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The Absence of Asterisks | Confessions of a Community College Dean

She mentioned before that The Girl became the favorite in her friend group for college search tips; I sourced from Intel.

Another question that made me short came from a friend of hers who wants to attend Brookdale next year. He told TG that he had failed the entry test, so he was worried he wouldn’t get in. I made it clear that there is no entry test. There is a placement test, but the worst that can happen is that you may have to attend an extra class to catch up; We have a 100 percent acceptance rate for people with high school diplomas. I was surprised and promised to pass it along.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned NJ Stars – I don’t remember the context – and TG asked me about it. It is a government program through which high school seniors who graduate in the top fifteen percent of their class can receive free lessons at a local community college. TG will be eligible for this if you apply to Brookdale; You haven’t heard of it before. She asked her to mention it to her friends.

None of this information should be confidential. But for whatever reason, a group of 17-year-olds with college graduate parents didn’t know them. Several members of the group plan to attend Brookdale next year, so it’s not a matter of lack of interest or inappropriateness. Somehow, the good info didn’t arrive.

I was reminded of this when reading IHE’s article on how white and Asian students gain advantages in the admissions process to many colleges. The article isn’t really about conscious bias among admissions professionals; It is about social networks through which children in certain neighborhoods – such as children in a TG group of friends – can access information that children in other neighborhoods cannot. This information can make a difference. A boyfriend who thought he had failed the entrance exam could decide that college was not for him; I bet there are kids in other neighborhoods who do just that. But he had (accidental) access to information that could negate the negative message. Others do not.

It’s hard to know how to get messages like this out in ways that potential students will hear.

Email and postal mail are great, but based on how much TG gets, I can attest to a lot of getting lost in the shuffle. There is just so much. If the literal spam filter doesn’t catch it, the actual spam filter for the exhausted reader will. If they don’t already know how to look for it, they will likely end up being ignored.

In my opinion, this may have been part of what was behind the phenomenal success of the Free Community College Program at Community College Spartanburg. He pronounced the word “free” very clearly, with a minimum of asterisks. The sheer simplicity of the message cuts through the noise and has led to a marked increase in enrollment at a time when most community colleges are in decline.

Simplicity is hard to sell in politics circles. There is always a temptation to add asterisks and qualifiers to prevent an “undeserving” person from receiving a benefit. The phrase “means testing” is being sold as a financially wise way to avoid waste. But it’s also a way to discourage those who should really benefit, just by making everything more complicated. It also makes programs politically weak, as they tend to exclude most voters.

Cosmic works wonders. At TG High School this year, all breakfast and lunch are free. It is beautifully simple. Any student who wants breakfast or lunch can have it. (TG mentioned that the chicken sandwiches are especially good.) There’s no paperwork to fill out, no tax information to check, and no stain. Food is there for anyone who wants it. That message arrived loud and clear. The lack of asterisks makes a big difference.

Open admission and free education are great things. They should not be secrets. But asterisks and qualifications, no matter how well-intentioned, quickly get them off the grounds of “Wow!” Stack to the “next” heap, it will never be noticed again. We need to drop the asterisks. There is a lot at stake.

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