Jan. 26, 2011

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Conference Overview

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Opening address, Andrew Delbanco, Columbia University

Photo credit:Columbia University

Andrew Delbanco, a Columbia University professor and author, lamented the hyper-competitive state of college admissions, and the effect he believes it has had on the lives of young people. The situation has alarmed him for years.

“The admissions arms race we were talking about a decade ago continues to accelerate relentlessly and it’s possibly unstoppable,” he said.

The contest, he said, is one in which colleges try to outperform each other to improve their standings on nationally published rankings, while parents push children to meet those standards at ever younger ages.

Some students, he said, “go through the mill and get ground up by it,” suffering from shortened childhoods, or worse, serious stress that requires medical treatment.

Delbanco approached the problem from a historical perspective, praising the great gains the country made over the last century opening up colleges and universities to more than just young men from privileged backgrounds. Campaigns for civil rights, equal rights and the G.I. Bill drew in minorities, women and returning soldiers, all of whom represented a broader slice of the population.

The irony, he said, is that a new form of meritocracy has taken the place of the old exclusionary system.

“We’ve gotten to the point where we define the quality of an educational institution by how many applicants it turns away, which when you think about it, is pretty weird,” Delbanco said.

While some colleges use low acceptance rates as marketing tools, students who make it into the top schools may come to be convinced that as “the winners they deserve their winnings.”

He noted the foresight of a British author, Michael Young, who wrote in the late 1950s that those who benefit from such a system may “believe that their success is their just reward for their own capacity, for their own efforts, and for their own undeniable achievement, until they become so impressed with their own importance as to lose sympathy for the people whom they govern.”

Delbanco admitted he was being deliberately provocative in making some of his points, and said the solutions he hopes for cannot be measured in standardized tests or learning assessments. Nor can they be achieved by admissions officers alone. The changes, he said, must come from presidents and trustees, but they can be prodded by faculty and admissions officials.

He recommended that colleges stop defining excellence by how many applicants they reject, while better honoring the traditions of their institutions.

Questions those in academia might ask themselves, he said, include whether colleges are turning out better citizens, people who have a sense of responsibility to their elders and future generations.

“Small incremental steps can be taken to turn down the temperature, just a little bit,” he said.


College administrators, faculty members and educational professionals discuss college admissions:

Dr. Gloria Nemerowicz, President, Pine Manor College, Brookline, MA.

Enrollment: 452, undergraduate; 34, graduate.

Photo credit: Pine Manor College
I am attending the conference because it was very good last year and I expect the same this year. The topic is central to reconceptualizing the role of higher education in achieving educational justice and national well-being. The agenda is terrific, with input from cutting edge thinkers and researchers relevant to the need for new ways of thinking about admission to college in the 21st century. I hope to get connected to the people and ideas that will influence new ways of thinking about college admissions in this era of rethinking college access and success.


Mae W. Brown, Assistant Vice Chancellor and Director of Admissions, University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA.

Enrollment: 23,143, undergraduate; 4,274 graduate.

The timing of this conference is absolutely wonderful given the UC Regents decision to adopt Holistic Review. In addition, the range of topics and recommended readings provide an excellent overview for admissions professionals who are grappling with many of these critical issues.  It is also a wonderful opportunity to hear from colleagues in the field.


Thomas Hoener, Executive Director, Graduate and Adult Enrollment, California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, CA.

Enrollment: 2,545, undergraduate; 1,386, graduate.

Photo credit: California Lutheran University

This conference is always a great opportunity to better understand the direction of higher education in our country. The agenda is both intriguing and provocative. It’s clear we are entering a new chapter in our country’s history that will demand change at all levels of our education system. What should be changed and what that change may look like are the questions that need to be addressed. I hope to be challenged, inspired and given concrete practical steps that may impact my institution.


Dr. Esther Hugo, Faculty member, Educational Support Services, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA.

Enrollment: 5,797, undergraduate; 3,273 graduate

Photo credit: UCLA Extension

In viewing the conference agenda, I am impressed with the diversity of topics – admission, financial aid, and public policy.  As Chair of the Western Association for College Admission Counseling’s Inter-Association Committee, I am trying to understand higher education’s viable and meaningful role in amassing the energy and evaluating the work of like-minded organizations. This conference provides a convergence of professionals who will contribute to this role.  In the presentations I provide, and the classes I teach at Loyola Marymount University and UCLA’s College Counseling Certificate program, students need to be aware of trends and policies.

Joyce E. Smith, Chief Executive Officer, National Association for College Admission Counseling, Arlington, VA.

Photo credit: NACAC

The topic of change in the admission process is critical to our nation and our profession. We owe it to students to consider – seriously consider – how much the admission process has changed over the years and what we can do to control more factors.

We are fortunate to have the President of the United States providing resources and a charge to our society to renew our commitment to education for our citizens. Traditional age students come with many obstacles and pressures while adult learners need refreshed learning opportunities to face a changing job market. Additionally, new technological tools for communication and processing of applications means a great deal about the admission process is changing. Sometimes the outcomes for efficiencies create unanticipated challenges.

Families may be questioning the value of an undergraduate degree and worry about facing financial aid and student loan debt. We must remind families of the lifelong value of learning and consider financial aid as an investment in their future.

I am especially interested in the discussions planned because our association represents both secondary and postsecondary admission professionals and these discussions are so relevant to our mission.

I am looking forward to “listening” – listening to practitioners and leaders from around the country. My take away from this conference will add to our association’s discussions about the future and our strategic priorities. Secondary school counselors are a vital partner in this process and I hope recommendations coming from this gathering can be shared throughout the admission counseling community.