I found Zak Sather’s article on the cons of a decreasing acceptance rate to have misdirected rage and a misunderstanding of on whose shoulder these problems should be most properly laid. It seems to me that many students on campus want the education Carleton provides without the selectivity that enables such a high-quality education.
In considering how Carleton handles the application process, we need to consider its goals. Carleton is trying to build a national profile, something that is a virtuous cycle of sorts: A better national reputation gets Carleton better students, better professors, more awards and fellowships for students and more donor money. To increase a national profile, Carleton needs to improve its rankings which sadly are controlled partially by its admission rate. Is that Carleton’s fault? No. They get to play in the same sandbox and follow the same rules as the other institutions in this country. Expecting Carleton to try to build a profile to increase its quality of education without following the established rules of the game seems destined for failure.
A decreasing acceptance rate is based on two factors: a surge in applications and not much change to the number of spaces on campus. The Class of 2025 was larger than average to make up for the smaller Class of 2024. Because the administration is admitting a class size that is closer to “normal” amidst an increase of applicants, there will naturally be a decline in the acceptance rate. Housing isn’t built overnight. If you want an increased acceptance rate, you’ll need more space to house those people.
There’s an issue at play here that isn’t Carleton’s problem alone — those who stand out most in college applications are those who can afford private tutors, counselors to help apply for college and/or interesting extracurriculars. Carleton boasts that they consider merit before aid. If we look at merit as the sole qualification of an applicant’s acceptance to the college, then we can’t use information about which students have financial legs up on the competition to afford experiences that boost applications. However, if we do add financial considerations into the formula for acceptance, we run the risk of bias towards those who need less of a financial aid award.
It’s obvious that Carleton isn’t concocting some scheme to make more money by admitting as many rich kids as possible, but rather that Carleton competes in an unequal system.Carleton has too many applicants, and it accepts the best students, who have become the best because of unequal high school educations based on economic class.
Life is fundamentally unequal. It’s not just the circumstance of secondary school that impacts someone’s college outlook, but the circumstances of their birth and family and their access to learning throughout their upbringing. Wealth, especially generational wealth, enables people to have better lives for their children, who gain access to the opportunities that prepare them for a rigorous college education like the one offered at Carleton. Do we expect Carleton’s admissions program to fix generations of inequity with the snap of a finger? If we start admitting students who did not have resources to prepare them for the intensity of college, how do we make sure they are ready for the rigorousness of courses here with the admittedly thin safety net?
You’ve got a problem with how Carleton admits students? Fine. But don’t think that it’s just Carleton’s cross to bear.