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Overloaded high schools bring NCAA upsets

One of my editors sent me an intriguing email this morning, after a weekend of basketball surprises:

"The two largest high school classes in history have applied to college the last two years. But there are only so many spots. So very academically qualified kids are having to choose the next tier down; Harvard kids going to Tufts, Tufts kids to Dickinson, Dickinson kids to UMBC etc. It stands to reason that's also happening in athletics. It's sheer demographics. There are only so many spots on Duke's basketball team, Ohio States's football team etc. So athletes who might have squeezed on to those teams are instead starting for the next tier down. And those teams are winning. Like Cornell for example. Or St. Mary's."

I have made the same argument when explaining why, academically, the top 300 colleges in the country are just about as good as Princeton, because all of those Ivy rejects, which the data show to often be just as good as those students admitted, had to go somewhere.

Are we wrong?

By Jay Mathews  | March 22, 2010; 3:34 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  increasing college quality, overloaded high schools explain basketball upsets  
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I personally do not like multiple choice questions because they do not test the subject knowledge. It is easier to grade them. I was educated in India and in my days there was no multiple choice test, only comprehensive answers tests. I believe they should be banned in high schools. That leaving aside, the principal should have handled diffrently. As long as the teacher is using multiple choice type of test, he is right what he is doing. The Principal should have said," for multiple choice type tests what you are doing is fine. But I will like you to use tests with out multiple choice. Tests which require comprhensive answers ". I am 78 years old and retired recently after teaching Math for over 30 years to youths who were supposedly in 9th and 10 grade but did not have the skills of a 2nd grader. I never,never,gave multiple choice tests. And my students kept the skills I taught them for years and not forget them just after one week. I required all the steps in arriving at the nswer and not just mere answer. It may surprise you to know that what I grew up with, I got 9 out of 10 for a question even though the answer was wrong. Because all the steps were correct. Unfortunately I made a simple error at one step and that error made the answer wrong. In a multiple choice the student only guesses the answer. I am told that from the law of statistics you will get half answers correct when you do not know a BEANS about the subject.

Posted by: shrikrishan | March 22, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Most of the top schools could fill their classes multiple times over with similarly qualified applicants. Is there *REALLY* a significant difference between somebody ranked #2 with a 1580 M+V SAT and somebody ranked #5 with a 1550? Probably not.

The fairest thing to do IMHO would be for colleges to set some reasonable minimum qualification and then hold a lottery from among all those applicants who meet the cutoff.

Posted by: CrimsonWife | March 22, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

The comments to the Newsweek article are so much more refreshing to read than the ones about college-going that are deposited on ed blogs. The general populace seems to know that college is being oversold to kids. They can see that college is not going to, and shouldn't, happen for everyone, as opposed to the deluded people operating the innards of school districts these days who've been brainwashed and bullied by Kati Haycock and her ilk.

And I'm not even getting into how lower income kids are being forced into college loan debt for life. The average college student is now more than $20,000 in debt, a record level. And the average salary for a new graduate is about $30,000 -- IF they can find a job. And since the corporations are still going full force at convincing people to buy iPhones and crap they don't need, the need for more credit keeps increasing, along with more indebtedness, and more and more people at the mercy of Finance who, by the way, seems to be on very good terms with this administration (which also seems to believe that every single kid should be going to college).

Maybe it's time for people to take a look at Marty Nemko.

Posted by: pondoora | March 22, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

You're out of your mind. There is a big difference between students at the University of Florida and the University of South Florida (#50 vs. tier 3/4 in U.S. News).

The quality of the colleges is probaby not highly correlated with the quality of the students though. So I'm not sure why you think Princeton is a great college.

Posted by: steve10c | March 23, 2010 1:35 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, you're both wrong.

You are each supposing the additional population would not push out the extremes. That is, you are assuming that because today's 98% percentile is as good as last decade's 99% percentile that that means that today's 98% percentile is as good as today's 99% percentile.

Yes, there are more schools getting kids as good as the top schools used to. But the top schools are getting even better kids than they used it.

As for sports? Well, I would offer a few alternative theories.

* With more kids leaving school earlier for the pros, schools who recruit the best kids actually have a certain disadvantage. Would you rather have the THE best player? Or would you rather have a group of excellent players who've played together for years? That can even out.

* I think that there is more coaching talent out there, on all levels. Long term population growth is WAY ahead of growth in the number of schools. So, more schools have compentent coaches. This is different than the growth in student popultion argument because coaches do not move on the way kids do. You are talking about blips in students growth that waver, but additional coaches accumulate over time. (That is, there is no running out of coaching eligability.)

I wouldn't bet a lot of money on either explantion that I've offered. But simply statistics and an understanding of how normal distributions work disproves yours.

Posted by: ceolaf3 | March 23, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Although I can appreciate the post, I am disappointed to see that Mathews believe that we as students are attending schools such as UMBC, because we cannot get into Dickinson or there are not enough spots so we are forced to go to UMBC. In my experiences, students are not being rejected from schools such as Dickinson, but are choosing to attend schools like UMBC, even with acceptances to big name schools. You receive a top-notch education at UMBC, have some of the best professors in that nation, with fantastic and unique experiences, and you can afford the tuition. Then, as we go onto graduate schools at Harvard, Hopkins, or Stanford, we can actually have stable finances and be as prepared as our peers who went to an Ivy for undergrad. UMBC is not the third or fourth choice for students, it is simply the smart choice.

Posted by: yasmin11 | March 24, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

This quick piece attempts to identify an intriguing phenomena: why are highly qualified students choosing different colleges? Initially, people have stated that people are choosing cheaper colleges simply because of the cost savings, and sacrificing quality in consequence. As a student at UMBC, I would challenge that idea. The advancement of public institutions and more affordable colleges has been occurring for a couple of decades. I see this firsthand at UMBC as a student. Young people like me are just beginning to challenge the stereotypes ingrained our communities, largely perpetuated by our parents from their years in college, and exploring alternative options. And, what people are finding, much like I did four years ago, is that a public university like UMBC can provide a comparable, if not better, education that includes research opportunities, relevant job experience, and excellent undergraduate teaching. And they find this all often at half the cost. The economy is helping society move beyond prejudgments and decades-old reputations and truly examine colleges and universities for the experiences that they offer.

Posted by: jmichael14 | March 24, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Although common knowledge, it is easy to forget that a great undergraduate education revolves around the preparation and opportunities afforded to students. As college students have different aims and aspirations post-graduation, different schools will obviously suit different students more appropriately.

With this in mind, it becomes clear that there are a great number of schools, beyond just the Ivys, that produce leaders in all disciplines as different students will benefit from different undergraduate experiences. As high school students continue to realize this, many rank non-Ivy schools high on their list. Personally, when I was deciding where I wanted to go college, I did my best to put aside perceived prestige and went to the school I discovered to best prepare me for a future in science through academic preparation and research opportunities: UMBC.

Being born and raised in California, it was a difficult to make the move, but after learning of the huge success of programs such as Meyerhoff at UMBC, the decision became easy. Now as I am deciding between Harvard and Hopkins for MD/PhD (as well as my peers choosing which top-notch graduate programs/job opportunities to accept), I can confidently say that there are non-Ivy schools that are capable of producing the very best.

In contrast to the quoted text, I do not think all academically-qualified students decide what school to attend by being forced to “choose the next tier down”, but rather, many decide by attending schools that will best provide the preparation and opportunities needed for future success. These schools likely attract the best not because they are “back-up” options to Ivys, but because they may simply offer something that other, possibly more “prestigious” colleges may not.

Posted by: bkinde1 | March 24, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

I remember anxiously awaiting my UMBC Scholar Selection Day my senior year of high school. As I sat preparing the night before, I had two out of three acceptance letters sitting on my desk – one to an Ivy League and the other to a private university. While some students may have accepted the offers already – I was still waiting for one more acceptance letter.

I believe there a myth exists about the admissions process from the student perspective: “All students want to go to university’s with widely recognized names and accolades.” While I certainly looked for a university with recognition for its teaching and programs, I also looked for a university where I knew I would have access to high quality resources – from professors to mentors to internships – as an undergraduate student.

To some, it may have seemed odd for a student to be waiting for an acceptance from UMBC over an Ivy League. But for me, the search for the perfect undergraduate institution was simple: I did not want to settle. I wanted to have graduate-level experiences as an undergraduate. Reflecting on my past four years as a scholar at UMBC, I know I had just that – and not because I was rejected from other schools, rather because UMBC was THE choice for me.

The result? Internships every semester, invaluable mentors, no debt, and acceptance letters to top-tier graduate programs, including Harvard, Berkeley, Columbia, and University of Chicago.

Posted by: glwyatt | March 26, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

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