Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course on Getting His Kid into College
A father rides out his son’s college admissions process.
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But it also bore a dark side: Rankings mean big bucks to colleges, leading administrators to lie and fudge data – such as “massaging” SAT averages, for instance, by choosing to leave out verbal scores of nonnative English speakers.Skip to next paragraph
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And then there’s the all-consuming SAT. Here Ferguson shines: He takes us from the gleaming offices of the highly paid College Board execs to the test’s humbler origins as a multiple-choice test used by the Army in World War I. Though intended to expand admission beyond the privileged white boys that earlier tests had favored, the SAT seems to have come full circle. No matter how many “Julios” and “Matsukos” are inserted to rid the SAT of bias, scores still favor the wealthy. As one activist puts it, the SAT is good only for measuring “the size of the student’s house.”
(If you can get your kid labeled ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, he/she will get extra time to finish, virtually guaranteeing a higher score, with colleges none the wiser.)
Perhaps the least satisfying part of Ferguson’s book is his examination into why college costs have skyrocketed. We readers want an answer, but – not for lack of trying – Ferguson doesn’t have one. Or perhaps we want to believe it’s more than that given by Ohio University’s economics professor Richard Vedder: Colleges keep raising tuition “because they can ... there’s nothing stopping them.”
Nor are there incentives to keep costs down, as colleges have to “buy off” professors (high salaries), alums (good football teams), students (light work loads, good food, great facilities), and legislators and trustees (get good ranking from US News, admit their kids if they apply). Of every $1 spent at public colleges, only 26 cents goes to the classroom. The average debt load of college graduates weighs in at a cool $22,000. What about those students on the upper end of that burden – dragging around $100,000 in debt and perhaps still jobless? Says Vedder, “If you look at higher education as an investment, there’s a lot of disappointed investors out there.”
The book concludes with the funniest section, watching Ferguson’s son anguish over the college application essay. Bookstore shelves are stuffed with advice on writing this “confessional” monster. (Like Ferguson, I purchased an assortment of these books for my son. Like Ferguson’s son, mine refused to so much as crack one open. They still collect dust in his now-empty bedroom.) Woe to those students who have never suffered a tragedy to write about, or who would prefer to keep their inmost thoughts private.
In the end Ferguson follows his son to “BSU” – a fictitious acronym for the state college where the boy matriculates one sunny autumn. I imagine Ferguson driving home, slipping into his BSU T-shirt (the way I wear the one from my son’s new U) and thanking his lucky stars that his son made it and is going to do just fine.
Elizabeth A. Brown’s son is enjoying freshman year at Hipster U in California, where he was the only guy in his dorm who knew how to do laundry.