2. The lasting impact of Varsity Blues
When the Varsity Blues scandal broke last March
garnering tons of mainstream press coverage, those who work in college admissions frequently pointed out how little the universities caught up in the scandal actually represent “American higher ed.”
Even so, ten months later, the scandal continues to grab public attention. It is the subject of a serial podcast
and at least three books
coming out this year and next. If you’ve ignored most of the coverage since March, here’s a great graphic
from the Wall Street Journal
on where the various criminal cases stand.
But the wider—and perhaps longer lasting—impact of Varsity Blues will be the conversation it has sparked about a broken admissions process.
Last September, I moderated a panel
about Varsity Blues at the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s annual conference with nearly a dozen admissions leaders.
A key takeaway from that discussion was that admissions needs to be more transparent.
Count me as skeptical of more openness with a process that largely serves institutional goals, not the needs of students and families. While we might never see inside the black box of admissions, other changes to the system are probable in the decade ahead. Here’s why:
The test-optional movement faces its own big test, and soon. The University of California system is expected to decide this winter whether to drop the SAT and ACT tests in admissions decisions. If it does, other selective colleges will follow given the size and influence of UC’s applicant pool.
The Supreme Court will take another higher ed affirmative action case this decade. And the fate of race-conscious admissions is unclear with the current makeup of the Supreme Court. Any future court decision that strikes down affirmative action would also put limits on so-called holistic admissions, which right now give admissions officers wide discretion to admit the class they want. The bottom line: colleges will need to find new metrics in order to judge applicants.
Too many applications, not enough time. For the most selective colleges, application numbers continue to grow, yet they haven’t figured out a way to add more time to reading season between January and March. As a result, colleges will be forced to rethink the application to focus on what really matters to them—and what really needs to be reviewed.
“The concern I have is not fraud, but the overall fidelity of the correspondence they send us. Grades are inflated, activities are embellished, recommendations lack negative comments, and the standard now is test prep and multiple editors for essays.” -John Latting, dean of admissions at Emory University