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I think part of the problem is that a lot of the discussion of SATs and admissions is wrapped up in who goes to *elite* colleges. The vast majority of students attend non-selective schools where scores aren’t even that much of a barrier to entry because requirements are so low. But I guess as long as the media and our politicians and our professionals mainly went to highly selective schools, we will continue to argue about what’s important for those elite few. Nobody cares about Kennesaw State University’s SAT/ACT cutoffs because they admit 75% of their applicants. But they also educate more kids every year than Harvard. But hey, they don’t count, do they?

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I agree that the holistic approach favors students from high-income families, not just because they can get better extracurricular and service opportunities but also because their teachers can write such good recommendations for them. (When I taught English at an elite high school, I spent an average of four hours on every letter of recommendation I wrote; it was part of my job to help my students get into top colleges.)

However, I would like to push back on your claim that the SAT, as an objective measure of intelligence, is the best measure of college performance. In order to succeed in college and in life, students are helped by intrinsic intelligence, but personal skills such as the ability to defer gratification, get along with others, accept and learn from criticism, resist peer pressure, and work hard are all at least as important. All these qualities are measured in high school grades and teacher recommendations. Women’s colleges such as Mount Holyoke, which have been SAT-optional for many years, have compared first-year grades of students who reported SATs with those who didn’t, and they have found no difference.

I am probably biased because of my experience as a student at the University of Chicago in the early 80s. The U of C was famous for admitting students who had stratospheric test scores but often poor grades. The college had by far the lowest four-year graduation rate of any elite school in the country. When I was a third-year student, the university appointed a new Dean of Admissions to address the problem. He shifted to a greater emphasis on grades, extracurriculars, and recommendations in an effort to find students who were not only intelligent but who also had these personal qualities. The U of C’s four-year graduation rate is now close to 100 percent, which is even more remarkable because the university makes a real effort to attract and fully fund low-income and first-generation students.

In my ideal world, college admissions would be done by lottery. The universities could set their own cut-offs for GPA and SATs, and they could give extra weight to low-income students, but beyond that they would just do a lottery. It might actually be fairer than what we have now.

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It appears the SAT’s have a significant correlation to lifetime financial success, but where a person goes to college does not. So raspberries to all the private colleges out there; it appears people are scamming themselves by paying that high tuition. A rather gratifying result: the privileged are wasting their money and should be sending their kids to community college. Everyone else, if rational and not giving in to envy, should be rejoicing while mocking them. :)

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"How can we ever make this a progressive project? Well, we can’t."

True, but the problem that this progressive project is trying to correct remains.

I am old enough to be part of the last cohort where people went on to higher education to pursue something they loved, My father was able to provide a nice house in suburban New Jersey for his family working as a salesman, having obtained a degree from DeWitt Clinton High School and nothing more. When he left that job after more than 40 years, his company would only consider applicants with a 3.5 college GPA or better, and as my Dad said, a college GPA has no correlation to whether or not a person will be good working in sales.

When the ante for entry into the arena of well-compensated work rose from high school diploma to college degree (since risen further to graduate degree), it helped solidify a permanent underclass who were condemned to work low-paying jobs since they lacked the credentials to get into the high-wage game. For example, many years ago my husband was applying for jobs as a receptionist or other entry level positions as he worked toward his degree. He continually ran into the obstacle of not having a BA degree--to answer phones! With the BA (and its attendant GPA) becoming the new high school diploma, colleges are now tasked with the job of preparing students for entry-level work, instead of tending to a smaller cohort interested in specialized fields.

You are correct that colleges are in the inequality business--sorting out who will be good for various specialized pursuits. But they have also now assumed/been tasked with the job of providing a general seal of fitness for entry-level work, which used to be the function of a high school education, whose seal was the diploma (sans GPA).

Can culture be changed so that entry-levels jobs are once again understood to require only a high school diploma? I doubt it. The college industrial complex is too well-entrenched in society to agree to its diminishment.

Can hiring practices be altered so that GPAs are no longer used as measuring tools? Again, I doubt it. If that happened, all colleges should then adopt a pass/fail grading system, which would not serve the function of distinguishing the good from the bad.

Universal Basic Income--a living wage--universal healthcare--guaranteed housing--all of these might help people so that no matter their educational credentials (or lack thereof), they will be able to make enough money to support a family, and no longer stress over how many degrees they possess or what their GPA is.

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I grew up around a lot of rich kids and watched them get professional help with their college essays. It's one aspect of the admissions process that has absolutely no guard rails for cheating. It's conceivable that a lot of the well-meaning people involved in this push are genuinely naive about the subject - I'm not sure I would be so cynical about this if I didn't see it with my own eyes.

We could put some guard rails around the process if admissions essays were written in a monitored environment, similar to taking the AP English test, but I suspect the people who are anti-standardized tests would have the same complaints that they do about any other test.

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american schooling has a number of purposes which have been grafted one upon the other over the decades, the more that are grafted on, the more unwieldly the thing gets. prior to mandatory schooling it was about a certain kind of education (not schooling). Most who went prior to mandatory schooling seemed to stop by 8th grade, then went into trades of one sort or another. a relatively small percentage graduated high school, even fewer attended college. my great-grandfather, to graduate high school learned what was called the scientific-latin curriculum which necessitated higher mathematics, 2-3 foreign languages, and an extensive study of world history, among other things. but as mandatory schooling was instituted the focus shifted to indoctrinating immigrants into the american myth, in other words, to making a citizenry attached to the idea of being an american. it shifted again as industrialization expanded, creating a functional work force, then again as it became a baby sitting service for their industrial-employed parents (which it still mostly is). i think it telling that when mandatory schooling was instituted it was resisted most of all by the young, many of whom would rather have worked than spent their time sitting, immobile in class rooms. Now the schools have grafted more to the curriculum, much of it relatively nonsensical. I never did fit into the system, i found it all pretty hypocritical which many adolescents do, and quit to make my own way, designing my own education and mentors as part of the process. the whole thing needs to be broken apart and redesigned from the ground up. and yeah, you are right, the current goals are inconsistent.

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>>>"Some kids are better at school than others. Colleges sort the good from the bad and pursue the former. How can we ever make this a progressive project? "

Serious, not snarky question - how is acknowledgement of greater capability or virtue "non progressive"? I am not "progressive" in the political sense, but this assertion is confusing me. Please ELIA12.

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