College Admission Becomes a Charity Affair

When I was a teenager, what I wanted more than anything was a pair of Levi’s jeans. In my mind, that single article of clothing would make the difference between acceptance and rejection by my high-school peers. I can still hear my mother’s refrain to my plaintive pleas: “Levi’s won’t make you popular. It’s who you are, not what you wear, that really matters.”

For-Profit Institution Cheats Students

Two recent higher education news stories brought back memories of the "Great Levi’s Debate.” Education, as a commodity, can be bought and sold at multiple levels and at multiple price points. A for-profit institution, Argosy University, abruptly shuttered all of its locations, halting the education of students midway through the semester with no teach-out or solid transfer plans in place. Their students had been taking on mountains of debt for degrees that qualified them for lower-paying professions. Kind of like breaking the bank for what some people consider a knock-off version of a genuine "Levi’s-quality" degree. And whatever you think about the Argosy system, students pursued those degrees with hopes that the credentials would change their lives for the better. For those students enrolled this semester, the pursuit of those degrees definitely changed their lives, but for the worse. The students who were able to gain entry only into this type of school are now stuck in a place where easy entry into another school to finish their degrees is a hurdle that they had not expected to face. Owing money for a semester’s worth of classes that went unfinished is not okay; being allowed to borrow against uncertain future career earnings was a tragedy.

Charity Raffle for College Admissions

This week, a second shady higher-education shady deal came to light when a new Hollywood blockbuster-level college admissions scandal was revealed. Parents who should have known better were buying, or even Photoshopping, their kids’ entry into top-tier universities by way of contributions to non-profit charitable organization that advertised their mission as providing “disadvantaged kids” with “guidance, encouragement, and opportunity.” Well, perhaps these kids did suffer a disadvantage. Their parents’ actions clearly communicated that their kids were “not enough” just as they were. When you’re viewed only as an extension of your parents, and your academic success a symbol of parental wealth, the opportunity to grow into your own person is greatly constrained.

Know the value of face-to-face communication. Very young children learn best through two-way communication. Engaging in back-and-forth "talk time" is critical for language development. Conversations can be face-to-face or, if necessary, by video chat with a traveling parent or far-away grandparent. Research has shown that it's that "back-and-forth conversation" that improves language skills—much more so than "passive" listening or one-way interaction with a screen.

From designer diaper covers to Hermes backpacks to the Rolex or Ferrari for graduation, some children are growing up believing that the public image that they shape with props and location shoots carries more value than the person they are without the trappings of lavish excess. Measuring yourself against a yardstick of material possessions is a lot more concrete and certainly easier than measuring integrity, ethical standards, or aspirational values.

Not every successful adult had access to an Ivy League education or walks through the world sporting Gucci or Prada labels. Success is often hard-won through sacrifice and hardship. And while an Ivy League hoodie may make a statement about how or where you spent a few years of early adulthood, it doesn’t guarantee that you learned what college is meant to teach you.

College should be about stretching your boundaries, being smart enough to know what you don’t know, and realizing that the tag on your jeans or maker of your shoes says more about who you were than it does about where you’re going.