The Revolving Door: Many Question Admission Department’s Strategy
The Admissions Department
has gone through numerous changes in the past few years in an attempt to increase the interest level of high school students in attending our institution. Some of these changes have been viewed as positive, while others see them as detrimental to the quality of future student bodies.
There are a few events that I believe
the College does exceptionally well. The Top 10 and Top 20 scholarship days are an excellent way to lure outstanding students to Wabash College. Prospective students are guaranteed a certain level of scholarship money, just by attending these special visitation days set up by the Admissions Department. The two days reward what Steven Klein, Dean of Admissions,
describes as the single greatest indicator of success at Wabash: performance
in the high school classroom. The early exposure to the Wabash campus and monetary incentives provide a valuable
experience to prospective students that are at or near the top of their class and increases their interest in attending Wabash. Despite these programs and other well-received scholarship days, such as the Lilly and Honors Scholarship weekends, some disturbing changes and events have taken place recently and have made many in the Wabash community
wary of the impact and thinking behind these issues.
The foremost of these events occurred a year ago during African-American and Hispanic/Latino (AAHL) weekend. The weekend fell on the same date as the O.A.R. concert, one of the national
acts brought in by the College that semester. According to Dean Klein, the Admissions Department had never had to deal with this kind of issue during that weekend and was unprepared to offer the prospective students other entertainment
options. The prospects were given the option of being taken to Purdue for the night on a Wabash-sponsored bus. Many of the prospects embraced this option and spent part of their weekend-visit to Wabash on another campus.
Needless to say, this decision became a controversial topic almost immediately.
Dean Klein defended the decision
with the following response, “My understanding was that the entertainer that weekend did not appeal to African-American students … also I don’t think that the MXI scheduled any activities for that weekend … We were basically looking for something enjoyable for them to do that evening.” I understand the logic that the prospects should have a fun and memorable experience when they visit Wabash College, but what kind of message are we sending an African-
American student when we bus them away from the College during their visit because they visited on a weekend when there happened to be a concert that did not specifically appeal to them? It seems to me that this action planted an extremely negative view of Wabash is the minds of prospective students. This was one of the largest party weekends of the entire semester, and there were literally
hundreds and hundreds of females on our fair campus, thus making the actual
concert only a small portion of the night. The College was implying that if students wanted to have a good time on the weekends, then they would have to leave campus for greener pastures.
I find this thought to be positively
repulsive. I can understand if prospects and students don’t have any interest in a national act, but the concert was only a single ingredient of the weekend.
By sending the high school students to Purdue, the Admissions Department was effectively telling them that Wabash wasn’t even worth staying at for an entire
weekend. The prospects missed out on valuable time that could have been spent with current Wabash students figuring
out whether or not they are a good fit for our admittedly unique campus. Instead, they were half-an-hour north with other college students who could care less if they want to attend Wabash College.
While I do want all students to have a fruitful experience when they visit Wabash, I want them to remain on her grounds during their entire stay. After discussing the matter with Dean Klein, it does seem that this was a one-time occurrence that was a reaction to the National Act. I hope this remains true, as I fear that the message being conveyed by this action is that Wabash is not conducive to the future social life of an African-American prospect.
The decision to make the application
essay optional is another issue that has been widely discussed. Dean Klein was able to enlighten me as to why he believes this change was an improvement,
“The ACT and SAT now provide an objective writing score and we are able to obtain access to those essays (that the students have written) … there’s also a concern that as people write essays … you don’t know what kind of help they’ve had.” Dean Klein also commented
on the fact that many high school students are continuing to send essays, despite the lack of necessity. He was unable
to provide numbers at this time, but claimed that they were significant.
The new format of these popular standardized tests now allows colleges to judge the writing of prospective students
that is taken from a setting where the student is left to his own resources. There’s no way that mommy, daddy, or a favorite English teacher could have heavily edited or even co-written the essay
to make the prospect appear to be a literary prodigy. This is the advantage to looking exclusively at the writing done by students during these tests.
However, there are a variety of factors that may play into the quality of the writing done by the student on a standardized test. One issue is that the student has to slog through some of the most mind-numbing Saturday morning hours of his entire life. The sheer drudgery
and tediousness of the SAT may have an impact on the focus, creativity, and attention to detail of any teenager attempting
to write an essay that may have quite an impact on his future college
decision. The time limit that the SAT imposes upon the student may also taint the writing because of the need to crank out a full-length, error-free essay regarding a previously unknown topic.
I like the notion that the Admissions
Department is heavily considering
the results of the SAT or ACT writing section, but I feel that there are too many flaws within the testing system to rely only on that one piece of writing
when determining the quality and polish of the writing skills of a senior in high school. Standardized tests should be used in conjunction with an essay required on the application. If a student
is indeed being completely coached through their application essay, it should be readily apparent to the reader that the student’s style is radically different in the two documents. The application essay should be more polished and better
written, but this difference should be attributable to the ability of the student to prepare and develop a more meaningful
essay than to the outside influence of adults. Both essays are useful measures of an incoming students writing ability and I believe they can both serve a purpose
in determining whether a student is capable of handling the academic rigors of Wabash.
When discussing why the essay became merely an option, Dean Klein did make one statement that troubled me. “You’d be surprised at how many people get everything in, but they just draw things out when they get to the essay
… we saw this as a way to help high school students get their applications complete while at the same time not sacrificing
any rigor in our review.” I understand
the logic behind Dean Klein’s statement, which is to encourage more applicants to apply to our college. I also understand that teenagers procrastinate, but the essay is another way of showing commitment and caring enough to take the time to submit a well-crafted writing
sample. If a prospective student can’t even set aside enough time to write a relatively short essay to gain entrance to Wabash College, what does that say about the student’s chances of surviving, let alone succeeding, in this intense environment?
This reflects one of the problems that have always affected institutions of higher learning across the country: a need to fill a certain class size and increase
application numbers, rather than solely attempt to attract the very best student possible. While I know that Wabash
strives to attract men that will be able to meet the high standards required of them, it appears that this latest change is one small step in compromising the quest to find the very best possible “Wabash
men” for our college. I realize that playing the numbers game of attracting as many applicants as possible and thereby
lowering the percentage of accepted students makes the College look more impressive, but is it really indicative of stronger classes coming through dear old Wabash? Only time will tell, but my feeling
is some of the recent changes need to be re-evaluated and a different direction taken in terms of some of the recent developments
that have taken place.