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Making Education Available to Everyone Means Making Admissions Easy

In a New York Times op-ed, Jessica Grose suggests that the life-or-death struggle to get admitted to “elite” colleges is more hype than reality.

“Application inflation is most acute at the nation’s brand-name and top-ranked public and private colleges,” she notes, adding that such colleges often “game their applicants” and use “opaque decision making” to appear to be essential gatekeepers to economic success. 

Yet in fact, “More and more parents’ eyes have been opened to the absurdity of a system that convinces us it’s worth going into significant debt for top-tier college degrees that can wind up having a questionable return on investment.” 

This kind of admissions shell game doesn’t serve students. Rather than help direct students to a college that will support their goals, complicated admissions processes end up keeping students who need a good education from getting one.  In fact, the whole idea that college is a “meritocracy” is counterproductive to the goals of education: we don’t want “the best” students to get the education they need, we want every student to get the education they need. 

As Tufts University sociologist Natasha Warikoo, who studies college admissions, told The Atlantic: “We have to stop acting like you deserve it and you don’t deserve it. It’s not about who deserves it. There are so many more amazing 18-year-olds in our country—deserving, hardworking, ambitious, smart, whatever superlative you want to use—than there is space for them at Harvard, at UNC, at any given school.”

And that doesn’t even take non-traditional students into account, like adults going to college for job training or to start a new chapter in their lives.

That’s why at Calbright we’ve made our admissions process match our mission. We want to help as many adult Californians who need skills-based training to advance their career as we can. That’s why we accept every adult Californian with a high school degree (or equivalent) who applies. That’s it. Nobody needs to take any tests or write any essays. We’re open to every Californian who thinks that what we offer will help their goals.

It’s just one of the barriers to accessibility we’ve eliminated: Calbright is a free community college, so the cost of classes never keeps anyone from getting an education here. Calbright is online, so that people can engage in their program from anywhere in California, including in communities that don’t have a local community college. Calbright is flexibly paced, so that people can organize their education around their lives, rather than making their lives fit their class schedule. Our students take classes any time they want, from first thing in the morning to late at night and any point in-between. 

There’s a pernicious way in which “elite” institutions see education as less valuable the more it’s shared. The California Community Colleges system disagrees, and we’re proud to be part of it. Elite rankings don’t represent the diversity of higher education, or serve the best interests of the people who take classes. Every Californians is welcome here, and we make it as easy for people to get in and get the skills they need as possible. 

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