I recently attended a conference of admissions professionals and high school guidance counselors in St. Louis, MO. Besides the sweeping view of Busch Stadium from my hotel window and literally the best BBQ lunch I have ever eaten, one thing stood out above all other experiences and memories from that event. That is to say, I discovered that some colleges and universities will go a LONG way down some shady paths in order to make themselves look really good to the “powers-that-be” who spit out those annual college rankings that feed the status frenzy of our college-bound population nationwide.
Most shocking to me was the notion that any institution (or,as the case may be, many of them) would go so far as to aggressively encourage applications from students they already know will not be competitive for admission, basking in the after-effects of a higher selectivity rating and what they hope to be an increasingly attractive option for the students they desperately wish to attract to their campus (i.e. those that seem to think their best college choice is automatically the one that turns away the most students at the door). This practice holds the hopes and dreams of highly impressionable and potentially fragile young men and women in tragically low regard, while morphing what are designed to be student-serving organizations into status-serving PR machines.
Now I sit in my office, reflecting on how grateful I am to work at a university that values the student’s experience and well-being above all else, including the almighty ranking system. Integrity at APU is more than merely a word in a mission statement. We honestly believe that God has a special plan for each life put on this earth, and that His direction in our students’ lives (including those that haven’t arrived yet) is pre-eminent among all the influences we can hope to expose them to through their educational journey. Therefore, it is counter-productive for us to spend an inordinate amount of time and effort trying to “work the system” in order to look better for the world of academia, especially when it may involve deceiving young and hopeful hearts and minds.
Now, it is important to note that this is coming from a guy who is privileged to work at the highest ranked evangelical Christian institution in the National University category in U.S. News and World Report. I say that only to ensure that my little diatribe is not misinterpreted as petty jealousy or some form of educational “short man’s syndrome”. I am extremely proud of the academic rigor and opportunity that our APU students experience during their college journey. However, I am also extremely thankful that the vast majority of our students were encouraged during their college search to look beyond the four walls of the classroom and the statistics in the magazines, and consider how they would be shaped as individuals and young adults during what is potentially the most transformational season in their lives.
If you are reading this and caught in the throes of indecision about your college choices and what matters most to you (and your parents), I offer one simple piece of advice. Rely on the wisdom of the One who cares nothing about how selective or highly ranked your college of choice will be, but cares passionately about you, your future, and who you will become during and after your college journey. You deserve the best college for you, and God deserves your full attention as He leads you!