Thursday, January 20, 2011

UC wants all student applications read by a person

The Sacramento Bee

Published Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011

In this era of online dating and computerized banking, the University of California is rolling back the clock – encouraging its campuses to have people, not computers, read applications from the tens of thousands of students who try each year to get in.

UC's governing board of regents took the first step Wednesday toward refining a 10-year-old admissions policy known as "comprehensive review." They're expected to finalize approval today of a resolution that calls on all campuses to review applications the same way UC Berkeley and UCLA do: using a person.

Other UC campuses, all less selective than Berkeley and UCLA, now use computers to screen applications, admitting some students automatically based on the computer review and others after a person has read their application. But those schools are getting more competitive because more students are applying to UC at the same time the university is reducing enrollment to absorb budget cuts.

As it grows harder to get in, UC officials argue, people will make better decisions than computers. The regents' resolution calls for all UC campuses to use a process called "holistic review," in which a human reader evaluates applications in the larger context of students' lives.

The approach takes into account, for example, not just how many Advanced Placement classes a student takes, but how many are offered at his high school. And it factors in things like whether a student is working while going to school.

"We don't have any expectation that it will markedly change our student body," said UC Provost Lawrence H. Pitts. "What we're trying to do is be as sure as we can that we're not missing some students that some of our campuses inadvertently overlook."

The policy change comes days after UC announced that a record number of students – 142,235 – applied for admission this fall, and the same day regents discussed the possibility of tightening enrollment even further in response to Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal.

The shift is part of a larger discussion taking place in admissions offices around the country about how to balance the education mission of college campuses with what's become a tensely competitive admissions process.

Jerome Lucido, director of the Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice at the University of Southern California, is organizing a conference on the subject later this month. He supported UC's policy change but said it can be tricky to explain.

"In moving to holistic review the decisions become somewhat murkier for a while. It's less easy to predict who will get in," Lucido said. "But, frankly, I think it's a better way to do college admissions."

The new method of reviewing applications will be phased in over a number of years and is not supposed to impact students who applied this year. But for younger high school students eyeing UC, the more human approach to reviewing applications means that getting into UC will be even harder to predict.

"It's more of a mystery," said Christine Brownfield, a counselor at Rio Americano High School in Sacramento. "If it's more personalized or more individualized, it's harder to decipher what they're doing."

During Wednesday's meeting, Regents Norman Pattiz and George Marcus criticized the more subjective approach to admissions.

"How do you explain to a student and a parent, early on in the process, what it's going to take to get in to the University of California?" Pattiz said.

Marcus said he worried about "the family that has been playing by what they consider the rules, and they don't find that subjectivity in their favor."

But students, professors and UC President Mark Yudof spoke in favor of the switch, saying it's the same process used by some of the nation's most elite colleges, including private Ivy League schools.

"It's fair," said Jesse Chang, a UC Irvine student who is the regents' student representative. "Every applicant wants to know their application was read by a human being at least once."

UC Davis uses a computer algorithm to admit the top 30 percent of applicants and has admissions staffers read the rest of the applications, said associate vice chancellor Lora Bossio.

She welcomed the policy change, saying that as Davis has grown more selective in recent years, its admissions procedure must evolve.

"Selective campuses need to do different things than a nonselective campus might," Bossio said.

Hiring more people to read applications will cost money, although UC didn't provide an estimate of how much. It was a marked omission in the discussion, coming the same day regents talked about the $500 million cut proposed in Brown's 2011-12 budget.

Yudof said the long-term decline in state funding is causing UC to cut enrollment and predicted the trend would continue.

"Our chancellors project that with adequate funding the university could enroll an additional 20,000 to 30,000 qualified students – in this decade alone. This is what we should be doing," Yudof said.

"But the level of state support has dropped to the point where we do not have the classrooms, professors and student services personnel to match that noble vision."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

The Wall Street Journal

January 8. 2011

Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids? And what happens when they fight back?


A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

I'm using the term "Chinese mother" loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise. I'm also using the term "Western parents" loosely. Western parents come in all varieties.

All the same, even when Western parents think they're being strict, they usually don't come close to being Chinese mothers. For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It's hours two and three that get tough.

Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting. In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that "stressing academic success is not good for children" or that "parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun." By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be "the best" students, that "academic achievement reflects successful parenting," and that if children did not excel at school then there was "a problem" and parents "were not doing their job." Other studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams.
Journal Community

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can't. Once when I was young—maybe more than once—when I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father angrily called me "garbage" in our native Hokkien dialect. It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn't damage my self-esteem or anything like that. I knew exactly how highly he thought of me. I didn't actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage.

As an adult, I once did the same thing to Sophia, calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me. When I mentioned that I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized. One guest named Marcy got so upset she broke down in tears and had to leave early. My friend Susan, the host, tried to rehabilitate me with the remaining guests.

The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, "Hey fatty—lose some weight." By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of "health" and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. (I also once heard a Western father toast his adult daughter by calling her "beautiful and incredibly competent." She later told me that made her feel like garbage.)

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, "You're lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you." By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they're not disappointed about how their kids turned out.

I've thought long and hard about how Chinese parents can get away with what they do. I think there are three big differences between the Chinese and Western parental mind-sets.

First, I've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

For example, if a child comes home with an A-minus on a test, a Western parent will most likely praise the child. The Chinese mother will gasp in horror and ask what went wrong. If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child "stupid," "worthless" or "a disgrace." Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child's grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher's credentials.

If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.

Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.)

Second, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. The reason for this is a little unclear, but it's probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed and done so much for their children. (And it's true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating and spying on their kids.) Anyway, the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.

By contrast, I don't think most Westerners have the same view of children being permanently indebted to their parents. My husband, Jed, actually has the opposite view. "Children don't choose their parents," he once said to me. "They don't even choose to be born. It's parents who foist life on their kids, so it's the parents' responsibility to provide for them. Kids don't owe their parents anything. Their duty will be to their own kids." This strikes me as a terrible deal for the Western parent.

Third, Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences. That's why Chinese daughters can't have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can't go to sleepaway camp. It's also why no Chinese kid would ever dare say to their mother, "I got a part in the school play! I'm Villager Number Six. I'll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I'll also need a ride on weekends." God help any Chinese kid who tried that one.

Don't get me wrong: It's not that Chinese parents don't care about their children. Just the opposite. They would give up anything for their children. It's just an entirely different parenting model.

Here's a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style. Lulu was about 7, still playing two instruments, and working on a piano piece called "The Little White Donkey" by the French composer Jacques Ibert. The piece is really cute—you can just imagine a little donkey ambling along a country road with its master—but it's also incredibly difficult for young players because the two hands have to keep schizophrenically different rhythms.

Lulu couldn't do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off.

"Get back to the piano now," I ordered.

"You can't make me."

"Oh yes, I can."

Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have "The Little White Donkey" perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, "I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?" I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.

Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu—which I wasn't even doing, I was just motivating her—and that he didn't think threatening Lulu was helpful. Also, he said, maybe Lulu really just couldn't do the technique—perhaps she didn't have the coordination yet—had I considered that possibility?

"You just don't believe in her," I accused.

"That's ridiculous," Jed said scornfully. "Of course I do."

"Sophia could play the piece when she was this age."

"But Lulu and Sophia are different people," Jed pointed out.

"Oh no, not this," I said, rolling my eyes. "Everyone is special in their special own way," I mimicked sarcastically. "Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don't worry, you don't have to lift a finger. I'm willing to put in as long as it takes, and I'm happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games."

I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.

Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.

Lulu realized it the same time I did. I held my breath. She tried it tentatively again. Then she played it more confidently and faster, and still the rhythm held. A moment later, she was beaming.

"Mommy, look—it's easy!" After that, she wanted to play the piece over and over and wouldn't leave the piano. That night, she came to sleep in my bed, and we snuggled and hugged, cracking each other up. When she performed "The Little White Donkey" at a recital a few weeks later, parents came up to me and said, "What a perfect piece for Lulu—it's so spunky and so her."

Even Jed gave me credit for that one. Western parents worry a lot about their children's self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't.

There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids' true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it's a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.

Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.

—Amy Chua is a professor at Yale Law School and author of "Day of Empire" and "World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability." This essay is excerpted from "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua, to be published Tuesday by the Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2011 by Amy Chua.

At Public Universities: Less for More

The New York Times

November 1, 2009


SUSAN LI’S senior year at the University of California, Los Angeles, was fast approaching, and she was running out of time. She needed at least three classes to qualify for financial aid. But a week before classes began, she had registered for only one course.

“They’re not offering the classes I need,” said Ms. Li, a history major. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

In her first two attempts to register, she hadn’t been able to get her outstanding general-ed requirements or any advanced classes in her major. Classes were full, or not being offered this term. If she can’t complete what she needs to graduate, Ms. Li doubts she can afford a fifth year. She has taken out $8,000 in loans each year.

“Hopefully something will open up,” she said, and after scanning the registration Web site each day something did: two Asian-American studies electives, neither of which would move her closer to completing her major.

The university is facing a $131 million budget shortfall this year, and Ms. Li is among the many students who are feeling the pinch. U.C.L.A. has eliminated 165 courses, a full 10 percent reduction. Even in recent years, Ms. Li says, she has had to sit on the steps in crowded lecture halls. She was one of several hundred students who gathered at Bruin Plaza as the school year began to protest cutbacks and a tuition and fee increase of $1,170, with a planned $1,344 bump next year.

While U.C.L.A.’s money woes are extreme, they are familiar to many flagship universities. The University of Arizona, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Florida are among many that are scrambling because states are kicking in shrinking portions of their budgets.

In this particularly hard year, in which university endowments have been hammered along with state coffers, federal stimulus money has helped most avoid worst-case scenarios. The 10-campus University of California system, for example, has received $716 million in stimulus funds to offset its $1 billion gap. But that money is a temporary fix. A quip circulating among college presidents: The stimulus isn’t a bridge; it’s a short pier.

This fall, flagships still had to cut costs and raise tuition, most by 6.5 percent or more. And virtually all of the nation’s top public universities are likely to push through large increases in coming years.

“The students are at a point of rebellion, because they’re paying more and getting less,” says Jane V. Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity and Accountability.

Universities have reached deep in their pockets to protect vulnerable students from tuition increases. Mark G. Yudof, president of the University of California, defends his university’s record in preserving financial aid, noting that families with incomes under $60,000 pay not one penny of their fees. “The real crunch,” he says, is helping families that make roughly $100,000. “The most at risk at this time really are going to be the middle class.”

Public universities have historically been underpriced: average in-state tuition is $7,020 this year. A re-evaluation had to happen, says David E. Shulenburger, vice president for academic affairs at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, because the benefit has been to higher income families. “You can’t justify that subsidy for wealthier students,” he says. The trend, accelerated by the economic shakeup, is from cheap to what he calls “moderate” tuition rates, at least by private-school standards.

Mr. Shulenburger sees the tuition increases as part of a larger movement toward privatization of the most desirable flagships. With state contributions largely flat or down over the last 15 years, and enrollments and costs up, many top flagships are turning to nonpublic sources for money and, in some cases, accepting larger numbers of out-of-state students, who often pay twice the tuition of residents.

At the same time, applications are pouring in from students shut out by the stratospheric cost of private colleges. That’s generally a good thing. Flagships are attracting more wealthy and better-prepared students. Yet as the counterargument goes, a flagship’s traditional mission is to educate its own, especially a state’s low- and middle-income students. The evolution under way is putting some flagships out of reach for the students who were typically enrolled even a decade ago. Each year, the quality of students as well as the budget model skews closer to that of elite private universities.

Mr. Yudof calls the state an “unreliable partner.” It accounts for half as much financing per student as 20 years ago. Yet in a recent commentary for The Chronicle of Higher Education, he drew the line: “We will not privatize the university. We will continue to enroll students from all economic strata. We will not go the way of other states and rely on a vast expansion of nonresident enrollment.” Still, the university is expected to admit more out-of-state students next fall.

Faculty layoffs and hiring freezes notwithstanding, Mr. Yudof believes that the university, long regarded as one of the country’s leading publics, still offers a top-notch education. “We have a lot of room to descend,” he says. But he is well aware that the university faces a potential slide into mediocrity. At U.C.L.A., class size has increased by 20 percent over three years. He says it cannot sustain more years of forced downsizing.“We’re not over the edge, but we’re at the edge,” he says. “Something has to change.”


The University of Michigan belongs to an enviable class of nationally prestigious public universities; many of its undergraduates picked it over the Ivy League.

Thirty years ago, the university began going through the convulsions other public universities are now experiencing. Today, it is largely protected from Michigan’s plummeting economy. Only 7 percent of its budget is provided by the state.

The transformation of the University of Michigan’s finances began with Harold T. Shapiro. In the mid-1970s, Mr. Shapiro, then a professor of economics and public policy at the university, studied Michigan’s economy and predicted that the state would lose tax income compared with the rest of the country in coming decades. He was right.

While the state trimmed a third of its support for the university in the 1980s, Mr. Shapiro, as the university’s president, worked to build a more secure budget base. Michigan increased private fund-raising and developed a tuition structure that took advantage of a growing number of out-of-state students, who now pay $36,163 a year in tuition and fees — about the same as Princeton.

James J. Duderstadt was Michigan’s provost during its transformation, and later served as its president. With an out-of-state mix of 35 percent, he acknowledges that Michigan looks less like a state university. “Folks from out of state are attending a private institution,” he says.

It’s likely, actually, that most Princetonians pay less than an out-of-state Michigan student. While Michigan’s aid packages are generous, no public can match the deep coffers of an Ivy League university. Forty-five percent of out-of-state undergraduates at Michigan are affluent enough not to qualify for financial aid, compared with 20 percent of residents.

Still, Mr. Duderstadt says, the university fulfills its public mandate by helping to drive the state’s economy and continuing to educate Michigan’s top students. While lawmakers still grumble about the large number of students from other states, the university, he says, didn’t have alternatives. Earlier this year, state lawmakers studied the idea of taking privatization to the next level, by eliminating annual state funding. The university remains public, for now.

Some flagships have gone far in severing ties with states. Five years ago, Virginia’s four top public universities began negotiating a charter status that granted them broad autonomy, including the freedom to set tuition rates. Tuition and fees at the University of Virginia are now almost $10,000 for an entering resident, and $32,000 for a nonresident.

At Virginia, most students can handle the steep price tags. In the 2006 census, the national median household income was $48,200, while the median graduating student at U.Va. reported a family income of $94,000. For those struggling to pay, the university bumped up aid.

Experts say more universities will follow the lead of Michigan and Virginia, receiving less public money and increasing tuition, private fund-raising and financial aid. Last month, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, announced plans to double out-of-state enrollment, to nearly 30 percent, and mobilize more private donors.

Another recent convert is the University of Wisconsin, Madison, a lakeside campus with Big Ten sports that draws 35 percent of its students from beyond the state’s borders. Wisconsin’s high percentage of nonresidents makes sense because the number of new high school graduates is projected to fall over the next decade in Wisconsin and several other Northern states.

Years of state cuts means a larger portion of the university’s budget comes from tuition and fees, which it increased by 10 percent this year.

Mr. Shulenburger at the Association of Public Land Grant Universities cautions universities on the allure of out-of-state enrollment, because, he says, few can match the appeal of a Michigan or Wisconsin. There is a limited pool of out-of-state students, he says, and universities “will begin raiding ourselves pretty quickly.”

With a state economy in shambles, the University of Arizona was granted a waiver on its out-of-state enrollment cap, to go as high as 40 percent from an already high 30 percent. Robert N. Shelton, the university’s president, says he has yet to take advantage of that wiggle room, mostly because of a huge increase in applicants from Arizona.

Currently, only 10 percent of students at Rutgers’s New Brunswick campus come from outside New Jersey. The university could easily increase that number by tapping nearby New York and Pennsylvania.

“The temptation for us to recruit more out-of-state students is very, very strong,” says Douglas S. Greenberg, executive dean of the university’s School of Arts and Sciences. State residents pay about $12,000 in tuition and fees, which is high for a public university. Out-of-state students pay almost twice that.

Each nonresident means one less slot for a New Jersey resident. Mr. Greenberg says that leaves Rutgers with two options: get bigger or increase tuition even more. Neither would be easy. Enrollment has topped 37,000 at the main campus in New Brunswick, a record. For the second consecutive year, the university has placed undergraduates in a Crowne Plaza hotel because of a lack of on-campus housing. This year there are 500. They ride shuttle buses for the five-mile trip to campus and were asked to pack light and leave posters at home. The upside: Housekeeping cleans rooms once a week, there’s a television in every room and students can use the fitness center and swimming pools.

Mr. Greenberg says Rutgers, like most flagships, is wrestling with the gradual trend toward privatization. “Every time tuition goes up, we increase the possibility that we become more like a private university,” he says. This year, the State Legislature allowed Rutgers to increase tuition by only 3 percent, and the state is spending less on academic scholarships — though financial aid applications are up 27 percent. University officials say they have filled gaps by raising money from private sources.


More than half of the seniors from Stuyvesant, New York City’s most competitive public high school, apply to Binghamton, often called the jewel of the State University of New York, which has no flagship. For this fall, Binghamton University received 28,970 applications — 15 percent more than 2007 — to fill about 2,100 freshman spots.

Binghamton is not alone. Many flagships report big increases in the number of applicants, including good students transferring from private colleges, often for financial reasons. As a result, average SAT scores and grade-point averages have jumped.

The Westminster Schools, an elite high school in Atlanta, has sent a growing number of graduates to the University of Georgia. Of 200 last year, 41 headed to its Athens campus, double the number of a few years ago.

Nancy T. Beane, a college counselor at Westminster for 17 years, says some of its most-qualified students are choosing Georgia over Vanderbilt, Stanford and Ivy League universities. Part of the appeal is low tuition and the state’s generous Hope Scholarship — merit money awarded to about 97 percent of U.Ga.’s undergraduates. Until about five years ago, she says, some parents were surprised by the caliber of students at the University of Georgia. Not anymore.

While all this is generally a good thing, it means stiffer competition. Flagships are grappling with questions about who they are supposed to serve. Until recently, high school students with decent grades and SAT scores could reasonably expect to attend a top public university. The trickle-down tendency in admissions is affecting colleges further down in the pecking order.

One challenge is that a relatively small pool of minorities score 1300 on the SAT’s verbal and math sections. So universities have had to work harder to preserve the pipeline of low-income and minority students.

Take Florida. The University of Central Florida, now the state’s largest university, serves roughly the same demographic the University of Florida did 15 years ago. That’s partly because the University of Florida accepts far fewer good students, sticking mostly to great ones. It is attracting students who also apply to Duke and Emory and other expensive private institutions.

Virtually all in-state students admitted at the university qualify for a generous state merit grant called Bright Futures, financed by the state lottery. And though tuition and fees rose by 15 percent this fall, it’s still just $4,373, which is among the nation’s cheapest.

But promising low-income students need convincing, and admissions officials travel to up to 15 Florida high schools in urban neighborhoods each year. Each school’s counselors select the 50 top students they hope can compete, and the university spends a half day with them, answering questions and helping them fill out applications.

“Our admissions officers are out there holding hands or whatever it takes,” says Zina L. Evans, the associate provost for enrollment management and executive director of admissions.


Public universities have assets that privates do not. They offer powerhouse sports programs, bustling campuses and more diverse student bodies.

Lauren Ciolek went to a large public high school in Freehold, N.J. She applied to Rutgers in 2007 but picked Lehigh University, a private institution in Pennsylvania.

Ms. Ciolek wasn’t happy at Lehigh, which she says was far less diverse than her high school. So she transferred to Rutgers this fall, where, she says, she’s no longer “in a bubble.”

Rutgers has seen an uptick in New Jersey residents like Ms. Ciolek, who transferred back home after first attending private universities in Pennsylvania and Maryland. This fall, 3,100 students transferred in, an 8 percent increase from last year.

Officials say that part of the appeal is that Rutgers serves a broad range of students.

But public universities are straining to find qualified minority applicants, and to provide enough financial aid for that disproportionately low-income group as the budget crisis takes its toll. For now, they’re ponying up the money to keep them part of the mix.

Courtney O. McAnuff, Rutgers’s vice president for enrollment management, worries about the future. “I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to do it,” he says. ■

Paul Fain is a senior reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Brown and Cornell are Second Tier

January 7, 2011, 2:46 pm

By Tom Bartlett

If you want to get a job at the very best law firm, investment bank, or consultancy, here’s what you do:

1. Go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or (maybe) Stanford. If you’re a business student, attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania will work, too, but don’t show up with a diploma from Dartmouth or MIT. No one cares about those places.

2. Don’t work your rear off for a 4.0. Better to graduate with 3.7 and a bunch of really awesome extracurriculars. And by “really awesome” I mean literally climbing Everest or winning an Olympic medal. Playing intramurals doesn’t cut it.

That’s the upshot of an enlightening/depressing study about the ridiculously narrow-minded people who make hiring decisions at the aforementioned elite companies. The author of this study—Lauren Rivera, an assistant professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University—gained inside access to the hiring process at one such (unnamed) business, and picked the brains of recruiters at other firms.

The portrait that emerges is of a culture that’s insanely obsessed with pedigree. These firms pour resources into recruiting students from “target schools” (i.e., Harvard, Yale, Princeton) and then more or less ignore everybody else. Here’s a manager from a top investment bank describing what happens to the resume of someone who went to, say, Rutgers: “I’m just being really honest, it pretty much goes into a black hole.”

What’s surprising isn’t that students from elite universities have a leg up; it’s that students from other colleges don’t have a chance, even if those colleges are what the rest of us might consider elite. Here’s what a top consultant had to say about M.I.T.:

You will find it when you go to like career fairs or something and you know someone will show up and say, you know, “Hey, I didn’t go to HBS [Harvard Business School] but, you know, I am an engineer at M.I.T. and I heard about this fair and I wanted to come meet you in New York.” God bless him for the effort but, you know, it’s just not going to work.

There are exceptions, but only if the candidate has some personal connection with the firm. And the list of super-elite schools varies somewhat depending on the field. For instance, Columbia might be considered elite by some investment banks, but others describe it as ”second-tier” or “just okay.”

So going to Harvard is a prerequisite. But you also need to prove, in the words of the recruiters, that you’re not “boring,” a “tool,” or a ”bookworm.” This is where your leisure pursuits come in. Among the acceptable extra-curricular activities listed in the paper: traveling with a world-renowned orchestra and building houses in Costa Rica. It’s good to play sports, but they have to be the right ones. Being on the crew team is acceptable; being on the ping-pong team is not. Ideally, you should be a national or Olympic champion. And if you like hiking, you should summit some impressive peak.

When you read the accounts of recruiters at these firms, you get a sense of why they might choose these metrics. They have multiple stacks of resumes. They meet hundreds of applicants at career fairs. Rather than scrutinizing anyone’s resume it’s easier just to limit the pool to the top three or four universities. Do you really want to pore over the transcript of that kid from the University of Michigan? Wouldn’t it be easier just to call the Harvard grad? In essence, what they’re assuming is that the admissions offices at the super-elite schools have already picked the best of the best. Why second guess them?

You also can’t read this study without getting the feeling that the game is rigged. That obtaining a name-brand diploma matters more than actually learning something. That the gatekeepers at our nation’s most prestigious firms are pathetically shallow, outrageously parochial, and insufferably snobbish. The message is this:

It’s not what you did in college. It’s where you got in.

(Here’s the abstract for the paper. It was published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

How Diversity Punishes Asians, Poor Whites and Lots of Others

By Russell K. Nieli
July 12, 2010

When college presidents and academic administrators pay their usual obeisance to "diversity" you know they are talking first and foremost about race. More specifically, they are talking about blacks. A diverse college campus is understood as one that has a student body that -- at a minimum -- is 5 to 7 percent black (i.e., equivalent to roughly half the proportion of blacks in the general population). A college or university that is only one, two, or three percent black would not be considered "diverse" by college administrators regardless of how demographically diverse its student body might be in other ways. The blacks in question need not be African Americans -- indeed at many of the most competitive colleges today, including many Ivy League schools, an estimated 40-50 percent of those categorized as black are Afro-Caribbean or African immigrants, or the children of such immigrants.

As a secondary meaning "diversity" can also encompass Hispanics, who together with blacks are often subsumed by college administrators and admissions officers under the single race category "underrepresented minorities." Most colleges and universities seeking "diversity" seek a similar proportion of Hispanics in their student body as blacks (since blacks and Hispanics are about equal in number in the general population), though meeting the black diversity goal usually has a much higher priority than meeting the Hispanic one.

Asians, unlike blacks and Hispanics, receive no boost in admissions. Indeed, the opposite is often the case, as the quota-like mentality that leads college administrators to conclude they may have "too many" Asians. Despite the much lower number of Asians in the general high-school population, high-achieving Asian students -- those, for instance, with SAT scores in the high 700s -- are much more numerous than comparably high-achieving blacks and Hispanics, often by a factor of ten or more. Thinking as they do in racial balancing and racial quota terms, college admissions officers at the most competitive institutions almost always set the bar for admitting Asians far above that for Hispanics and even farther above that for admitting blacks.

"Diversity" came to be so closely associated with race in the wake of the Supreme Court's Bakke decision in 1978. In his decisive opinion, Justice Lewis Powell rejected arguments for racial preferences based on generalized "societal discrimination," social justice, or the contemporary needs of American society as insufficiently weighty to overrule the color-blind imperative of the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause. That imperative, however, could be overruled, Powell said, by a university's legitimate concern for the educational benefits of a demographically diverse student body.

Virtually all competitive colleges after Bakke continued with their racial preference policies ("affirmative action"), though after Powell's decision they had to cloak their true meaning and purpose behind a misleading or dishonest rhetoric of "diversity." Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, a critic of racial preferences, accurately explains the situation: "The raison d'etre for race-specific affirmative action programs," Dershowitz writes, "has simply never been diversity for the sake of education. The checkered history of 'diversity' demonstrates that it was designed largely as a cover to achieve other legally, morally, and politically controversial goals. In recent years, it has been invoked -- especially in the professional schools -- as a clever post facto justification for increasing the number of minority group students in the student body."

While almost all college administrators and college admissions officers at the most elite institutions think in racial balancing and racial quota-like terms when they assemble their student body, they almost always deny this publically in a blizzard of rhetoric about a more far-flung "diversity." Indeed, there is probably no other area where college administrators are more likely to lie or conceal the truth of what they are doing than in the area of admissions and race.

Most elite universities seem to have little interest in diversifying their student bodies when it comes to the numbers of born-again Christians from the Bible belt, students from Appalachia and other rural and small-town areas, people who have served in the U.S. military, those who have grown up on farms or ranches, Mormons, Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses, lower-middle-class Catholics, working class "white ethnics," social and political conservatives, wheelchair users, married students, married students with children, or older students first starting out in college after raising children or spending several years in the workforce. Students in these categories are often very rare at the more competitive colleges, especially the Ivy League. While these kinds of people would surely add to the diverse viewpoints and life-experiences represented on college campuses, in practice "diversity" on campus is largely a code word for the presence of a substantial proportion of those in the "underrepresented" racial minority groups.

The Diversity Colleges Want

espenshade.jpgA new study by Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade and his colleague Alexandria Radford is a real eye-opener in revealing just what sorts of students highly competitive colleges want -- or don't want -- on their campuses and how they structure their admissions policies to get the kind of "diversity" they seek. The Espenshade/Radford study draws from a new data set, the National Study of College Experience (NSCE), which was gathered from eight highly competitive public and private colleges and universities (entering freshmen SAT scores: 1360). Data was collected on over 245,000 applicants from three separate application years, and over 9,000 enrolled students filled out extensive questionnaires. Because of confidentiality agreements Espenshade and Radford could not name the institutions but they assure us that their statistical profile shows they fit nicely within the top 50 colleges and universities listed in the U.S. News & World Report ratings.

Consistent with other studies, though in much greater detail, Espenshade and Radford show the substantial admissions boost, particularly at the private colleges in their study, which Hispanic students get over whites, and the enormous advantage over whites given to blacks. They also show how Asians must do substantially better than whites in order to reap the same probabilities of acceptance to these same highly competitive private colleges. On an "other things equal basis," where adjustments are made for a variety of background factors, being Hispanic conferred an admissions boost over being white (for those who applied in 1997) equivalent to 130 SAT points (out of 1600), while being black rather than white conferred a 310 SAT point advantage. Asians, however, suffered an admissions penalty compared to whites equivalent to 140 SAT points.

The box students checked off on the racial question on their application was thus shown to have an extraordinary effect on a student's chances of gaining admission to the highly competitive private schools in the NSCE database. To have the same chances of gaining admission as a black student with an SAT score of 1100, an Hispanic student otherwise equally matched in background characteristics would have to have a 1230, a white student a 1410, and an Asian student a 1550. Here the Espenshade/Radford results are consistent with other studies, including those of William Bowen and Derek Bok in their book The Shape of the River, though they go beyond this influential study in showing both the substantial Hispanic admissions advantage and the huge admissions penalty suffered by Asian applicants. Although all highly competitive colleges and universities will deny that they have racial quotas -- either minimum quotas or ceiling quotas -- the huge boosts they give to the lower-achieving black and Hispanic applicants, and the admissions penalties they extract from their higher-achieving Asian applicants, clearly suggest otherwise.

Espenshade and Radford also take up very thoroughly the question of "class based preferences" and what they find clearly shows a general disregard for improving the admission chances of poor and otherwise disadvantaged whites. Other studies, including a 2005 analysis of nineteen highly selective public and private universities by William Bowen, Martin Kurzweil, and Eugene Tobin, in their 2003 book, Equity and Excellence in American Higher Education, found very little if any advantage in the admissions process accorded to whites from economically or educationally disadvantaged families compared to whites from wealthier or better educated homes. Espenshade and Radford cite this study and summarize it as follows: "These researchers find that, for non-minority [i.e., white] applicants with the same SAT scores, there is no perceptible difference in admission chances between applicants from families in the bottom income quartile, applicants who would be the first in their families to attend college, and all other (non-minority) applicants from families at higher levels of socioeconomic status. When controls are added for other student and institutional characteristics, these authors find that “on an other-things-equal basis, [white] applicants from low-SES backgrounds, whether defined by family income or parental education, get essentially no break in the admissions process; they fare neither better nor worse than other [white] applicants."

Distressing as many might consider this to be -- since the same institutions that give no special consideration to poor white applicants boast about their commitment to "diversity" and give enormous admissions breaks to blacks, even to those from relatively affluent homes -- Espenshade and Radford in their survey found the actual situation to be much more troubling. At the private institutions in their study whites from lower-class backgrounds incurred a huge admissions disadvantage not only in comparison to lower-class minority students, but compared to whites from middle-class and upper-middle-class backgrounds as well. The lower-class whites proved to be all-around losers. When equally matched for background factors (including SAT scores and high school GPAs), the better-off whites were more than three times as likely to be accepted as the poorest whites (.28 vs. .08 admissions probability). Having money in the family greatly improved a white applicant's admissions chances, lack of money greatly reduced it. The opposite class trend was seen among non-whites, where the poorer the applicant the greater the probability of acceptance when all other factors are taken into account. Class-based affirmative action does exist within the three non-white ethno-racial groupings, but among the whites the groups advanced are those with money.

When lower-class whites are matched with lower-class blacks and other non-whites the degree of the non-white advantage becomes astronomical: lower-class Asian applicants are seven times as likely to be accepted to the competitive private institutions as similarly qualified whites, lower-class Hispanic applicants eight times as likely, and lower-class blacks ten times as likely. These are enormous differences and reflect the fact that lower-class whites were rarely accepted to the private institutions Espenshade and Radford surveyed. Their diversity-enhancement value was obviously rated very low.

Poor Non-White Students: "Counting Twice"

The enormous disadvantage incurred by lower-class whites in comparison to non-whites and wealthier whites is partially explained by Espenshade and Radford as a result of the fact that, except for the very wealthiest institutions like Harvard and Princeton, private colleges and universities are reluctant to admit students who cannot afford their high tuitions. And since they have a limited amount of money to give out for scholarship aid, they reserve this money to lure those who can be counted in their enrollment statistics as diversity-enhancing "racial minorities." Poor whites are apparently given little weight as enhancers of campus diversity, while poor non-whites count twice in the diversity tally, once as racial minorities and a second time as socio-economically deprived. Private institutions, Espenshade and Radford suggest, "intentionally save their scarce financial aid dollars for students who will help them look good on their numbers of minority students." Quoting a study by NYU researcher Mitchell Stevens, they write: "ultimate evaluative preference for members of disadvantaged groups was reserved for applicants who could be counted in the college's multicultural statistics. This caused some admissions officers no small amount of ethical dismay."

There are problems, however, with this explanation. While it explains why scarce financial aid dollars might be reserved for minority "twofers," it cannot explain why well-qualified lower-class whites are not at least offered admission without financial aid. The mere offer of admission is costless, and at least a few among the poor whites accepted would probably be able to come up with outside scholarship aid. But even if they couldn't, knowing they did well enough in their high school studies to get accepted to a competitive private college would surely sit well with most of them even if they couldn't afford the high tuition. Espenshade and Radford do not address this conundrum but the answer is easy to discern. The ugly truth is that most colleges, especially the more competitive private ones, are fiercely concerned with their ratings by rating organizations like U.S. News & World Report. And an important part of those ratings consist of a numerical acceptance rate (the ratio of applicants received to those accepted) and a yield score (the ratio of those accepted to those who enroll). The lower the acceptance rate and the higher the yield score the more favorably colleges are looked upon. In extending admissions to well-qualified but financially strapped whites who are unlikely to enroll, a college would be driving both its acceptance rate and its yield score in the wrong direction. Academic bureaucrats rarely act against either their own or their organization's best interests (as they perceive them), and while their treatment of lower-class whites may for some be a source of "no small amount of ethical dismay," that's just how it goes. Some of the private colleges Espenshade and Radford describe would do well to come clean with their act and admit the truth: "Poor Whites Need Not Apply!"

Besides the bias against lower-class whites, the private colleges in the Espenshade/Radford study seem to display what might be called an urban/Blue State bias against rural and Red State occupations and values. This is most clearly shown in a little remarked statistic in the study's treatment of the admissions advantage of participation in various high school extra-curricular activities. In the competitive private schools surveyed participation in many types of extra-curricular activities -- including community service activities, performing arts activities, and "cultural diversity" activities -- conferred a substantial improvement in an applicant's chances of admission. The admissions advantage was usually greatest for those who held leadership positions or who received awards or honors associated with their activities. No surprise here -- every student applying to competitive colleges knows about the importance of extracurriculars.

But what Espenshade and Radford found in regard to what they call "career-oriented activities" was truly shocking even to this hardened veteran of the campus ideological and cultural wars. Participation in such Red State activities as high school ROTC, 4-H clubs, or the Future Farmers of America was found to reduce very substantially a student's chances of gaining admission to the competitive private colleges in the NSCE database on an all-other-things-considered basis. The admissions disadvantage was greatest for those in leadership positions in these activities or those winning honors and awards. "Being an officer or winning awards" for such career-oriented activities as junior ROTC, 4-H, or Future Farmers of America, say Espenshade and Radford, "has a significantly negative association with admission outcomes at highly selective institutions." Excelling in these activities "is associated with 60 or 65 percent lower odds of admission."

Espenshade and Radford don't have much of an explanation for this find, which seems to place the private colleges even more at variance with their stated commitment to broadly based campus diversity. In his Bakke ruling Lewis Powell was impressed by the argument Harvard College offered defending the educational value of a demographically diverse student body: "A farm boy from Idaho can bring something to Harvard College that a Bostonian cannot offer. Similarly, a black student can usually bring something that a white person cannot offer." The Espenshade/Radford study suggests that those farm boys from Idaho would do well to stay out of their local 4-H clubs or FFA organizations -- or if they do join, they had better not list their membership on their college application forms. This is especially true if they were officers in any of these organizations. Future farmers of America don't seem to count in the diversity-enhancement game played out at some of our more competitive private colleges, and are not only not recruited, but seem to be actually shunned. It is hard to explain this development other than as a case of ideological and cultural bias.

This same kind of bias seems to lurk behind the negative association found between acceptance odds and holding leadership positions in high school ROTC. This is most troubling because a divorce between the campus culture of its universities and its military is poisonous for any society, and doesn't do the military or the civilian society any good. The lack of comfort with many military commanders that our current president is said to have seems to be due not only to his own lack of military experience but to the fact of having spent so many of his formative years on university campuses like Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Chicago, where people with military experience are largely absent and the campus culture is often hostile to military values and military personnel.

In an attempt to find out what kind of diversity exists -- or doesn't exist -- on the Princeton University campus, I once asked students in a ten-member discussion group to raise their hands if they knew one or more Princeton undergraduates who had served a year or more on active military duty (in the late 1940s or early 1950s, of course, undergraduates at Princeton would have encountered legions of such people coming back from WWII and the Korean War). I made it plain that I wasn't asking if the students had a close friend or roommate who was a veteran, just a single person with military experience that they had at sometime encountered during their Princeton undergraduate careers. Only one student -- a female -- raised her hand: this student once met someone who had served in the Israeli military. On a second occasion I asked this question to a larger group and again only one hand went up -- this student once met a Princeton undergraduate who had served in the Turkish military.

Many universities, including Princeton, are interested in enrolling foreign students, along with students from disparate regions of the U.S. But the more competitive private universities seem to have little interest in diversifying their student bodies when it comes to people who have served in the American military or people who intend to make a career out of military service. Even if they don't shun such people, or hold their military service or aspirations against them, they clearly don't seek them out or court them the way they do "underrepresented" racial minorities. And while many universities host college-level ROTC programs (often for financial reasons), the military/civilian relationship on campus is usually far from amicable.

Military veterans and aspiring military officers, like poor whites and future American farmers, are clearly not what most competitive private colleges have in mind when they speak of the need for "diversity". If nothing else the new Espenshade/Radford study helps to document what knowledgeable observers have long known: "diversity" at competitive colleges today involves a politically engineered stew of different groups. drawn from the ingredients selected by reigning campus ideology. Since that ideology is mainly dictated by the Left, it is no surprise that the diversity achieved is what the larger American landscape looks like when it is viewed through a leftist lens. I suggest a different approach: elite colleges should get out of the diversity business altogether and focus on enrolling students who are the most academically talented and the most eager to learn. These students should make up the bulk of their entering classes. Call it the Cal Tech Model since the California Institute of Technology seems to be the only elite institution that comes close to realizing such an ideal. Or call it the U.S. Olympic Team Model, or the Major League All-Stars Model, since it is based on the same strict merit-selection principle governing our Olympic sports teams and our major league baseball all-star teams. Let the diversity chips fall where they may and focus on recruiting the most intelligent, most creative, and most energetiic of the rising generation of young people. In my naive way this is what I always thought elite universities were supposed to be about.


Russell K. Nieli received his Ph.D. in political philosophy from Princeton University and currently works for Princeton's James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. He has been a lecturer in Princeton's Politics Department and for ten years was an academic adviser to Princeton freshmen.

Yes, Elite Colleges Are Biased Against Poor Whites

Posted by John Leo
Minding the

If damaging evidence against affirmative action turns up in a pro-affirmative action book, the author often explains it away as misunderstood or exaggerated. This has happened once again, this time to a book that made no splash when it was published last October, but drew attention here at Minding the Campus in criticism that spread to Ross Douthat's column in The New York Times, Pat Buchanan's syndicated column and now Time magazine.

The book is No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal, a careful study of admission practices at eight unnamed elite colleges by Princeton sociologist Thomas J. Espenshade and a research associate, Alexandria Walton Radford. Writing here on July 12th in an article headlined, "How Diversity Punishes Asians, Poor Whites and Lots of Others," Russell K. Nieli of Princeton wrote that the book reported an immense admissions disadvantage to Asians (because admissions officers think there are already too many in the best colleges) and poor whites, who are penalized by favoritism, not only for blacks and Hispanics, but also for whites with middle-class and upper-class backgrounds. None of the criticism that greeted Nieli's article has focused on the anti-Asian bias. All of it has dealt with the slim chances of poor whites at the most selective colleges.

Time magazine this week interviewed Espenshade about Douthat's charges that elite education seems inclined to exclude the poor of red-state America. (The book does not mention red-state America at all.) Espenshade said this:

What I think he did was take a relatively minor finding and push an interpretation that goes beyond the bounds of available evidence. We have this finding that if students held leadership positions or won awards in career-oriented extracurricular activities when they were in high school, there was a slightly negative impact on their chances of being admitted to one of these top private schools. Now, what are these career-oriented activities? Douthat mentions as possibilities, and I don't deny it, that it could be participating in a 4-H club or Future Farmers of America, but those aren't the only types of activities that might fall into that broader category. It could include Junior ROTC. It could include co-op work programs. It could include a host of things. And these aren't necessarily rural types of activities. My interpretation is that [having leadership positions or winning awards in career-oriented activities] suggests to admission deans that these folks are somewhat ambivalent about their academic future.

Espenshade is right that his critics missed the book's clear point that membership in 4-H clubs, the Future Farmers of America and high school ROTC was not enough to harm the chances of applicants to the elite colleges---the problem is holding high office in these groups (as Senator Sam Brownback did by the way in FFA) or winning group awards, because admissions officers think that such achievements might indicate a lack of seriousness about higher education. But Espenshade goes too far in saying that "there was a slightly negative impact on their chances." His book says on page 126 that "Excelling in career-oriented activities is associated with 60 or 65 percent lower odds of admission," which seem more like crippling damage rather than a "slightly negative impact." As Nieli wrote: "The lower-class whites proved to be all-around losers... Having money in the family greatly improved a white applicant's admissions chances, lack of money greatly reduced it." If you read the whole book, the prejudice of the elite schools against poor whites seems clear. As a political issue, this is a sure bet to gain ground.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Unexpected Turns Mark Athletes’ Journey

The New York Times

Four years ago, Jen Ward’s was at the end of the hall, and she was at the end of her rope as a softball coach. She had spent a year trying to recruit a catcher. At the last minute, she got one, but the catcher transferred after one season.

Ward’s only notable recruit that year was an outfielder/pitcher from Green Brook, N.J., Cassandra Searls.

“I didn’t think of Cassandra as a pitcher,” Ward said recently, looking back to 2006. “And while I knew she was a good player, I didn’t really know how good.” Searls became Ward’s pitching ace and the team’s career home run leader during four winning seasons.

A few doors from Ward’s office, Coach Dave Beccaria had a similarly perplexing baseball recruiting season. He also wanted a catcher and never got one. “Plenty of arms, but I’m not sure who will catch them,” he said.

In the next four years, pitching depth proved to be a backbone of his teams that twice advanced to the Centennial Conference championship game while compiling a record of 90-60-2.

In the middle of the coaching row, Amy Bergin seemingly had one of the least productive volleyball recruiting seasons four years ago. She had contacted more than 1,000 players and landed two, twins from La Canada, Calif. Rachel and Rebecca Salvo, the “volleyball twins” as they are now known on campus, became all-Americans and led Haverford to four conference championships and four N.C.A.A. tournament appearances, including one run to the Round of 16.

As recruit after recruit went elsewhere in 2006, Bergin was asked how she absorbed the disappointment.

“You go home and cry, maybe pound a few beers,” she said.

Bergin laughed recently when she was reminded of that remark.

“I guess it turned out pretty good after all, huh?” she said. “It’s crazy when your job is based on the decisions of 17-year-olds. But I’m getting better at it. And I’ve got two little kids now, so I can’t pound beers anymore.”

The New York Times examined the increasingly competitive athletic recruiting environment at small colleges in a 2005-6 series. For a year, Haverford, a highly selective college outside Philadelphia, granted access to its athletic recruiting and admissions process.

The college admitted about 65 recruited athletes, or about 15 percent of the 2006 incoming class. Most of them graduated from Haverford last weekend.

Team success is one way to evaluate the value of the recruiting process, and almost universally, Haverford athletics prospered with nine sports winning 23 conference championships in the past four years. It is perhaps just as revealing, and pertinent, to note that about 25 percent of the recruited athletes had limited playing time, or had careers cut short by injuries or chose to pursue other interests.

The Haverford recruiting class of 2006 included a talented women’s soccer player, Monica Stegman, who spent last fall — what would have been her senior season — at a marine biology laboratory on Cape Cod.

“Academics and other things eventually took precedence,” said Stegman, who also stopped playing because she feared recurring concussions.

Another senior, Nick Farina, was a track and field recruit who stopped running because of an ailment that caused him extreme chest pain. Last year, Farina started a blog and a business geared toward advising students on financial matters. He researched the enterprise during a year abroad at Oxford.

Stefan Pappius-Lefebvre was a recruited pitcher who lost interest in baseball and quit during his freshman year. He returned to play the next two seasons and developed into one of the conference’s best pitchers. An arm injury as a senior ended his collegiate career.

“I played baseball for a long time,” said Pappius-Lefebvre, who will enter law school this fall, “and I know the whole college recruiting thing can be a long and crazy process. It worked out for me; I have known other people who would say otherwise. And that’s the biggest message. You better pick a college where you will be happy even if you never play a single game. Because you might not.”

A vast majority of recruited athletes competed for four years at Haverford. A not insignificant portion of them would probably not have been accepted without their athletic credentials.

To that end, their graduation represents the culmination of a process that began when many of them were in middle school and started playing on travel teams. That commitment usually led to specialized year-round tutoring, then a grueling regimen of recruiting events and a dizzying schedule of summer camps meant to showcase their talents to college coaches.

Most of the Haverford athletes were veterans of this demanding and sometimes dehumanizing recruiting routine.

Four years later, was it all worth it?

“It was for me, and I would do it all again tomorrow,” said Searls, who went to pitching instruction twice a week as a teenager and often missed Thursdays and Fridays in high school to attend softball showcases.

Searls, who earned a degree in chemistry, said: “All that work helped me get into a great academic college where I learned and grew. The youth sports recruiting process is unpredictable and fickle, but without it, I’m not the same person.”

Brian Fleishhacker, one of Haverford’s top lacrosse recruits in 2006, did not disappoint, helping the program reach the N.C.A.A. Division III quarterfinals for the first time last weekend. In high school, Fleishhacker was busy on the recruiting circuit.

“It was a lot of work week after week, and maybe you’re at some summer camp while other kids are at the beach,” he said. “But where you go to college is a huge decision. And every little thing adds up to giving you more exposure and the chance to make the best decision.”

Fleishhacker, who graduated with a degree in economics, was among 10 lacrosse recruits admitted in 2006, all of them on a list Mike Murphy, then the coach, presented to the admissions department. Murphy hoped their athletic credentials would buttress their academic qualifications, which in most cases were within Haverford’s admission standards, or fairly close.

“Was it all worth it to take those 10 kids?” Murphy, now coaching at the University of Pennsylvania, said recently. “What does opportunity cost? Did they take 10 spots from 10 other kids who weren’t athletes? Maybe, maybe not. But I know Haverford is a better place for having those kids around for four years, and not just for all the games they won.”

Three of Murphy’s top 2006 recruits who submitted early-decision applications provide snapshots of the possible outcomes in the ever-evolving recruiting dance.

Alex Guy, a midfielder from Easton, Md., had his application deferred to the regular decision process.

“It was an awful feeling,” said Guy, who was finally accepted in the spring.

But Kevin Friedenberg, a standout lacrosse goalie from Needham, Mass., was rejected outright.

“I was devastated,” he said.

John-Paul Cashiola of Houston recalled the joy of opening his acceptance letter, which he knew he received in part because he had been the top goalie on Murphy’s list.

Guy was not the significant contributor he expected to be on the field, but he played all four years and graduated last weekend.

“I made friends on the team that will last for life,” said Guy, who will soon apply to graduate schools and hopes to become a college history professor.

On Sunday, Friedenberg will graduate with a degree in history and English from Swarthmore College — 10 miles from Haverford, its chief rival. He was a two-time all-conference lacrosse player.

“They say everything happens for a reason, and maybe it does,” Friedenberg said. “Does Haverford wish I ended up there? Probably. Do I wish that? Not at all.”

Cashiola never realized his promise as a goalie. He played some as a freshman, lost the starter’s job, then sustained a serious back injury that ended his athletic career. Cashiola has taken a year off from his studies but says he expects to graduate from Haverford next year.

“I didn’t work hard enough as a goalie, and there’s no cutting corners at that level,” said Cashiola, who is working for an international development company in California. “I wish I had done more. But you could say I used lacrosse as a tool to get a great education, and that is going to serve me well. I’m excited about my future.”

In the end, Friedenberg, who had a rough ride on the recruiting carousel four years ago, was the most philosophical.

“The recruiting process can have some unfortunate outcomes,” he said. “But if you look around, one way or another, most of us are doing pretty well. It’s a long, wild ride, but we are happy survivors.”