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Should Competitive Colleges Admit More Students?

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According to some experts, the year 2021 will be unusual in terms of student enrolments and the admission capacity of the institutes. Moreover, they feel that it’s time for universities to expand and establish new campuses or start educating students in novel methods.

David L. Kirp, a professor in the graduate school at the University of California, writes, “A prestigious private institution, such as Princeton or Yale, or a renowned college, such as Amherst or Swarthmore, should establish a new campus. The institution would not have to decrease its standards because only the finest and brightest would apply. Professors with outstanding resumes and cover letters would rush at the chance to teach there; indeed, the chance to be present at the creation may be a significant lure for the ambitious Yale-caliber intellectual. Cities would do handstands to secure such a school.”

Kirp isn’t the only one who believes competitive institutions can do better than the present system. The Harvard University Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common project published a study last week asking for change at universities that now admit less than 50% of students.

According to the report – “The reality is that selective universities, which serve as a springboard to leadership and power in a variety of disciplines, can now educate many more – and far more diverse – people. Because they have the resources to mount high-quality online courses, these colleges can create exciting, rigorous pathways to bachelor’s degrees that combine online learning with on-campus learning, exciting field experiences, internships, and new types of communities in all sorts of ways that are more accessible, appealing, and affordable for a diverse range of students.” And they could build these pathways without affecting their earnings. Selective colleges could lower tuition for many students while recapturing or even increasing income through increased enrolment. Many selective universities may have stumbled into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide more exciting learning opportunities while still making financial sense and doing what is democratic and right.

But this also causes the vast majority of non-elite institutes to face a severe shortage of potential students. In this situation, if certain institutions grow their size to accommodate more students, other colleges will suffer (unless the students admitted were people not currently enrolling in higher education).

According to Kirp, another fear that colleges have is losing their relative rankings or prestige. “Institutions like these, which preserve their reputation with mother-bear fierceness, are understandably concerned that if they take such a risk, their coin-of-the-realm prestige will suffer, and their U.S. News & World Report rating would slide a notch or two. However, even if Harvard-San Diego is a clone of the mother ship, as it very well could be, it is difficult to see how the university would be worse off.”

It’s also worth noting that the size of a few elite universities has grown. Nonetheless, most competitive admissions universities are not currently implementing similar initiatives.

Angel Pérez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, stated, “I believe that any initiative that can assist universities in increasing access and educating more traditionally underserved kids is worthwhile. Every institution, regardless of ‘type,’ including the most selected with resources vastly outnumbering others, should be having these intentional talks.”

However, he acknowledged that according to Harvard research, “selective colleges are not higher education’s answer to the deep, widespread problem of inequity.” For example, only 3% of students attend a college that accepts fewer than 25% of its applicants, and only 20% attend a college that accepts fewer than 50% of its applicants. Furthermore, about two-thirds of Americans do not complete a four-year college education.”
Pérez stated, “I appreciate this significant effort, but I’d like to warn the public that even the most selective institutions won’t solve the access problem on their own. In reality, it is offering more finance and pipeline support to less selective universities, which has the potential to be a game-changer.”


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