Everything you’ve heard about getting in is about to go out the window.
Other colleges slightly lower in the heap talk a good game about serving the public interest, but their actions suggest more dubious motives. As the annual Washington Monthly suggest, some well-known institutions have bought their way up the prestige ladder by all but excluding low-income students, focusing instead on recruiting the children of wealthy donors and politicians, or students whose SAT scores drive up their U.S. News & World Report ranking. Poor students require financial aid, and status-seeking universities would rather spend their money on new buildings and a winning basketball team. If ConnectEDU works as its designers hope, it will smoke out colleges that pay mere lip service to the goal of social mobility. Even if they don’t go looking for the Jameels of this world, ConnectEDU will help the Jameels find them. These schools will be inundated with applications from worthy non-rich students, and they’ll have to explain to the public why their doors are shut.
Most colleges, of course, aren’t very selective; they’re mainly looking to fill seats. Many of these institutions have also signed on as ConnectEDU clients. One can imagine them using a tool like ConnectEDU to indiscriminately spam millions of unsuspecting students, like so many Facebook friend requests from your mom’s cousin’s best friend. That said, less-selective colleges also face a challenge that Jeff Brenzel doesn’t have to worry about: enrolling students who won’t wash out within weeks of arriving. Used wisely, the company’s algorithms will help them find students who are likely to stick, succeed, and maybe even raise the school’s game academically. The new software tools will also help the average student become a shrewder shopper. Rather than defaulting to the local community college or open-access university, they’ll be able to find out earlier in high school what kind of courses will get them into a better college—and where that better college might be. Mediocre local colleges and universities will start to lose their captive audience. As the market becomes more efficient, more students will enroll in the right college at the beginning of the process and emerge with a diploma at the end.
C raig Powell lives in Boston now. His company takes up the entire twentieth floor of a downtown office tower owned by the Federal Reserve. On a clear day, you can look east and see Harvard and MIT. Craig comes to work in the jeans, jacket, and boots of a successful Internet entrepreneur. The only signs of northwest Missouri are his ears, cauliflowered by years on the wrestling mat. He doesn’t want to fix them. They remind him of how far he’s come.
ConnectEDU software designers traveled to Yale last year to interview admissions officers about how, exactly, they would like to search for prospective students. This summer, in the lull before the deluge of applications begins again in the fall, Jeff Brenzel and his staff began putting the ConnectEDU system to work. They’re searching in particular for two qualities: underclassmen with an aptitude for challenging courses in science and math, and low-income students who are earning good grades.
Jameel Reid, meanwhile, is about to begin his sophomore year. He enjoyed Algebra II last school year and got excellent marks, although he didn’t think his teacher was tough enough. For the coming year, he’s signed up for Geometry, Physics, and two computer courses: Engineering Technology and Technology Studies. The university he most wants to attend is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, because he understands it to be one of the best engineering schools. Beyond that, he’s not sure where to apply—somewhere with a good degree in computer sciences, he guesses.
Perhaps Yale or another ConnectEDU client will find Jameel and clear his path to the Ivy League. Or perhaps ConnectEDU will help him find an institution like Purdue University, a well-regarded Midwestern engineering school that would love to enroll more smart minority students. Jameel walked right by the Purdue booth at the college fair, because it didn’t have the word “technology” in its name and he didn’t have anyone along to help him understand what he was missing. Now he does, and that could make all the difference.
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