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College "Meritocracy" Stirs Debate

An excellent forum for the discussion of traditional college admission and graduation progress can be found in the Forbes Magazine section on America's best colleges. While the rankings are traditional, some of the commentary is not. Guest columns in this issue raise the issue of the selection process practiced by the nation's finest schools and the real value of the process.

Two law professors - one from Harvard, one at Columbia - co-wrote an editorial that challenges the elite nature of student selection among highly ranked schools in the nation. Their argument is that the test scores and grades traditionally used to evaluate admission applications are not necessarily predictive of a student's ability to thrive in the college environment.

Their argument is that the "testocracy" stratifies students by race and class. Referring to Harvard, they comment that, "Selective colleges and universities, like this one, act more like consumers than producers of merit. They build their reputation based on the credentials of the people they admit rather than the contributions of the people they graduate."

Some colleges are moving away from evaluating students simply on test scores and grades, looking for a more three dimensional image of the applicant than can be provided simply by SAT scores. The article notes that at least 800 institutions have broadened their admission criteria, seeking to find "��students who would be most transformed by their educational experience."

Mr. Sperling makes a good case for the open enrollment approach of the for-profit, accredited online schools. Applicants who land in these institutions want to be there to enrich their academic backgrounds and their career options. Moreover, says Sperling, the millions of would-be students who cannot meet fixed class schedules have an alternative in distance learning that is quickly becoming a valid educational alternative and one that should be actively supported by the U.S. Department of Education.

President Obama's call for an enormous expansion in college attendance is going to require contributions from every quarter, he argues. The innovation found in online institutions and their open enrollment policies are an essential element in meeting the goal of having the highest percentage of college graduates among all the world's nations by the year 2020.

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