Friday, September 22, 2006
Are college early admission programs about to change?
We have been reading a lot lately about the college early admission process that has been in place for the past 30 to 50 years. This is the program in which high school seniors may choose to apply early to college in October, instead of filing an application by the usual January 1 deadline. These students will then learn if they have been accepted, rejected or wait-listed in December. If accepted through this program, many schools ask students to sign on to the school's early-decision binding program. Those students who submit applications by January 1 will be notified on April 1 and have until May to decide which school they wish to attend.
What started this public discussion on the value of early college admissions was Harvard College's announcement on September 12 that it will eliminate its early admission program, beginning in the fall of 2007 for the freshman class entering in 2008. "Early admission programs tend to advantage the advantaged," said Harvard interim President Derek Bok. "Students from more sophisticated backgrounds and affluent high schools often apply early to increase their chances of admission, while minority students and students from rural areas, other countries, and high schools with fewer resources miss out," he added. It is clear that many of this later group of students need to compare financial aid programs from several collages and must wait until May before making the decision on which school to attend.
On September 19, Princeton followed suit with its decision to eliminate early admission, and it was reported that other smaller, selective colleges in the northeast were voicing concern about continuing with this system that some call "the annual admissions frenzy."
After reading about all this in the newspapers lately, I called Guidance Counselor Tom Curtin at the Concord-Carlisle High School. He was the guidance counselor for my elder son in the early eighties. What did he think of what was going on in the college admission process? He said he'd like to think about it and asked if I would call him back on Monday morning for an answer, which I did. Here is what a long-time, experienced guidance councilor at CCHS had to say.
"CCHS students are not likely to be greatly affected by Harvard's decision to drop early action, because only the top universities with significant financial aid are likely to follow suit. The current system works to most of our students' advantage and will continue to do so."
For the CCHS Class of 2006, which had 312 students, here is some of the data Curtin shared: 175 students, or 56%, applied early decision or early action, sending out 276 early transcripts; 70 students applied to more than one school early; 60% of those students who applied early were accepted; 52% of these students will attend their first choice school; 20% will attend their second choice school.
It is obvious that CCHS students have benefited from these early admission programs. If these programs are abandoned, our students will not have some of the advantages of the past, which Dr. Curtin agreed with in our second discussion on Wednesday morning. But isn't it fairer to students overall, especially to lower and middle-income students, to go for a single application program? Our students, from supportive homes and excellent schools, will still have the best opportunities to get into top colleges, but without the edge over less affluent applicants that early admission programs provided.
The week that was
Though only an occasional listener, I'm a big fan of the quirky humor and homespun yarns in Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion. The fact that the recent movie did not last long in theaters suggests that this fondness is not shared by most. (After seeing the film, which I thought was hilarious, my son David asked "How old do you have to be before this stuff actually seems funny?") Keillor's special genius is in making ordinary people seem extraordinary, and we can easily see ourselves in his characters. The residents of the fictional Lake Wobegone do the same everyday and often dumb things that we do, and so it seems like a real place that we could actually visit.
Keillor's riffs work because there's a little bit of Lake Woebegone in all of us. Three things happened this past week that illustrate the point. On Saturday night, we attended a barn party hosted by neighbors. There was a live band, plenty of food and drink, and the crowd was a mix of kids, younger couples, and a smattering of veterans like yours truly. The kids were dancing with abandon while the grownups were comparing notes on schools, sports, jobs and real estate. It was a perfect fall evening, clear and a little crisp after a brief rain shower, and everyone had a great time greeting old friends and making new ones.
Only a few hours later, many of those same people gathered at the First Religious Society for a very different occasion: a memorial service for Scott Munroe. Scott was something of a modern-day pioneer. He and his wife Judy moved to town in 1982, cleared land, built a house, and began to raise a family. By all accounts, Scott had a rambunctious childhood and a rebellious youth. He served his country with distinction as a combat Marine in Vietnam, attended MIT, did important defense work at Lincoln Lab, and eventually started his own business. Scott moved among us as a man of quiet purpose; he was a good husband, father, neighbor, and friend. He died suddenly and unexpectedly in an accident that could easily have happened to anyone. The memorial service had just the right mix of tears and laughter, and it was standing room only.
Several days later, at a board meeting of the Carlisle Conservation Foundation, various options for developing the Benfield property were reviewed. CCF is a group that for many years has worked to preserve and protect the unique rural character of the town. When first founded, Carlisle was not a particularly attractive place to live. With its remote location, acres of swamps, rocky soil, and copious mosquitoes, it was hardly prime farmland and therefore sparsely settled. Several centuries later, this same low density makes it a very desirable (and hence expensive) community. Now the town is grappling with the consequences of that twist of fate, struggling to reconcile competing interests for open space, recreation land, and compliance with the state's 40(b) housing law. Everyone's got a stake in the outcome, but the stakes are different for each.
So there you have it: celebration, compassion, and controversy all in the span of a few days. The events of this past week could easily have been scripted by Garrison Keillor (or Thornton Wilder). Lake Woebegone may be a mythical place where "the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the children are above average," but it sure sounds a lot like Carlisle, doesn't it?
© 2006 The