at universities) seems to be the victim of constant attempts at “improvement” without much cleanup. Because of this, the entire application process became a burden upon my entire family, even while I attempted to prevent it from becoming so. While there are many reasons for this, there are a few specific issues that the majority of people in my graduating class had complained about and wished for some form of reform on within the last several years.
In the United States, students take either the SAT, ACT, or both to demonstrate their “potential” to the places of higher education they will be applying to. While the tests are different in both questions and placement of the sections, both run on a similar principle: separate scores given for Math and English (which can be viewed separately) are combined into a central score which is often directly used to determine placement in a college application que. These scores are generated based upon an “objective” exam which is more aimed at testing close reading skill under pressure than it is actual skill (with the majority of the questions being either trick questions or questions which are intentionally deceptive towards the end goal); with unlimited time, it is entirely conceivable that the majority of the populace could achieve a perfect score. While there is a valid argument that there needs to be a way to determine how a student compares for the purposes of college admission, having students participate in a highly stress-inducing timed test with limited access to resources (which is largely unrealistic outside of academia – while time-stress is realistic, not having access to notes is not) does not serve this purpose well other than to determine who has the most money to pay for test preparation services.
To solve this need, it seems logical to establish a high national standard which must be met in order to progress into higher education; under such a system, the responsibility would be left up to the individual secondary schools to ensure graduates meet graduation requirements (subject to public audit process). While doing so would stifle any higher educational institution’s ability to determine based on a simple rubric, the results from the public audit process could enable them to decide admittance based upon a student’s grades, permitting them to not spend large amounts of time studying for what is ultimately a worthless test with no real life applicability.
Another of the key issues pertaining to higher education is the method of which it is advertised. With education costs on the rise and student debt becoming a substantial problem for younger generations, the logical assumption would be that there is a room for a large amount of competition in what is a largely capitalist education system. Yet such competition would involve cutting costs somewhere; for varying reasons, many of the places considered by the students to be poor spending of funds are self-protecting, ensuring that their budgets are never cut. One such place is marketing – instead of focusing on promoting their program and letting their program speak for itself, many institutions send and spend large amounts of money on marketing materials, much of which is either never read or is simply disregarded due to an applicant’s preferences.
To put numbers to it, I have received 24 pounds of mail over the last several months; I only started collecting it after it was becoming a problem to process. Much of that mail remains unopened in a bag sitting next to me. Additionally, while less expensive to send in-mass, I also received 2935 e-mails related to college, approximately 2502 of which were not from any college I applied to or had any connection to.
Finally, the inefficiency of the entire application process costs students a large amount of time which could be better spent elsewhere. One of the main ways for prospective applicants to apply is through the Common Application, a program which supposedly creates a standard application which students only have to create once then submit (with the respective fee) to all of their colleges of interest. Yet many of these colleges have “supplemental” requirements – essays about your personality, lists of achievements, what entertains you, what makes that college an excellent fit, and many others. Many of the supplemental essays are similar in nature, but small subtle differences require them to be almost completely recreated (most notably, differences in word count). Some may argue that it is possible to write a generic essay to resolve this issue – while that is most certainly true, coming in under the required character count makes it appear that one simply does not care and can cause many applications to be revoked (as happened to many of my otherwise suitable and above average peers who attempted this on their applications).