Dear Commons Community,
Harvard University issued a report yesterday calling for major changes in the way college applicants are evaluated for admissions. Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions, was endorsed by eighty-two mostly private non-profit colleges. The report was the work of Making Caring Common, A Project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The Executive Summary states:
“Too often, today’s culture sends young people messages that emphasize personal success rather than concern for others and the common good And too often the college admissions process—a process that involves admissions offices, guidance counselors, parents and many other stakeholders—contributes to this problem. As a rite of passage for many students and a major focus for many parents, the college admissions process is powerfully positioned to send different messages that help young people become more generous and humane in ways that benefit not only society but students themselves. Yet high school students often perceive colleges as simply valuing their achievements, not their responsibility for others and their communities. While some colleges have diligently sought to convey to applicants the importance of concern for others and the common good, many other colleges have not.
The messages that colleges do send about concern for others are commonly drowned out by the power and frequency of messages from parents and the larger culture emphasizing individual achievement. Further, even when students and parents receive the message that contributions and service to others do count, they often seek to “game” service.
This report advances a new, widely shared vision of college admissions that seeks to respond to this deeply concerning problem. It makes the case that college admissions can send compelling messages that both ethical engagement—especially concern for others and the common good—and intellectual engagement are highly important. Colleges can powerfully collaborate to send different messages to high school students about what colleges value. This report, endorsed by over 80 key stakeholders in college admissions, represents such a collaboration. More specifically, this report takes up three challenges.
First, promoting more meaningful contributions to others, community service and engagement with the public good.
Second, assessing students’ ethical engagement and contributions to others in ways that reflect varying types of family and community contributions across race, culture and class.
Third, redefining achievement in ways that both level the playing field for economically diverse students and reduce excessive achievement pressure…
…Admissions departments’ focus too much on test scores, AP classes, and superficial extra-curricular activities that do not help under-privileged students. The report makes a strong statement that community involvement — whether that be a service project, or caring for your family — should be emphasized in the application process.
Giving students clear opportunities to report their contributions to their family on their college applications — whether that involves working outside the house, watching over younger siblings, or taking on major household chores — can help under-privileged students, who may not be able to participate in the expensive sports or international trips that so often determine elite college admissions.”
The authors go on to list a number of specific recommendations to admissions processes that would go a long way to correct the concerns highlighted in the report. It remains to be seen whether these recommendations are implemented particularly in our selective private, non-profit colleges and universities.