Nothing to fear but sky-high tuition bills
Contrary to what some of you may have thought you saw or heard, there was not another drug-dealer shakedown at Little Annies last Wednesday afternoon. It was just a lunch meeting to discuss the International Baccalaureate program at Aspen High School. While the situation was not dangerous (at least not for anybody except me), I dont deny that there was plenty of shouting, seat shuffling, table pounding and, I think, some under-the-breath cursing.While I apologize for the scene, Im sure that most astute patrons or passersby knew this was not a crack deal gone bad. It was too raucous. After all, we are far more passionate about getting our kids into the right college than we are about curbing the cocaine trade.In this sting operation the bees were: interested parent Kelly Doherty, AHS I.B. coordinator Karen Zohar, AHS college counselor Kathy Klug and her assistant Susan Walter. The horses behind, of course, was me. My wife attended relatively neutral and open minded. She alternated giving out kudos and hell as warranted.Following my recommendation, most of the party ordered cheeseburgers, which I considered sort of a moral victory, since I previously compared the I.B. program to a standardized version of one, a la McDonalds. (Look it up online if youre interested. If not, use your imagination for the analogy.) After passing condiments and arguments back and forth for an hour and a half, I am happy to report that everyone at the table agreed with me: We have to challenge our children and encourage them to seek knowledge for the love of it. Mission accomplished! (OK, so we may still disagree on some of the details in how to accomplish this.)Anyway, during the hamburger paddy pandemonium, as I now refer to it, I got to thinking hard about the angst we go through getting our kids into college these days, not only in this town, but all across the country. There are articles galore on the topic. The U.S. News & World Report annual rankings of colleges and universities is anxiously awaited, and then passionately argued over. Websites and chat rooms abound on myriad topics related to getting our kids to the next level of education. We sign up and pay for SAT and ACT prep classes for our kids. Some parents hire private application advisors. There are now prep courses for the PSAT, which itself is a pretest for the SAT. We sweat over early admission decisions, for crying out loud.This panic is driven mostly by talk about how difficult it is to get into college these days. We are all aware that the peak of the echo-boomers will reach college age in the next few years. On top of that, graduating high school seniors are going to college at the all-time high level of 67 percent. For sure, it is now harder to get into college than at almost any other time in the history of our country.But, its relative. Thats what we forget.Had it been extremely difficult to get into college when my generation was applying in the 1980s, then it wouldnt be a stretch to say that now it is nearly impossible. That wasnt the case, though. Not that I kept strict tabs on anyone I graduated high school with, but I dont recall a single person who wanted to go to college that didnt attend because they couldnt get accepted. Heck, more than a few got accepted that didnt want to go. In fact, I can think of only a couple of people who didnt get into their first choice college or university, and they may as well have been applying for a seat on an Apollo moon shot, and they knew it. So, although the whole college application process seemed daunting at the time, looking back I would have to say it was actually a piece of cake. (Disclaimer: The previous observation is purely anecdotal. The author, being pleasantly naive and comfortably indifferent to the process at the time, applied to only one school and got accepted. His parents did the worrying.)By extension then, at best one could argue that the whole college application process is now somewhat more difficult than the piece of cake it was when I was 18. Is fretting about that degree of change worth risking a food fight at a local eatery for?Now, think what you might, I believe that someone from the Denver Post was sitting in a booth at Little Annies last Wednesday afternoon reading my mind. On Sunday, reporter Michael Booth was responsible for an excellent front-page article addressing the insanity we (i.e., the parents) create with the college application process. In it, he quotes Lloyd Thacker, an education writer who has campaigned to get 65 universities to stop evaluating their peers in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Collectively we have robbed students of their senior year. There is a diversity of interests beginning to realize something is wrong.Booth goes on to use information gathered from USA Today and National Association of College Admissions Counseling to show just how wrong the current hysteria is. The most pertinent fact is that more than 67 percent of college freshmen report that they are attending their first choice school. Further, of those attending their second choice school, half reported that they were accepted to their first choice school, but didnt attend because of financial aid or other reasons. You dont need an Ivy League education to connect the dots between these two bits of information the vast majority of high school seniors are getting into their first choice for college!The article was quick to point out that Harvard only accepts one out of 10 applicants and this seems to cause a lot of stress for parents and students because it is the one piece of information so often repeated. More meaningful, albeit less juicy, the average acceptance rate amongst all colleges and universities in the country, including Harvard, Princeton and Yale, is 67 percent. If you take out kids applying to reach schools, the acceptance rates are even higher. This is all good news for parents and kids who have a tendency to freak out about higher education (ironically, the purported means to assuage fear through rational thought)In summary, we shouldnt get so worked up over the college application process. Well need all the blood, sweat and tears we can muster in order to pay tuition.