Are Colleges Too Obsessed With Smartness?

TalkingEDUSmall.jpgAlexander Astin, professor emeritus at the University of California at Los Angles sat down with Chronicle of Higher Education writer, Eric Hoover to answer questions about his newest book, Are You Smart Enough? How Colleges’ Obsession with Smartness Shortchanges Students.

In what many view as a controversial perspective, Astin’s argument is that the winnowing process college admissions uses to screen perspective students is tied too tightly to test scores or “conventional metrics.” The result is a “favored status” for the so called smartest students that deny, “even the average students…equal opportunities.”  

Astin, who is the founding director of UCLA’s Higher Education Institute, suggests an alternative approach, one that would shift the focus from “acquiring” the smartest students as defined by, “very narrow measures of standardized tests and grades,” in favor of promoting and enhancing other qualities such as “originality, entrepreneurship, and leadership” among others.

Astin explores the notion of smartness, how it’s quantified and why its value in academia sustains the reputations of our leading colleges and universities. This bias in favor of smartness works, Astin tell us, “to the detriment of everybody else - the average student, the underprepared student.” By expanding the definition of smartness beyond SAT and ACT scores, “a practice that prevents our system from realizing its potential to benefit society,” to include qualitative aspects of an applicant, we would better serve the student population and the society at large. Or, as  Astin puts it, "If colleges were instead to be judged on what they added to each student’s talents and capacities, then applicants at every level of academic preparation might be equally valued.”

To read the complete interview click here.

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