Don’t Punish the Admissions Scandal Kids… Educate Them

By Rodney Johnson

The admissions scandal is starting to fade; I saw only three articles on it in the past couple of days. Now, according to The New York Times, universities are starting to consider if they should de-enroll (not expel) students who matriculated through fraud, whether the students were aware of it or not.

As the paper put it, these students “face a reckoning as universities seek to determine whether they were innocent victims who should keep working toward their degrees or unethical schemers worthy of discipline.”

Ouch. That’ll make peer pressure tough in their dorms and classes…

I’ve got a better question…

Fraud should be eliminated, and if a kid played a part, kick them out. But for the rest of the involved students, shouldn’t we ask if they’ve been doing their work?

The entire situation speaks to a bigger problem. We’re so caught up in “fair” that we downplay “competent.”

With unemployment sitting at or below 4%, this might not sound like much of a problem. If you want a job, you can get a job, almost regardless of your attitude and aptitude.

But businesses aren’t charities. They don’t troll for more donations to keep the doors open.

When the economic cycle rolls over in the next year or so, companies will be paring their payrolls to match falling revenue. Less productive, and more troublesome, employees will be the first ones shown the door. And when your kids exit through that door, they can find themselves at your door, which can be a problem.

I speak with my kids every week, including my son in his mid-20s in Colorado. The current brouhaha reminds me of when he was going through the college application process in 2011, between his junior and senior year of high school. It was a pretty dark time for the U.S. economy, and the world was trying to hide in academia. He’d done well at a college prep high school, and had solid extracurricular activities, so I thought he’d be okay when applying to colleges.

Then he threw me a curve ball…

That summer he went to an honors early-college program at the University of Alabama. They lived in dorms, went to college classes, and earned a couple of credits. I asked why he wanted to go, and he told me, “I get to live away from home for five weeks.”

It was good enough for both of us.

He enjoyed the program, earned As, and when he got home, he applied to Alabama. With his SAT scores he was admitted and received a substantial academic scholarship, which brought the cost down to in-state tuition.

I told him that was fine, but wondered why he didn’t want to apply to a reach school.

He replied, “Reach for what?”

I’ve always considered writing a book with that title. In one short response he encapsulated a perverse world where admission to an elite school is considered an objective stamp of approval for the child and the parents. Both earn a merit badge that shows the world their demonstrable success.

Make no mistake, it can matter, at least at first…

When we see elite college names on resumes, we notice. When parents throw down college names like Pokémon cards at neighborhood barbeques, it catches people’s attention. But parents are fighting yesterday’s war, where we as employers and business owners have to play by today’s rules.

A recent Morning Consult/New York Times poll captures the problem.

The results show that 76% of parents with young adults aged 18 to 28 years would remind them of a deadline for homework or a test. 74%, made appointments for them, like doctor’s visits.

A smaller but still-significant number were even more involved. 16% helped their kids write job applications, and 11% said they would call their child’s employer if they had a problem at work.

Remember, these are young adults

Unfortunately, we can’t rely on an educational pedigree to guarantee that a newly-minted graduate is ready to work. Sure, they have the piece of paper, but can they do the job without their parents? Did they learn enough to contribute? And importantly, can they handle the rough and tumble real world where they must confront ideas they don’t like, and then work through logic and reason to deal with them, instead of worrying about hurt feelings?

As a parent who’s very interested in my kids being on someone else’s payroll, I pay attention to this. I want my kids to contribute to the bottom line, be first to volunteer for extra work, and help their employer weather the tough times ahead.

When I talk to them and hear their tales of woe from the office, I commiserate… and then I remind them that businesses are not democracies, and aren’t the moral arbiters of society.

Fair is a nice concept, but equal under the law is our best shot as a nation.

If they can establish themselves as great employees and workers now, perhaps they will be economic survivors in the years to come, which will help them with their personal circumstances, and allow me to focus on my eventual retirement.

My son had a fabulous time at Alabama. He has no student loan debt, and has been off my payroll for some time. Clemson notwithstanding, Roll Tide!

Rodney

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