The college admissions bribery scandal has exposed a dirty little secret about our system of higher education. If you have money, you can leverage it to have your child(ren) admitted into most any American college. We should not be shocked that money trumps morals in America. And in a system of higher education that has historically and consistently shown to produce significant benefits between those who have a college degree and those who don’t, every parent would be wise to have their child admitted into that system.
For instance, college graduates, over their lifetime, will have better outcomes related to physical, mental, social, economical and other issues that promise upper ward mobility. If the benefits of a college degree could be distilled into a vaccination, it would be the greatest blockade of human detriments and the most significant booster of health and wellness than any other thing on earth. It both protects you and improves you.
So, as we all are distracted on how a few people gamed the system, what will be missed is the biggest and longest running college education scam of all, which is, that success in higher education is in any way related to intelligence.
Now…don’t get me wrong, it helps to be smart when applying and graduating from college. But supreme intellect is not a requirement. Colleges use standardized intelligent tests and other measures to gage a person’s intelligence, but that’s because it’s what they have always done. I could get into other deviant motives for using these entrance exams, like ensuring certain profiles of people are impeded from entering. While there is a percentage of those efforts happening, it’s mostly rooted in academic tradition and the lack of appreciation on various ways to measure human “intelligence.”
Having benefited for a couple hundred years from the current system, the majority of Americans are in no hurry to help change the system that has been so beneficial to their children and grand-children.
Unfortunately, the branding of higher education is that only those people who have proven their intellectual capabilities are admitted into their system. However, I can confidentially report that academic success at every level, bachelor, master and PhD, does not require high intelligence.
On what grounds might I be making this outlandish statement? Well…the first is from my own personal experiences. In my late twenties I decided to enroll in college after some time spent inside a psychiatric hospital, where I also received help with my alcohol and drug addiction along with other issues. Seeking financial help from my state’s Vocational Rehabilitation, their two-day evaluation resulted in being told I had learning disabilities as well as being mentally retarded.
Imagine a young twenty-something asking an organization like Voc Rehab to invest thousands of dollars for college assistance and they learn the young man was a high school dropout, currently working as a garbage man, suicidal, recently released from a psychiatric hospital, has a history of childhood physically and sexually abuse, diagnosed with a substance use disorder, followed by recent testing that revealed dyslexia, ADHD, and mental retardation. Would you investment?
The short of it, I was told that I was not “college material” and should ride out my employment as it had great pay and a generous retirement package. After stewing on my life for several weeks, I quit that job and moved into the Volunteers of American where I enrolled in one college course. I ended up living at the VOA for over two-years and gradually increased my college credit enrollment. I kept my disabilities and story to myself until about sixteen years later when I finally obtained a PhD and acquired an assistant professor job in Buffalo NY. My Dean at that time, who did not know my past, asked if I would speak with a reporter from the New York Times. It was a cat named Alan Schwarz, who was looking for stories about higher education. He had spent several years investigating head trauma in the NFL and looking for something new. Mr. Schwarz finally got around to asking about my own path into college. I decided to share some of my story, which eventually found its way into the NYTs. I later expanded on that brief story in a book that is free and open to read.
Having a PhD gave me some confidence to expose my past experiences into college. Earning tenure, which took ten-years, has also offer some protections to reveal my dark past. Even as I draft this story, negotiating with myself whether to include certain information, the nauseating poison of shame, guilt and remorse that remains dormant in the dark, is unrelenting when I consider exposing them to the world.
Regardless, the primary point is, if someone like me can be successful in higher education, any human can. That message should be the branding of higher education. Which leads to the final reason I can confidentially state that higher education has little to do with intelligence. I have empirical evidence.
I have scientifically tested the hypothesis. The first test was asking underrepresented minorities (African-Americans, Hispanic/Latinx, and American Indian/Alaska Natives) who successfully graduated with a bachelor’s degree, one simple question – What was the *main* reason you successfully completed college? The motivation I focused on underrepresented minorities (URMs) is that these groups have led the college dropout rates in the U.S. for decades.
Why focus on URMs? They have historically maintained the lowest rates of success throughout our higher educational systems. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center 2017 report, there is a 20-point difference between non-minority and minority dropout rates. There has been lots of research identifying why URMs are unsuccessful and ways to avoid those pit falls. There is virally no research on why URMs succeed. So I asked them.
The top three themes cutting across all three group’s responses were, (1) Parents promoted education and expected their children to go to college (37%); (2) Their own determination (33%); and (3) Emotional and logistical supports (31%). Respondents who identified the influence of their parents (e.g., promoted and expected an education & provided emotional and logistical supports) as the main reason for succeeding in college represented sixty-nine percent of the sample.
There were no responses related to higher education’s measures of success, such as being a great test taker, having great high school grades, playing sports or having volunteer experiences. While these things are important, they are not required. What seems to be related to academic success for URMs is a combination of supports and grit.
The second investigation centered on whether URM students felt like their college campuses were welcoming, making them feel like they belonged. When individuals feel like they do not belong somewhere, they usually leave. The same goes for college campuses and the students who show up there.
I produced a brief video that shows a variety for students explaining how when they first showed up on campus feeling out of place and not welcome. This is followed by something happening that changed their perspectives. The video ends with statements of gratitude that they remained. Surprisingly, after watching the video and openly discussing their internal struggles, students who participated had a significant higher re-enrollment rate compared to the sample of students who did not.
What this research shows is that when students realize their feelings of being out of place and not welcome are just like other students, and they hear other student outwardly express those feelings, they feel less unique and less out of place, which results in them staying and succeeding.
Given these two investigation together, the findings could not be clearer, success in higher education does not resemble what is most likely required to get into college and be successful in college. While it might take a scam to get someone into top ranked colleges, having high intellect is not require for success once enrolled.