This is the season for thick and thin envelopes.
Parents and students everywhere wait with bated breath to find the results to the mysterious process of college acceptance. An entire industry has formed around supporting high school seniors in this life-defining rite of passage.
But where is the industry supporting post-graduation care of college graduates?
One of the critical outcome assessments of private high schools is how successful they are in positioning their graduates in getting into the colleges and universities of their choice. Good college preparatory high schools should meaningfully prepare their students for acceptance to select or highly select colleges. Otherwise, it seems hard to justify the expense of paying a $40-50,000 private high school education for acceptance to an open enrollment college—one that could be equally reached from a free public school education.
Not all colleges are selective. The approximately 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States are divided among those with open enrollment (meaning that they will take students with a state residency, a minimum academic standing, and a valid cheque), select (meaning those with at least a three to one level of selectivity), and highly select (meaning those with a ten to one or higher rejection rate). Generally, select colleges and universities require high school graduates to have a 3-3-3-3 program (three years of English, three of science, three years of math, and three of the same language). Highly select schools generally require a 4-4-4-4 program coupled with successful performance in AP courses (scores of 4 and 5) and exceptional standardized testing results. High status schools (such as the eight Ivies plus MIT and Stanford) are among those that are considered highly selective. The acceptance rate at Stanford University this year was 5.7% (2,210 acceptances for 38,828 applications or 17X).
Many college administrators decry institutional rankings such as those done by the Princeton Review. For there are ways to game the system—making your institution appear more selective than it really is. Nor is educational quality a direct reflection of selectivity. But these rankings do suggest that the student cohort of select and highly select schools will be generally more academically qualified than those attending open enrollment schools. The academic culture of a college cohort—whether students freely engage in discussions about ideas outside of class—is a major difference between some of these schools.
For many college students, excessive partying has precedence over academic preparation. One-third of college freshmen will flunk out in their first year. Every year in the United States, nearly 60% of first-year college students discover that, despite being fully eligible to attend college, they are not ready for postsecondary studies. Nearly a quarter of students at open admissions colleges and universities take remedial courses (12% in highly select universities).
This is the story told by Craig Brandon in The Five-Year Party: How Colleges Have Given Up on Educating Your Child and What You Can Do About It. For those concerned about the spiritual wellbeing of your graduate in college, it is more often the party culture that is more spiritually damaging than the ideas in the classroom. The bottle and booty has a bigger negative spiritual impact than anything in books. See Tom Wolfe’s book-length depiction in I Am Charlotte Simmons.
College admissions experts suggest that students develop a college placement strategy as early as middle school. This strategy will impact their course selection, their athletic choices, and their extracurricular activities. How students spend their summers will potentially impact their college placement success.
It strikes me as remarkable that there is so much support for students to get into college, but comparably minimal support to help students flourish in their callings after graduation—to identify and be accepted in a career that is shaped by a kingdom vision for being an agent of shalom within the wider world. Colleges and universities, particularly faith-based institutions, could do far more to equip students in their post-college life trajectory.
This is doubly so for liberal arts colleges. Perhaps the greatest uninformed bias against four-year liberal arts colleges is their perceived weakness in equipping their graduates in the job market. Today, student debt is being weighed against career income prospects and the calculus is shifting against residential liberal arts colleges toward the kind of pragmatic training afforded by online colleges with their highly technical and narrow course offerings. To offset this, one can point to the counsel of Apple’s Steve Jobs who wrote, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that makes our hearts sing.” Or point to the survey results of sociologist D. Michael Lindsay who found that 50% of Fortune 500 CEOs have liberal arts education and 80% went to unnamed colleges and universities.
If high schools are judged by their college acceptances, why are colleges not judged and ranked by their ability to launch their graduates into meaningful careers within their callings?
I’m a strong advocate of liberal arts education, particularly the Christian humanism taught at the best Christian liberal arts colleges and universities. But it is also time for colleges and universities to measure the success of launching their students within the marketplace. The ivory tower needs to build stronger linkages within the working world, not to change the mission of the college, but to prepare and transition their graduates into a career. There are still too many college seniors who in April of their senior year have no idea what they will be doing. And there are too many college administrators who do not take responsibility for this uncertainty. Wouldn’t it be grand for the college graduation not only to celebrate the completion of a degree program, but the launching of a new job, internship, or graduate school? How would a college prepare and treat its student differently if it guaranteed employment upon graduation?
If we care about the coming generation, we need to mentor and hold their hands through this increasingly uncertain transition. Meaningful employment is no longer a given conclusion of college graduation. Colleges need placement offices as robust as admissions. For the kingdom’s sake we can and must do better.