Admissions officers gather, pontificate

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.


4 Responses

  1. Just went to a very fun gathering of folks that are parents of kids who had kids who graduated in 08. Our kids were part of the largest class of high school seniors to enter the college population. We are all neighbors of you personally and professionally. It would have served you well to be a fly on the wall at this gathering. Granted, all our kids were very invested in moving away for us, and their families, to do WHATEVER. However, the sense that George Mason is suffering, still, from an identity crisis was a common consensus. You get lots of credit for trying, however we, as members of your community and folks that hold the purse strings and passion for our kids futures feel you and GMU fall very short. You fail to address the day to day issues/lifestyles/developmental stages of the undergraduate. There are “programs” that are in place to address these very important issues, but they fall short. Your campus is dead on weekends (compare on campus activity participation to the general on campus population). Your admissions process for the “local kids” is cleary prejudicial. Your general education classes are crowded and taught by disinterested, unavailable teachers (not even faculty). These classes are large and impersonal. The students are often left on their own socially and intellectually. Let’s guess what happens…….

    George Mason University has not defined who they are in the minds of consumers of the undergraduate experience. Their is a wide disconnect going on at Mason in terms of “facts” and reality. It seems like a fine “starter” school those that could not make the school of their choice. There are some that feel that the admissions process is sloppy, confusing, and personal. It would be interesting to hear you discuss transfer rates instead of defending the obvious. Another observation would be to make it clear that the departments (schools) that are thriving withing the University are maintained exclusive of the admissions department.

  2. I used to hear this same rant 20 years ago when I worked for George Washington University. I think you may be a bit confused, misled, misinformed, and possibly just purposefully contrarian, but hey, I’m not judging. It’s certainly true that Mason, as with the other DC schools, is unlikely to look much like a school in a college town (or, say, the middle of nowhere) on any given weekend. It is also not a football school where the whole campus shuts down on Saturday (not to mention the area roadways). It is more surely a student’s choice whether to attend an institution where most students spend all their time on campus, by choice or from lack of options, or to attend a school imbedded in a vibrant social and business community.

    The reality is that Mason has received wide recognition for our transition programs (we were one of the primary subjects of a book on colleges that aid student success), and have an incredible student life. I’ll provide detail below for the past weekend for those who feel a need to read through the details.

    You should also, in fairness, point out that we have some of the smallest class sizes in the state, ESPECIALLY at the freshmen level. There is no doubt there are small privates with very tiny class sizes, but in general Mason gets very high marks for incredible faculty that not only teach, but are well connected to the DC region.

    Of course, many students will not want to stay local, and I’m sure if your son or daughter is looking for that campus in the woods experience, he or she will be very happy with it. You did, however, mention transfer rates – and its very true that a large number of students from the region suddenly realize how wonderful it was to be in the DC area and beg us for the chance to come back.

    My favorite part of your rant, however, is where you claim we’re “prejudicial”. It amazes me how I can hear most stridently from the same parents telling me that their kids would never want to come to Mason, even while accusing me of being biased against them. If you didn’t want to be here, I’d think you wouldn’t be so concerned. I will admit to a bias against poeple who don’t want to be at Mason – since I assume they are either looking for something else, or possibly are, to put it delicately, not the sharpest tack in the box.

    I agree you have a wide disconnect between your facts and reality. Best wishes to your child wherever he or she does end up going. I readily admit that the massive interest in Mason from around the globe makes it less likely he or she will get a chance to join us. Perhaps, however, we can consider a transfer to Mason if he or she does well enough at some less competitive institution. Be seeing you.

    PS – (for those who want to slug through it): This past weekend Thursday had the conclusion of the massive Fall for the Book regional festival featuring Novelist Sue Miller, and the Incredible Hulk was playing at the movie theater, Musician Johnny Walked offered a free concert friday while students watched Wanted at the theater, and that show continued Saturday and Sunday (there’s a Sneak Peak of Body of Lies on Wednesday) while a massive Karoke night was going on Saturday at the Damon’s on campus, trying to compete with the campus wide Festival of the Arts with theater, music, featuring Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Sunday’s Wind Symphony concert I doubt many students took in Disney on Ice at the Patriot Center this weekend. Men’s and women’s NCAA Division I soccer teams played on campus this weekend, as did our women’s volleyball team. Both the sororty and the fraternity I advise were among the dozens of student groups having parties this weekend, Hispanic Heritage Month is underway, and the list goes on and on.

    Also, actually ALL academic departments are maintained outside admissions offices. Not sure what the poster meant, but hopefully that makes it clear.

  3. I don’t “blog” much, but I must say I do give some credit to well written pieces, even when I don’t agree with them at all, so here’s to you “Anonymous”.

    I guess I want to start off by wondering what prompted this response to Dean Flagel’s post on his recent conference? It doesn’t seem to be at all related to that topic, just someone venting about their perceived weaknesses of their NEIGHBORING university.

    Do you currently attend George Mason University? Do you have a son or daughter that currently attends George Mason University? What/who would give you the ideas that you wrote about in your post? Excuse me if I’m a bit confused. I assume you were just trying to fit in to the political season – talk about something you really know nothing about.

    “You fail to address the day to day issues/lifestyles/developmental stages of the undergraduate.”
    I was one of 912 students to graduate my high school in suburban Philadelphia in 2002. I would also say that mainly due to Mason’s incredible diversity (most importantly the student diversity), I found myself much more ready for professional life than my fellow 911 high school classmates (about 95% of whom also went to a 4 year institution of higher learning).

    “Your campus is dead on weekends (compare on campus activity participation to the general on campus population).”
    I lived on campus for 4 years, and I strongly disagree with this statement. If I was talking to someone from South Africa and telling them that Post-Apartheid the racism, sexism and general discrimination is all but gone even though I had never set foot on the continent and just read about it, only to have my South African friend tell me that I was incorrect as he has been living there – well, I would just have to admit I was wrong and move on, as I suggest you do in this instance.

    “Your admissions process for the “local kids” is cleary prejudicial.”
    I can’t speak to this because I do not work in Admissions, but why even include this if you are so disinterested and unsatisfied with Mason?

    “Your general education classes are crowded and taught by disinterested, unavailable teachers (not even faculty). These classes are large and impersonal. The students are often left on their own socially and intellectually.”
    My general education courses were taught by some of the greatest minds I have ever had the pleasure of interacting with. My professors were seemingly always available and basically itching to interact with students outside of class. I cannot even begin to go into detail about how wrong this statement is.

    That’s it for me, sorry if I rambled there for a bit.

  4. Wow I just wrote this elaborate response to “Anonymous”, but somehow it deleted when I hit “Submit Comment.”

    So here’s an analogy so I don’t have to write the whole thing again:

    Say you are having a conversation with a friend from South Africa. You make a comment about how Post Apartheid South Africa remains a nation of racial segregation, repression and subjugation because it is now a “democracy” with a Bill of Rights and the likes. Well, your South African friend politely disagrees and goes on to tell you not only that you are completely off base, but why you are wrong in very specific details of the continued racism, sexism and general discrimination that remains there. Would you continue to think the same way because of what you had read in a book or heard from a friend, or would you now agree with the person who lived there and experienced all of this first hand?

    I’m guessing you would change your mind, and I suggest you do the same here.


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