The Selectivity Game

Tom Anthony saw first-hand how competitive pressures shape admissions and financial aid policy. He worked in the admissions office at Colgate Univeristy for twenty-five years, the last seven as dean of admissions. In an interview, he spoke to me about the two biggest pressures facing college admissions offices: the need to maintain selectivity and the push for tuition revenue.

Colleges are very concerned with maintaining their selectivity. Why? It's the guidebook syndrome, and by that I mean not just the guidebooks, but the desire for quick and easy measurements of quality. Colleges are under great pressure to have the kind of student profile that is going to move them up a couple of nothches in the rankings. I think admissions people are universal in their dislike of the rankings, but they're hostage to them. You know what happens every fall when the U.S. News & World Report ratings come out. It's the best-selling issue, and the colleges know that they've got to be in there.

Does the guidebook syndrome affect admissions decisions? It causes admissions offices to put more emphasis on things like test scores, because they know that's one of the elements that has to look good in the guidebooks. Pitted against that is the pressure to enroll more students from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not have competitive scores, or students with special talents or connections. They really have to limit the number of places in the class given to students with lower scores.

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