The College Admissions Process as a Force for Good

Earlier this month, the Harvard Graduate School of Education published a report calling for a number of reforms in the college admissions program. Fifty deans and other college and university educators signed on to the report, which is titled “Turning the Tide.”

“Turning the Tide” suggests that the college admissions process can be a force for the common good. Just as college admissions pushes students toward personal success, the authors argue, the process could also push students toward concern for others and the common good.

The study’s recommendations come down to three main challenges:

1.     Motivating high school students “to contribute to others and their communities in more authentic and meaningful ways that promote in them genuine investment in the collective good and deeper understanding of and respect for others, especially those different from them in background and character.”

2.     Figuring out how to meaningfully assess students’ contributions to their communities.

3.     Redefining achievement in order to level the playing field for disadvantaged students and reduce the pressure to achieve for all students.

These goals seem noble enough. Still, they raise big questions. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that an admissions committee could in fact assess how meaningful a student’s community involvement was. Will that assessment not include some sort of checklist that students and their parents can still manipulate? “Turning the Tide” suggests that admissions officers pay more attention to community service activities to which students have demonstrated long-term commitment, valuing “quality” over “quantity.” Fair enough. But surely it won’t be long before this criterion for judging the “meaningfulness” of students’ experience becomes as meaningless as the current criteria.

Christian colleges have a long tradition of giving extra weight to questions of character and service. What have you learned about assessing the “meaningfulness” of your prospective students’ service activities?  How are you communicating the ways in which your institution enhances the student experience through community service?

To read “Turning the Tide” or the executive summary, click here.