Thursday, September 04, 2014

A new step in student self-promotion

I predict that everyone's going to be talking about this today: Inside Higher Ed reports that Goucher College will now allow applicants to submit a two-minute video instead of all those pesky piles of paperwork other colleges require. Goucher was already test-optional in admissions, but now students won't even be required to submit a high school transcript. Instead, students are free to emulate Elle Woods's self-promotion skills in Legally Blonde (bikini optional).

Goucher's brand-spanking-new president, Jose Antonio Bowen of Teaching Naked fame, explained that standardized test scores aren't useful because they "correlate with family wealth" rather than academic success, but he doesn't explain whether access to video recording equipment and skills also correlates with family wealth, so I guess that's irrelevant.

He expects the video option to appeal to students who have "a smudge or two on their transcripts," but he doesn't explain how the program will distinguish between those with a few smudges on the high school transcript and those whose transcripts are nothing but smudge. What if the student is not able to graduate from high school? Will students divulge that information in a promotional video?

Here's the part I'm still puzzling over:

[Bowen] added that while transcripts may predict academic success in college, that's not all that matters. "They are predictors of how well you will do in school, not how well you will do in life." Bowen said he believes many people are unfairly judged based on less-than-perfect grades and test scores, and sense that they won't be admitted to a good college--despite their many abilities.

A few questions:

1. If you're throwing out the best predictor of student success in college, then won't you be admitting students who are not equipped to succeed? What will that do to retention rates and graduation rates?

2. Given that some people may be "unfairly judged" based on transcripts, isn't it possible that some will be unfairly judged based on promotional videos? Bowen later says Admissions officers won't be swept off their feet by slick production values but will instead look for "authenticity," but how will they distinguish between true authenticity and a really good performance of authenticity?

Maybe one day Bowen will be hailed as the brilliant thinker who revolutionized college admissions, but right now I'm worried about the student who looks really good on paper but can't handle technology or freezes up in front of a camera. (That would be me back in high school.) How will a technologically inept student compete against someone willing to don Elle's bikini and hop into the pool for a video?

To avoid unconscious bias and level the playing field between the bikini-clad student with slick production skills and the schlumpy frumpy technologically inept shy student, Admissions officers should be required to watch the videos blindfold. (Which sort of defeats the purpose.)

Alternately, they could require students to articulate their pleas for admissions in coherent sentences on paper. Nah--that would never work.

1 comment:

Bardiac said...

I wonder if Goucher is at all selective anyway? (I used to teach at a SLAC which was close to open admission, though it didn't say so, of course. The pressure was to get students to apply and go, rather than to select only the best students. If that's the case at Goucher, then the video may give students who wouldn't complete forms a way to apply?)