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It’s college admissions season, and across the land, there are tears of joy and pain. But mostly pain. This was among the most brutal years ever for acceptances.

The news articles focus on the Ivies, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Acceptance rates are down pretty much across the board. Private college counselors, who take in upwards of $10,000 to assist with the application process, are now trying to explain to their clients why they (or rather, their children) weren’t accepted anywhere they applied, even their safeties.

The uptick in angst this month is driven partly by the fact that colleges have been increasing their acceptances of early applicants, so the April admissions are necessarily lower to compensate. There are also reports — published and anecdotal — that as students have applied to more schools, the schools have expanded their wait lists. So ultimately a number of additional students will, in fact, be admitted to their more desirable colleges.

One student who has a lot of choices is Kwasi Enin, who has become something of a media phenom by securing admission to eight Ivies. His story is revealing about the priorities of elite colleges:

Enin has “a lot of things in his favor,” says college admissions expert Katherine Cohen, CEO and founder of IvyWise, a New York-based consulting firm.

For one thing, he’s a young man. “Colleges are looking for great boys,” Cohen says. Application pools these days skew heavily toward girls: The U.S. Department of Education estimates that females comprised 57% of college students in degree-granting institutions last year. Colleges — especially elite ones — are struggling to keep male/female ratios even, so admitting academically gifted young men like Enin gives them an advantage.

He ranks No. 11 in a class of 647 at William Floyd, a large public school on Long Island’s south shore. That puts him in the top 2% of his class. His SAT score, at 2,250 out of 2,400 points, puts him in the 99th percentile for African-American students.

He will also have taken 11 Advanced Placement courses by the time he graduates this spring. He’s a musician who sings in the school’s a capella group and volunteers at Stony Brook University Hospital’s radiology department. Enin plans to study medicine, as did both of his parents. They immigrated to New York from Ghana in the 1980s and studied at public colleges nearby. Both are nurses.

Being a first-generation American from Ghana also helps him stand out, Cohen says.

You don’t say. (And not everyone is celebrating his success.)

Mr. Enin is comparing offers of financial assistance, which may be decisive. Colleges are finding that at the margin, families are becoming much more cost-conscious.

In case you needed more evidence of the rising cost of tuition, Svast Kirsten Narula at The Atlantic reports on an analysis by Michigan State grad student Randy Olson that shows how utterly impossible it is for anyone to work his or her way through school:

The cost of an MSU credit hour has multiplied since 1979. So has the federal minimum wage. But today, it takes 60 hours of minimum-wage work to pay off a single credit hour, which was priced at $428.75 for the fall semester.

Olson, who’s doing his graduate work at MSU, crunched the numbers further to create this graph: 

His conclusion: “It’s impossible to work your way through college nowadays.”

According to the graph, the price of an MSU education began exceeding what could reasonably be earned with part-time, minimum-wage work around 1993. That’s when a single MSU credit hour became worth more than 20 hours of wages. Imagine a 15-week semester with a course load of 12 credit hours. If each credit hour required 20 hours of minimum wage work, a student would have to work 16 hours a week to pay for school.

That’s doable. But today the same student would have to work 48 hours a week at that minimum wage job to pay for his classes. 

For the students with less generous aid packages, loans will be a necessity. Yet even the wunderkind such as Mr. Enin have cause for worry. Because after they complete their education, there will be a reckoning as they enter the private sector. By way of example, Christopher Ingrahm at WonkBlog compares 2014 Ivy League acceptance rates to… WalMart job acceptance rates. They don’t compare favorably:

You might have surmised by now that the Spengler household contains a high school senior. We have been spared most of the drama, because she was accepted early to her first choice (my alma mater, natch) back in December. She landed an internship this summer — unpaid, but I expect the experience will be more valuable for her (and postgraduate, more lucrative) than the cash.

Still, the long-term questions are a nagging concern. What will success mean for today’s high school seniors in tomorrow’s world? With all the uncertainty regarding the country’s economic and political future, how can we best help and prepare them today?

There are 6 comments.

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  1. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Son,

    Still, the long-term questions are a nagging concern. What will success mean for today’s high school seniors in tomorrow’s world? With all the uncertainty regarding the country’s economic and political future, how can we best help and prepare them today?

     Tinkering with fundamentals to obtain supposed gains for issues of the moment only cheats the student long term. Fundamentals will always be of value. Once a student is well grounded with fundamental knowledge they will be able to adapt to any new situation after graduation. We have foolishly lost sight of this even down to the K thru 12 level. Common Core makes a set of assumptions and priorities totally oblivious to fundamentals.

    Time to change course 180 degrees in the other direction.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #1
    • April 3, 2014, at 10:11 AM PDT
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  2. Hammer, The Member

    I am spared from this for another good 15 years. Thank God!

    • #2
    • April 3, 2014, at 2:59 PM PDT
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  3. PsychLynne Inactive

    Our junior high (7th/8th grades) is hosting a meeting for parents on how to begin preparing for college! I find all this pressure quite off-putting. In addition, our local newspaper ran a story on the declining acceptance rates at Virginia universities and colleges. It’s a very different world than the early 80s when I was applying.

    I am unsettled by all the emphasis on community service hours, starting your own non-profit, multiple AP classes. It’s almost like a parallel of materialism; a focus on accumulation of credits and experiences without any time to stumble around and explore when the costs (financial, social) are much lower. Or maybe I’m just too lazy….

    • #3
    • April 4, 2014, at 3:42 AM PDT
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  4. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler

    PsychLynne: Our junior high (7th/8th grades) is hosting a meeting for parents on how to begin preparing for college!…

    Once the colleges have recruited athletes, filled their informal “diversity” quotas, and admitted their legacies, only 30-40% of slots remain for “academic admits”. (Making Harvard’s “academic” acceptance rate more like 2%!) So there is an arms race as students try to get that one more achievement on their resume, earlier and earlier. It’s like scorpions in a bowl, each trying to climb over the others and none getting anywhere.

    In his great book Crazy U, Andrew Ferguson notes that the pre-merit-based system may have been more segregated by class, but led to a less uniform student body. Among blue bloods, there were A-students and C-students, jocks and geeks, liberals and conservatives. Today, there is surface diversity at elite institutions, but all the students are effectively able and willing to play the game (and to a certain extent, probably enjoy it).

    But as parents, will we tell our children not to bother? Very few will, because we don’t know what the future holds and don’t want to foreclose their opportunities.

    • #4
    • April 4, 2014, at 6:40 AM PDT
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  5. Al Sparks Thatcher

    Son of Spengler:

    But as parents, will we tell our children not to bother? Very few will, because we don’t know what the future holds and don’t want to foreclose their opportunities.

    Most Ricochetti are probably higher achievers than the medium, but I’d say that taking the U.S. population as a whole, most kids are probably not going that route.

    I might be wrong, but a kid with good SAT / ACT scores (without the public service chaff that the Ivy’s require) can get into an adequate engineering school. (S)He would get a nice job after graduation (even with a C average) and from there, they are judged on how they do at their job. No one considers your grades when you apply for your second job, just your performance.

    If they’re not good at higher math, disregard above. Disclaimer: I don’t have kids.

    • #5
    • April 6, 2014, at 8:23 PM PDT
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  6. Al Sparks Thatcher

    Also, I don’t know what you’re talking about with Wal-Mart. Entrance to what? Their management program? Give me a couple of months, I could probably get a job as a greeter. Probably sooner. I don’t think Harvard would accept me.

    • #6
    • April 6, 2014, at 8:31 PM PDT
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