Social Justice College Counseling Part 3: Marketability
This is probably the greatest pet peeve that I have in college counseling and a critique of my colleagues in the college-counseling world. Thus far, I have talked about financial fit and how we think about race and gender fits in colleges and universities. This next consideration is about how marketable the degree is that the students earn. And this is essential.
With this being the time of year that students are hearing back from colleges if they submitted applications during the regular cycle, there is quite a bit of discussion around which schools are admitting what percentage of applicants. Last year, in 2014, when Stanford admitted a record low, there were some rumblings that Harvard, Yale, and Princeton wanted to the same bragging rights. This year, Stanford went even lower and Harvard and Columbia admitted record lows despite huge recruitment efforts to get more students to apply. This is because aside from bragging rights, universities are ranked by the percentage of students they reject.
It is probably one of the most messed up things in the entire system.
So there are these sort of elite college counselors that charge $400/hour or even $40,000/year and claim to get kids into the Ivy League. No problem. I am not super concerned with these folks because when I’m talking about name recognition it isn’t about getting someone bragging rights at the country club; it’s about finding good work. Every once in a while I see a student who could get into Stanford or Princeton and actually needs the generous financial aid these folks offer due to their large endowments and can leave there with a strong sense of self. But if I don’t encounter that student, I don’t take them through the process. And with the recent talk around the publication of Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, I really leave that type of admission frenzy for a different set of kids.
But I don’t dismiss name schools.
In a recent NPR interview, the interviewer raised the point that for low-income students where you go is who you’ll be. I appreciated her placing that tremendous asterisk on the claim because without a doubt, social justice college counseling is about getting low-income, migrant, and first generation students and students of color into as good of a school in name, reputation, and scholarship as they can afford…or better, as can afford them, because they absolutely should be giving those particular students full rides.
And therein lies my real critique of the majority of college access programs that work with these demographics. Going to a college is not the same as graduating from a college with a degree that will more likely mean getting a better job straight out of college or even better, getting into a better graduate program. I am not saying that it is not possible from the schools no one has really ever heard of BUT it is tremendously easier when you have that recognition. And for students of color, low-income students, and first generation students who are dependent on that degree to change their families and communities, name matters. And the research agrees.
When I talk to a lot of college access programs, they will be a bit nonchalant about the actual college access portion of their program. “We talk about college,” they’ll say. “But have you talked about which one?” I’ll respond. I have looked at the transcripts and high school resumes of a students and pointed out the quick tweaks that could be the difference between community college and transferring one day to some school or going directly to a Georgetown, fully-funded, let’s say. The first version is certainly easier, just like it is way easier to go to DeVry after high school; but which one will get that student closer to her passion? It may sound harsh but I think we need to be more honest with ourselves about what gets people where without using anecdotes or anomalies to defend the less fruitful path. That other degree is not “just like” that other one.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think all schools are good schools and I have plenty of friends who are excellent professors at schools that many people have unfortunately never heard of. But if I have a student who would like to study business and wants to work towards opening small businesses to pump some money into his community, knowing that in that case networks are especially important, if he can, I’m looking directly at the schools that would provide those opportunities inherently in the degree and the experiences of being at the school.
It seems strange to me because we seem to see this easily when it comes to athletics, especially for students of color. We’ll say, so-and-so has a great basketball talent and Duke is offering a full-ride. So-and-so will have great chances at the draft after being there so that’s where he should go. But when it comes to academics and money, we’re quick to say, but what’s wrong with Such-and-Such State University at Random City? When it comes to marketability, name is as important in athletics as it is in academics especially for under-represented groups.
Just sitting here, I am thinking about all of the students of color I have encountered over the years and the places where they went to school. I was really critical of some of the choices that were made for them in the selection process as many ended up attending schools that cost less than the super elite high school that they attended. There are urban tales about these students, wandering the streets of their hoods with the same job that their friends who barely graduated from high school have. Meanwhile, I think about the other students in that same position, who thought maybe they could if they just tried, and they’re thriving at USC, Tufts, Gonzaga, Redlands, and Pitzer, among others. Not Harvard but schools with enough name recognition to help them get to where they have been dreaming of going.