As the financial markets twist in the increasingly uncertain winds and while your college application deadlines begin to approach, admissions officers are gathered in Seattle debating heady issues of the day. I’ll try to cover several of the hot topics in the coming days, including a new report on how schools should use the SAT (that looks A LOT like a report from 1999), perceived and real issues in financial aid, the role of parents in the process, and a variety of other issues related to access to higher education.
One of the most interesting places at the conference is the massive vendor exhibit hall, where dozens of companies explain how their products are the best ones to help us convince you to consider our schools. You won’t see the kind of swag you might expect at a private industry tradeshow, although I was happy that some new honors program (I think maybe trying to compete with National Honors Society) has toy lions that I think my six year old will appreciate. I felt ok accepting it as a gift, since I have no influence whatsoever over what kind of honors program any high school offers, and told them so. Apparently they’re worried they’ll have a lot of lions left over. I was also excited to get silly putty from the ACT booth. I’m the state representative for Virginia to the national ACT assembly, and administer the largest score optional admissions program in the country, so I don’t think I’ve committed a breach of integrity by taking some silly putty home with me.
A number of the vendors provide ways to get your name – some for outright purchase, others in what’s called “lead generation”, where they get you to tell them you’re interested in Mason (of course you are!) and then sell me your “pre-qualified” name. The coolest of these has a huge wii game system set up to entice us into the booth (kicked your tail in tennis, Ryan!).
The hot “new” marketing toy this year is text messaging services. Look for a lot of opportunities for you to communicate with potential schools via your mobile device. I know – u can’t wait!
I’ll try to highlight some of the cooler websites and tools that I found, but my favorite is currently The Education Conservancy. The sites isn’t exactly cutting edge, but the group seeks to try to improve the ethical level of the profession and process of admissions – a great goal (and the founder, Lloyd Thacker, is a great guy. One of those people I greatly admire even when we totally disagree).
Speaking of places I disagree with Lloyd, I had a chance to meet with Bob Morse, the head of the rankings at US News and World Report. Despite Lloyd’s feelings to the contrary (Education Conservancy HATES the ranking systems – believes them to be something approaching evil), Bob is a really great guy with very entertaining perspectives on the admissions process. I’ll write a bit more about the rankings (beyond bragging about Mason), but suffice it to say that I think Bob and the US News crew do the best they can to provide a reasonable service, while recognizing that their mission is to provide accurate information that SELLS MAGAZINES (which they do spectacularly well), not to fix the admissions process. The trouble for me is when students are mislead about how to use the rankings (look at the data and see for yourself if their criteria relate to what you want from a school) and WORSE when colleges and universities change their whole direction to try to manipulate those rankings.
The funniest moment so far was when a friend (who I promised not to name in the blog) suggested that colleges start conducting interviews like speed dating events. She said, and I quote, “the motto for the events could be “if you can’t hit it in three minutes, go home'”.
I’m off to several very important meetings where very important people will speak at great length on how this admissions organization should be organized and who should coordinate budget approval functions. No really – that’s my morning. Sigh. Be seeing you.