Tomorrow is April 1.
How fitting that newspapers across the United States will run stories about Melissa, or Johnny, or Tong, or Razan, getting into some ultra-selective college or other. We’ll hear all about how the “America’s Top Colleges” just keep getting more selective as application numbers soar higher and higher and admit rates fall farther and farther. Relief will be palpable in the homes where a child got that coveted email saying “You’re in!”, and sadness will permeate the homes where all the emails from America’s “best colleges” say something like, “I’m sorry to inform you…”
And these stories will have about as much relevance to college admissions in America as a story about Warren Buffett’s tax bill has to me.
Here’s a fact for you. In 2015 “America’s Top Colleges,” as defined by the top 10 schools in the US News and World Report rankings of universities and of liberals arts colleges, enrolled exactly 0.8% of all undergraduate students in America.
That’s less than 1%. As in such a small number as to have no meaning.
The reality of college admissions in America is that (according to the U.S. Department of Education) there are around 20,000,000 students enrolled attending some college or other and the vast, vast majority of them attend non-selective or barely selective institutions.
Most work more than 20 hours per week to help pay those tuition bills. A substantial fraction have no time for partying on Thursday (or Friday or Saturday) nights, because they have to get home to feed the kids or help them with their homework. An embarrassingly large number skip meals because they have to save money for tuition or are homeless. Far too many take six, seven, or even ten years to graduate because they can only take one or two classes at a time. Many bear the scars of military service in Afghanistan or Iraq. And their average age is well over 22.
That’s the reality of college admissions. Not Johnny getting into Williams. Or Melissa getting into Princeton. Or Razan getting into Stanford. Or Tong getting into Grinnell.
So, newspaper editors of America, how about this year we give stories about who did or did not get into “America’s Top Colleges” a pass. Instead, write us a story about how Johnny is living at home so he can work and go to community college part time? Or about Melissa trying to figure out how she is going to get to her classes on time after work? Or about Razan being trying to decide whether to take 12 credits or 15, when 15 would mean skipping lunch the entire semester? Or about Tong heading off to his local state university after finishing his AA degree when he finishes his AA degree this summer?
Those stories would be anything but an April Fool’s joke.