Double underlines

Downwards, graduates!

If you work in academia like me, you have been knowing for several months what the New York Times announced on April 4: this has been an exceptionally good year for college admissions. The last two years had already seen growing numbers of applicants and increasing test scores but many universities had, I believe, made an attempt to accommodate the children of the baby-boomers. A third year of overcrowding the dorms simply wasn't possible for most, and many talented kids are getting "bumped down" to safety schools they had never imagined they would need. Administrators rejoice: lower admission rates and higher SATs will look good in the US News rankings. But the sentence that really caught my attention was in parenthesis towards the bottom of the article: "The statistics project that the number of high school graduates will peak in 2008."

There has been little discussion of what will come after that. Parents with shattered dreams of Ivy League have been busy convincing themselves that their talented children will be as happy at lesser known colleges, and administrators with an eye on the annual rankings have been busy admiring their school's newly found selectivity. The fact that the number of graduates is set to decrease, though, does not bode well for the classes of 2007 and 2008. That is because employers do pay attention to the university a student graduates from - companies do not have the resources to recruit on every single campus and prefer interviewing candidates at schools they have previously hired from. Even if 2012 witnesses an increase in job openings large enough to accommodate all the college graduates, the peak in 2008 suggests that companies will not have the time to change their recruiting habits before things get back to normal. So the student who would have been admitted to Ivy League schools in a heartbeat three years ago might well drag her bad luck with her a little while longer. Unless...

I looked up the projected high school graduation rates up until 2018 and, dear future graduates of the class of 2008, let me assure you that things aren't as bleak for you as that sentence buried in the NYT seemed to indicate. Because the peak the article was referring to is not a peak at all, but rather a plateau until 2010, followed by a tiny movement downward in 2011-2012. And then, just when your little brother who makes so much fun of you now is getting ready to graduate, the numbers spike up faster than a roller-coaster at Disney Land - the grand total is expected to cross the 3-million threshold in 2016. In other words: universities, high school students, parents and recruiters are in this for the long run, and everyone will have to adjust. Colleges that used to play second-fiddle to the big leagues will get their share of the limelight thanks to the outstanding high school seniors falling in their lap, courtesy of the capacity constraints at the top places. Everything else being equal, I'd suspect the brilliant kids who were denied admission at all the Ivy Leagues to be more motivated than ever to shine and prove the admission committees wrong. Reputations are about to be made anew; exciting times await us...


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