Current Trends by Natasha Sapp

Under the new guidelines suggested via the Harvard graduate school of education and supported by many schools including those from the Ivy League, holding high reputations across the country, out would be sole consideration given to grades, GPA, advanced placement high school course loads, ACT and SAT numerical score values. In, those students who do meaningful community service, show a passion for it, assessing ethical engagement more than weeding out potential cheaters or those who cheated to get to the interview, application process but gaging commitment to a cause, concern about the world around them, promoting genuine passions in students and judging them on their continued pursuit of whatever that is. Virtually redefining achievement hoping to level the playing field leaving open opportunities for students at the most prestigious universities, highly acclaimed colleges who didn’t have the benefit of posh preschools, the best pubic or even private k-12 experience, professional, parent paid for ACT/SAT prep and college admissions assistance in getting that essay just perfect, interview practice polishing answers to perk up the ears of admissions boards. Hopping to reduce the gargantuan pressure placed on students whose goal should be learning, accumulating knowledge and honing wisdom, not ‘manic résumé packing’ exclusively to look good to college admissions staff.  Frantic resume packing the report noted was linked to significantly higher rates of mental health issues, depression, anxiety, substance abuse problems; mental health issues inevitably carrying over into their college careers inundating campus health services departments. Other parties, most recently Julie Lythcott-Haims, and her book How to Raise an Adult have attributed said visits to college mental health a consequence of helicopter parenting, concierge-ing kids to the point they arrive at college and don’t know how to ask for help getting their stuff to their dorm, don’t know how to make decisions, live independently and reporting a record number of personal crises. Theories that didn’t jive with collegiate surveys indicating stress about student loan debt, job prospects, but we have known for years about the evolving, growing mindset you’re doomed if you don’t do things academically, college preparatory wise on a precise, predetermined schedule, if you don’t get into your desired top school slowly learning what that does to mental stability or a lack thereof. From cheating scandals to hazing to student injury have been laid at the feet of this cutthroat competition more than just in Law and Order re-runs. For some it is a hopeful change long overdue, a mindset shift signifying an understanding the best students for institutions from the Ivy League to the top accredited universities, higher end community colleges aren’t always the ones with 4.0 grade point averages and a slew of AP courses. What defines a ‘good college,’ better yet a solid admissions process isn’t in a name, rather what you instill in students during their tenure in your school, isn’t in a metric system, rather what you look for in a student that transcends educational walls, what you can glean from a person based on a stack of papers isn’t the best of them rather interaction, what they can tell you about how they spend their free time and why. An acknowledgment of the largely undue pressure we’ve been putting on young people in past decades with diminishing results, if there ever were any to begin with. A chance to recognize and honor kids who instead of loading their after school time with extracurriculars, community service were at home babysitting brothers and sisters, helping mom or dad at their store, possessed a part time job to aid the family in paying bills and the character it highlights in that kid showcasing what they can bring to your school. The question is are schools on to something, have they truly arrived at a positive formula for getting the best students, giving the most people the largest opportunity to correct yawning income inequality gaps, open up chances for the greater disadvantaged persons who only need a chance to prove themselves, or have we merely marked a new era of different cut-throat competition, a more insidious ‘game,’ bad formula to get the attention of the colleges deemed best in the country, heading toward a bright future mistakenly thought to be determined by attendance at the ‘holy grail’ of there, insert name of school here___________?

While nothing is predicted to change in a single admissions cycle, New York Times writer and author of the book Where You Go is not Who You’ll Be, described as an antidote to the college admissions frenzy Frank Bruni does see change within the next 5 years. Unfortunately it takes a lot longer to change public knowledge about the general way things are achieved from getting a job, to changing career trends, résumé formats to the best way to book a hotel, rent a car, buy a plane ticket. Part of the reason millennials are so angry and fed up enough to organize movements like occupy Wall Street and are creating sweeping wins for outsider candidates such as Bernie Sanders in a landmark election year is; because, not only to they feel, and rightfully so, the system is rigged, they feel duped by said system run by their generational predecessors who told them to get educated. They did, coming out still unable to get a job, let alone the middle class living promised, who told them all they needed to get was a degree, it didn’t matter what in per say just a degree proved you had something employers wanted, they did only to find employers now wanted buckets of experience to go with those degree certificates making them little more than fancy pieces of paper forcing young people to maintain their minimum wage job once used to supplement tuition money, dorm and class supplies, flood the minimum wage market seeking work. Even once we acquired trade and tech degrees, certifications, classes teaching specific skills they were again nothing sans practical experience businesses became loath to give once the employment market was dominated by degree and certificate holders.  Add in the recession, effects reverberating across the economy to this day, scars felt by many families who haven’t yet recovered, families who never reached their most basic goals, laid directly at the feet of the prior generation’s recklessness on a national government level; it easily doubles as an alternative explanation to underemployed, underachieving, underperforming millennials than the go-to stock answer they are lazy, entitled and utterly incapable. Tying into the discussion here, who will get left behind in the meantime between the wide spread acceptance of the new method and it making it to the saturation level of general knowledge; how many over the next decade who would have been great students, an asset to wherever they chose to attend will find themselves rejected because they didn’t have the new right kind of stuff?  How fair do institutions intend to be during the transition time to students working off the old formula thinking it will get them ahead; are students then destined to be shafted, screwed in a different way attempting to ascertain a career, earn a living wage? Another looming problem soon to accompany the revisions is increased apathy surrounding the very people they were meant to help. Yes we see mania around college admissions but overwhelmingly from affluent families Bruni highlighted it both in his article and on the CBS morning show segment announcing the endorsed changes or students being pressured exceedingly by their parents to follow the slavish metric formula as a means to getting into college. By contrast, already lower middle class, definitively lower class and poor students don’t see college as an option, do worse than their potential, aptitude leading up, to and in, high school, not just because of urban blight, temptation, harassment of gangs and drugs, unstable home lives, living in pay by the week motels, spending the bulk of their time simply trying to survive, lacking after school programs in their forgotten neighborhood, transportation means to use them, rather because they understand financially they can’t afford it, realize just how unlikely getting a full, partial scholarship is, see trying for any of the above an express waste of time, an exercise in false hope. Undercurrents fuelling the outrage regarding the officer who threw the student across the classroom after a confrontation with the teacher about a cellphone, unhelpful the officer was white, student black; the idea we put students into classes, foist on them greater and greater expectations, advanced classes that become the norm, forget AP think geometry, calculus, chemistry to satisfy common core, 3rd, in many cases 4th, years of mandatory core subjects sparked by colleges first toward higher international test scores, second toward this glorious future they know isn’t coming, then wonder why they instinctively find their cellphone more interesting. And now you want to change it again for those who still want to participate, to try getting into college? Imagine the shock of the young man below convinced to follow the straight and narrow, actively choosing straight A’s over a girlfriend when he discovers A- he may not be eligible for financial aid thanks to his past, juvenile offenses, drug use, an entirely conceivable outcome considering who the challenge academy serves and B- having a girlfriend might be more beneficial than his stellar grades, starkly improved GPA either because she can vouch for him at a job, which is more important under the just adopted format or can recommend him at her workplace when his hopes of doing anything else go up in smoke. Oh what a wonderful world, wonderful picture, certainly not the one they wanted painted.

True the recommended changes are a step in the right direction, a wake-up call to over-coaching parents and administrators too easily impressed by 4.0+ GPAs and exactly how many things some students can pack into their after school and summer time. But once implemented fully, partially either one, they would continue to exclude students in unique situations who may need access to a college degree more than those who can readily work minimum wage, undesirable as it may be. Young people hampered by abusive, neglectful, mentally ill or aloof parents who don’t have examples of ‘civic engagement,’ volunteer work to add to a college essay or bring up in an interview because they don’t have reliable transportation, parents who simply work, work 2 jobs, long hours and can’t ferret their kids to and from activities. Kids raised in extremely religious backgrounds who had long lists of things they weren’t allowed to do according to their faith, many ‘outsider’ things considered ‘of the devil,’ surely if they are looking into colleges they likely denounced said faith, the parts that mandate narrowly insular views; nevertheless, they were raised in that environment possibly effecting what goes into their college prep profile. Students limited by physical disability, mental illness, quite feasibly living in a city with no disabled transportation especially if they are looking at out of state colleges, higher education beyond their hometown, parents unwilling, ill-equipped or ill-informed about how best to help their disabled child transition to adulthood, lacking knowledge  about physical evaluations for driving, specialized driving instruction for the disabled, one of a multitude of life tools that can determine how far you go, since countless jobs necessitate a driving license or access to a vehicle. Mentally ill students who very possibly only recently got a more accurate diagnosis, proper medication and therapy for agoraphobia, anxiety, depression making huge interactions with people, extracurricular activities also impossible until now; a now not giving you as much time to showcase who you are despite your challenges within the confines of that all-important college prep profile. You may appear one dimensional to a college because you don’t volunteer, you don’t work, don’t participate in extracurricular activities; them never completely realizing you’re one dimensional characteristics where brought on by things beyond your control, not babysitting siblings, caring for an ill parent or grandparent, though those are becoming more and more common. Places doing volunteer and adjacent work who can’t find/don’t have a position for the differently abled,  mirroring employment openings, typical starter jobs for young people, workplaces that say the same, your school didn’t have a club for the thing you were really passionate about, you never succeeding in mobilizing resources or enough people interested in the same thing to start one, more likely you didn’t join art club, music club, acting club, participate in choir, science club, astronomy club exc. because of transportation, a parent who worked, not able to walk to/home from school to do so the way motivated others might. High schoolers who don’t have jobs because their urban blight neighborhood doesn’t have enough jobs anyway, employers definitely not perusing résumés/job applications of the black, brown kids from that neighborhood, that street, that block, their time is too consumed with survival where they’ll get their next meal, where they’ll sleep tonight, how they’ll have clean clothes the next day, finish homework with no electricity. This forces kids to get profoundly personal on college entrance essays bearing their souls and their life stories for the mere shot at maybe getting into college, a depth they, their family may not be comfortable with, details felt to be no one’s business but their own. It then encourages likewise ambitious students possessing lesser challenges, none at all from the above perspective to fabricate, exaggerate and invent a sob story to better their chances of getting in based on the things currently being looked for, recreating bad instances from the early 2000’s. Admissions criteria still too dismissive of the concept their college prep profiles are comprised of things centered on school because that’s where they are supposed to be, where they have spent the bulk of their time for the past 13 years up to this point reminiscent of an audio essay one of my high school teachers used in her reading writing workshop class a humorous piece of hyperbole describing all the things he managed to do in his spare time; a favorite line talked about when he slept, he slept in a chair between an exaggerated list of things no human being could tackle, let alone putting in a 7 hour school day too. A satirical nod to what the heck do you think I’ve been doing, I’ve been in school like everyone else my age he used to successfully get into a creative writing school. When did we lose the idea it’s ok to do one or two things at a time for the idea of the uber person who can try to lose weight, get out of debt and learn a language all at once and you are less if you can’t?  When did we start supporting the idea you’re a bad person if you can’t manage a part time job, volunteer work and a boyfriend in addition to school?  When will we break all the way through, colleges coming to the duel understanding of what the Harvard graduate school of Education’s study uncovered and that we do better as individual citizens and society as a whole when everyone works where they work best and everyone’s role in helping young people discover what that is.

As a person who got into their local school of choice based on their class rank, GPA above an abysmal ACT score and holding no activities to put on a college résumé who spent her subsequent collegiate career participating in the evening campus program not every activity in the school, focused on the believed more important thing, holding that degree in her hand to move her where she wanted to go, you can call me biased; alternatively you could call it succeeding where I was with what I was given that didn’t require transportation, cajoling people to let me do this or that, finding somewhere in my community to ‘fit in’ for the sole purpose of how it looks to someone judging you on things other than your abilities, absent that, your desire to learn, learn skill set X so you can do thing Y. Never mind I was that kid because I was physically disabled, my mother was an old school parent who didn’t get the appeal of extracurricular activities and certainly wasn’t running a chauffeur service for her kid, when the time came entities like vocational rehabilitation (VR) paying for my education would only pay for nigh school at the smaller private college I desired to attend over the giant public university housing 300 a classroom, I was that kid, because like the droves graduated in my time trickling right down to today and the graduation season that will happen in a few short months’ time, I was told get an education and doors will open for me, I was victim to the early 2000’s get a degree, any degree zeitgeist, so I chose the one thing in which I thought I could do well and even with the aid of job placement and other such services no one ever alerted me to make it work I would unequivocally need an internship or how to get one. Further colleges’ sudden interest in only community service and giving back combined with grades, adding a question to entrance exams, essays about how they have bettered their world  undoubtedly aligns with millennial, gen Y goals, but short changes kids whose parents didn’t want them working rather concentrating on school, perhaps the way they didn’t get to at their age, kids who didn’t work because maintaining a B average was hard enough, just passing classes took the level of work these students are putting into the pre-college machine, kids who didn’t take on a job, extracurricular activities because they had an eye toward actually maintaining their sanity. Or, kids who didn’t do volunteer work leading up to college because they quickly discovered they weren’t good at it, honestly don’t believe they have anything to offer on the topic of bettering their world at this point and time, flying directly in the face of what they want to see, students ignited by a passion who can detail how they have gone after that passion. Their passion could be poetry, music, art, fiction, could be giving their creativity to the world, giving that doesn’t have to singularly take shape in donating time doing impromptu poetry readings, organizing an art program for kids at your local community center, learning to play an instrument. Shouldn’t their exuberance for how to build things, a desire to design buildings, knowledge of dinosaurs, earth history demonstrate why they desperately want to be engineers, architects, paleontologists, archeologists and the light in their eyes tell us we should let them try?  Identically students good enough to do exceptionally at top schools, who at 18 don’t know what their passion is yet, can’t yet delve into their desire to make a difference the way they want to because they are not yet a doctor, a lawyer, a social worker, don’t hold the qualifications for youth camp worker for children with specific special needs part of the reason they are in college, want to go to your school for your acclaimed program in whichever field that will get them closest to that goal on an undergrad level before going to a specialty school or on to graduate work. Perhaps a better phrasing of that question is how do you want to better the world in the future, how do you see the degree you hope to obtain helping you achieve that goal? Continuing if  we want more passionate, engaged students in our schools then we have to revamp more than just the college admissions process, zero in on more than just civic-mindedness over checking off a series of boxes; we have to revamp the whole high school experience allowing room for more electives, putting electives on a pass fail system based on participation and effort so students can learn what it is they do best that may be outside academics, know what they really can’t do or absolutely hate, expose them to more career opportunities, job titles and job descriptions so they know yes, this is actually a job you can apply for, my facility with this subject, knowledge sector can be used here. We have to stop denigrating the arts and lending credence to the comments of people like Bill Maher saying we can’t all be the one drawing on the cave wall, going back to prehistoric tribes and tasks assigned helping people live, someone has to go out and do something; thinking the biggest obstacle to sustainable employment is work ethic, effort, willingness to start at the bottom slowly moving up and chosen major, sarcastically mocking Peruvian bongo drums, lesbian dance theory and Beyoncé recognizing these are classes, electives not majors. Real barriers to employment being vast varied and complex and bettering your society, your world is also about feeding souls not just feeding people in homeless shelters, you need both; whether you feed a soul by participating in NASA discoveries, teaching, social work or writing poetry for the world to read, reaching the fame of a rock star providing the soundtrack to others memorable moments, enticing others to the pleasure of reading, power of words with your fiction, the thousand other ways your profession, career, chosen vocation, passion can become an inspiration to others by its very existence.

The new approach addressing one problem, eliminating one hurdle also wildly misconstrues the implied purpose of working through to a college degree— holding a job, a better job, getting out of minimum wage, reaching the middle class, staying in the middle class like your parents. To that end, no one has asked if employers agree with the changes being galvanized into a new admittance regime; it’s all well and good to reassess how we determine college admissions, leveling the playing field to all the way it always should have been, redefine a good college as ones with solid programs in key needed areas of growing employment or who turn out versatile students with omni-skills that can go into nearly any field despite their major, who have developed a functional life philosophy, how 1970’s of us?  It doesn’t do any good if graduates can’t get jobs on the backside of their degrees, if all we succeeded in doing is prompting greater dependence, emphasis on name recognition (where you went to school to gain an inkling of the quality of that education) in the era known as ‘everyone has a college degree, trade certificate,’ when many are already demanding transcripts to ascertain more than the degree itself can tell them about performance, acumen within their specialty to be an asset in whatever job they are applying for. Because students don’t go to college solely to get a life philosophy anymore, they go in order to earn degrees toward a career, not merely a subsistence job, obtain credentials attracting the attention of employers; employers increasingly bypassing, ignoring the presence of a degree unless it is coupled with coveted internships, apprenticeships, somehow garnered real world experience in that job title or job field. Employers also don’t care how civic minded you are or not; they care about qualification metrics, what skills you have, what you can do for them. They don’t care about your life goals apart from what it can tell them about how long you might plan to stay with the company if hired, the longer the better. Chief reason why programs such as JP Morgan’s youth initiatives and the high school tech program founded by IBM are so successful is due to companies A-making crystal clear what they want, working with the high school and community colleges to ensure coursework and hands on practical training includes those things, B- promising to hire students upon completion confident because they know what they are getting. Exactly why we need more of them and to cure employers of their perpetual laziness and poor hiring practices creating the 300 million job jobs gap ever complaining they can’t find workers, calling them on their crap before we blame young people or college admissions for the existing state of things. Student perspective here too shedding new light on the survey mentioned in the opening video asking them to rank their values a majority citing achievement over happiness and caring for others; Mr. Bruni remarking we all know what the answer is supposed to be, what we’re supposed to say, something high minded (his words) and the messages they’re getting if they are admitting, off the bat, they don’t care about others they only care about their achievement and happiness in that order, the part we, we being college admission and adults play in fixing the skewed perception. Someone obviously failed the context litmus test in either giving the survey or interpreting the results; those answers clearly indicate the takers didn’t answer the question as a moral argument or assessing a moral imperative, rather what do you value that’s tangible, calculable measurable to you? Easily added what do you value at the present time, their present time being in high school 4 years or less from college, from their next step in their quest for a job, to save money to buy a house, pay off  projected, expected student loan debt, financial literacy courses paying off in getting kids to think about retirement or how much indeed it takes to live a comfortable life, a time in their lives where achievement is the first thing that matters well beyond how colleges view it now or in the future. Achievement, synonymous with ability in this analogy is the main ingredient employers are looking for when they hire workers, can you do the job, who of my top choice applicants requires the least training, showcases an aptitude, knowledge of the workplace, the field, the position despite less experience? Under said criteria, knowing what the economy looks like, comprehending they are well aware of economic realities as well, of course that was their answer; it would have been utterly ignorant to answer differently and profoundly ignorant of survey readers to denigrate students for where they are in their development, where they stand on a life stage scale. Mirroring the interpretations on happiness, ignored is that for many millennials, graduating high school/college students happiness is found in giving back, working in, creating community centers, seeking jobs in not for profits, work whose meaning exceeds simply a paycheck, provides both meaning and a means to live.

A commenter on the CBS This Morning YouTube video after paragraph one called the plan the end of merit based admissions; tone emphatically implying that’s a bad thing. Is it really though considering what has been said, at minimum, the last decade regarding the undergraduate college degree holding the equivalent high school diplomas once did and the fact that in this country, at least, we don’t  require X standardized test score to enter high school. If you pass core classes, pass not get an A, B, maintain a C average, but merely pass, you go to the next grade. You manage all D’s and you graduate high school, an argument for levels of diploma’s depicting achievement granted, but under the prior circumstance you still receive a diploma, not just if you have the best grades, take the most advanced classes, gather multiple recommendations from your teachers, if you pass. So why should attending college be any different really paying close attention to what grades, GPA’s, SAT/ACT scores, many 4 year institutions have already deemed optional and ineffective in gaging student success upon admission, won’t tell you; the sobering fact general education outcomes don’t tell you how someone will do in a specialty, in a career field, in a specific job, don’t tell you what the person is exceptionally good at, especially when those talents fall under categories like cooking, mechanics, daycare worker. Unraveling some of the why behind kids feeling so entitled pertaining to college, seeing it as a right as opposed to a privilege, because it has shifted social columns from leg up, get ahead option to absolute necessity whether you choose 4 year college, trade school, community college course work toward a singular given job. Public education is a requirement not a privilege, we wouldn’t dream of denying even the most deficient young people that education, those with profound disabilities and delays, so why do we continue to deny them a college education access currently based on anything other than their ability to pay for it, marginal aptitude for any general education courses mandated under a degree, a monetary system candidates like Bernie Sanders want to do away with too? Ending so called merit based admissions, as defined by the commenter, which you can’t sidestep are incredibly subjective, seemingly arbitrary, no matter whose lens you are looking through, would also help end the reoccurring race debate on college campuses, race wars over admissions going all the way to the Supreme Court with Abigail Fisher and her middling grades who wanted in over better qualified minority students or the school in New Jersey inundated with Asian immigrants ‘who showed up their white peers’ mediocrity easing standards to appease parents’ according to the author by limiting homework, advanced classes and outside study time. An author who obviously forgot about the book written by Amy Chua and the descriptions she offered up about how she raised her kids according to the non-western paradigm, wanting something better than the western paradigm of parental ambivalence and explanations for children’s mediocrity, her idea of assuming strength in children, them being able to take name calling and much more from their parents prodding them to do better. An author ignoring more than the Asian stereotype of lacking social skills, emotional development, a sense of humor but the statistical reality of Asians, non-western kids who’ve committed suicide upon minor failures, above the teacher testimonials about perfect ACT/SAT scores and having trouble with writing and thinking for oneself, the comments on articles discussing Chua’s book from people raised that way and the detrimental impact it had on them. Limiting homework, advanced classes and outside study has benefits beyond looking at what Chua refused to allow her kids to do, forced them to do and goes to pressure kids are putting on themselves, the fatigue and stress exhibited by middle class students and the growing understanding more free time lets kids explore, find their passion, those who need summer to relax and don’t do well with rigorous summer programs no matter how engaging, humorous, interesting or well-earned the teacher’s self-confidence was, giving kids the chance to cultivate friendships, life experiences and structures that will matter after high school, after college, increase longevity after retirement when they have a support system, a social structure to lean on. Unfortunately it won’t solve the Fisher problem, since she was applying to the law school; leading us to of course we want the best doctors, lawyers, career professionals when lives and livelihoods are on the line, why medical and law schools to name only two major entities should take only the best and the brightest, the top MCAT and LSAT scorers. However at the undergraduate level, in broader fields encompassing a multitude of jobs where people can find their niche, with less on the line, there is no reason college admittance shouldn’t be based on possession of all your mental faculties, ability to pay for it through loans, scholarships, financial aid, willingness to put in the effort alone; accentuating the difference between upholding  the stopgap of maintaining a C average in major related coursework, ensuring we get the best and brightest there too, and college admittance ‘standards’ based on has the most community service, a wider variety of extracurricular activities, the absolute best SAT/ACT scores within a point or two or 5 GPA’s calculated down to within hundredths  of a decimal point. Why is one exceedingly important and the other not, because while k-12 education is about general knowledge and function in the world college represents your window into the professional, working world, your singular opportunity at a solid job which will determine where you live, how well you live, can care for yourself, your family, impact health, not things to leave up to arbitrary rules, measurements and perceptions.