News

Pressure over college admissions 'out of control'

Expert: Parents mean well, but misguided 'help' can harm students

For local parents, high school students and college counselors, news this week of a multimillion-dollar college admissions bribery scandal that involved both Palo Alto area parents and hundreds of thousands of dollars was shocking — but not wholly unexpected, they said.

Despite efforts by Palo Alto Unified and other school districts and organizations to encourage a healthier approach to the college-admissions process, many parents' desires for the best for their children has devolved into unhealthy fear, according to parents, college counselors and experts. And that fear has led to what one parent described as the "hyper approach" to doing whatever it takes to get one's child into the best college.

"There's an arms-race quality to this," said Palo Alto Unified School District Trustee Ken Dauber, himself a high school parent. "I think there's a lot of anxiety around this that clearly affects not just what parents are investing in but students at school. It's harder to focus on how do we do things at school that are valuable in terms of education when we have this other system out there waiting for the outputs of this."

Parents said they, like their children, feel a social pressure linked to college admissions. It's not news that parents, particularly well-resourced ones, turn to private tutors, test-prep services, volunteerism and other opportunities to give their children a leg up in the ever-competitive college process. Dauber suggested that many parents are motivated by legitimate fears of downward mobility — that it is becoming increasingly hard for younger generations to move up economically in the way their parents did.

That pressure drove Julie Lythcott-Haims — a Palo Alto parent, author and former Stanford University dean of freshmen — to sell both her home in San Carlos and her mother's home on the East Coast to move to Palo Alto for the public school system. As the product of an elite university, she said she wanted the same educational outcomes for her children.

"I wanted my kids at the best schools, the best high school, so they could get to the best colleges. I had a very narrow definition in my mind," she said.

It wasn't until her son's high school workload started taking a toll on his well-being that Lythcott-Haims started to "widen my blinders and see there are plenty of schools and most of them don't demand a perfect, flawless, enriched-up-the-hill childhood."

College counselors say there is little they can do to change the minds of a student or parent set on a particular kind of college, even if it's out of reach for the student.

"It's pretty clear that the college admissions process needs an overhaul," said John Raftrey, who has run a college-advising business in Palo Alto for nine years. "It's spun out of control in a lot of different vectors. There's the 'I want my kid to get a job when he gets out of college' vector. There's the parent bragging-rights vector. There's (the) peer pressure from your fellow classmates (vector)."

Nonetheless, counselors said they try to educate families on the breadth of higher-education options in the U.S.

"I think the vast majority of parents in our community always have the best interest of their students in mind and would never fathom doing anything like what has been reported," said Mai Lien Nguyen, a college adviser at Menlo-Atherton High School. "There are times we do run up against the misguided belief that 'successful' lives can only be had through these colleges, or the ill-conceived desire for status markers or bragging rights; none of these is healthy or positive.

"We counsel students and parents to find balance and fulfillment in high school, to define success for themselves and not by the name of a school, and to be open to the full range of possible college pathways," she said.

Data shows college choice does not predict success later in life — "It is what you do in college, not where you go, that matters," Paul Franz, a research associate for Stanford school-reform group Challenge Success, wrote in a reaction piece to the admissions scandal.

Raftrey, who often points his clients to the Colleges That Change Lives website, which promotes lesser-known schools and a "philosophy of a student-centered college search," said getting families interested in those non-elite schools is still a "hard sell."

"Even though the data is there, people just don't believe it," he said.

For some, like Lythcott-Haims, author of "How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success," the federal bribery case is an egregious example of overparenting — at the expense of the children involved.

"This is what's insidious about overparenting. We think we're helping our kids, but in fact we're signaling to our kid ... 'You're not capable of succeeding, so I have to help you every step of the way,'" she said. "That's incredibly damaging to a young mind."

The bribery scam has revived longstanding questions about the need to reform an admissions system that fuels narrow definitions of success and perpetuates socio-economic and racial inequities.

Lythcott-Haims said the onus is on colleges and universities to rethink a broken system. There are tangible steps they could take, she said: making SAT and ACT scores optional (which some colleges have already done), asking applicants directly whether they received any help on their essays and declining to participate in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, which many condemn for contributing to problematic perceptions of hierarchies in the higher education system.

"I think the powers that be, the leaders in college admissions, need to sit down and figure out how to construct a system that isn't gameable and simultaneously to reinject a focus on ethics into the conversation about college admissions," Lythcott-Haims said. "While they may not have created the problem, they're best positioned to solve it."

Many parents say that, amidst all the pressures, there is strong demand for a more balanced approach to the college process and parenting in general.

Michelle Higgins, the parent of a Palo Alto High School junior, said that on the same day the news of the admissions scam broke, a large audience filled Paly's Performing Arts Center to hear from the author of "The Self-Driven Child: The science and sense of giving your kids more control over their lives."

Last week, Higgins attended a panel of students who had gone through the community college system.

"When the world is telling you ... which colleges you can feel proud about and there's this hierarchy ... we know that that's not true, but I think it's really hard for families or for kids," she said. "We can try — and I think a lot of us do try — to fight back against that."

Related content:

• Listen to the March 15 episode of "Behind the Headlines," where Palo Alto college adviser John Raftrey discusses the implications of the nationwide admissions bribery scandal, now available on our YouTube channel and podcast.

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Following college-admissions indictments, feds investigate whether Stanford was lax in complying with financial-aid laws

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Almanac reporter Angela Swartz contributed to this report.

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Comments

13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2019 at 9:50 am

This is something I have been commenting on for a long time. It is a well worthwhile discussion but it is just the beginning. It should be happening all over the country, not just Palo Alto.

Let's put some force on the colleges to rethink their admissions practices and policies!

Let's give the kids their childhoods back.


39 people like this
Posted by member1
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2019 at 10:50 am

member1 is a registered user.

Let's not place the kids in CA who pay for UC's on a 5.0 scale to compete with international students with different testing and more payback with the higher tuition they pay to hold spots. Davis--average admit was 4.23 last year..

Blame the UC system, not the parents reacting.


24 people like this
Posted by white elephant
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 14, 2019 at 10:50 am

Finally, some of the corruption is elite schools are surfacing. This is the tip of the iceberg. If an African American mother who sent her children to the neighboring public school for better education was jailed when she was found out, then what is the appropriate recourse for these parents? The racism that is allowed unchecked, should also be addressed.


9 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2019 at 11:30 am

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> Let's give the kids their childhoods back.

By this, I hope you mean elementary/middle school kids who are being forced to do stuff for the sake of getting into Harvard?

If you mean 16-18 year olds, well, "childhood" is not the correct word. "Kids" gotta grow up sometime. Let's not infantilize. Unfortunately, the English language seems to have lost the word "youth" without finding a suitable replacement. Web Link


12 people like this
Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2019 at 11:38 am

Novelera is a registered user.

Regarding the efforts by Palo Alto parents to pad their kids' college applications, I regularly see postings on Next Door, by parents, trolling for volunteer opportunities. Do I think these parents actually want their kids to help others? Nah!


35 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 14, 2019 at 11:42 am

If your "experts" think according status to brand name colleges is misplaced, then why does one of them have a book and resume that touts her past position as the freshman admissions director at one of those elite institutions?  Why did she work there then?  Why doesn't Challenge Success move to SJ State then from Stanford to practice what it preaches?  

These are a subset of people who cheated; let's find ways to deter this behavior going forward.   

Some of these parents have been doing this since their kids were 5 years old in AYSO, when they gamed the system to have a winning team and stock the team with all their kid's friends, against AYSO rules.  Colleges and their admissions officers value AP courses and AP tests and standardized tests because parents are cheating in other areas and in other ways --- actually writing doing homework papers for their kids in HS, doing their homework for them, writing their college application essays, etc.   What's a college admissions officer to do to know the kid actually did the work?

Let's stop using this as an opportunity to push some people's agenda.  Let's crack down on cheating, but allow kids to excel if they choose. 


24 people like this
Posted by StanfordalumwhodidNOTcheattogetin
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 14, 2019 at 11:51 am

It's really simple. Require students to show up at designated centers to fill out an online college admissions app and write an essay on the spot. No need for hiring someone to write the essay for them. The schools would get a real sense of the students interests and abilities, versus being misled by parents and paid professionals who fill out and write essays for these kids.


25 people like this
Posted by Entitled kids=dysfunctional adults
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 14, 2019 at 11:53 am

The very wealthy (Bush, Kennedy for example) have been buying their way in for years. But today’s helicopter parents, upper middle class, seem to view their kid as a designer accessory. The kid must dress right, look right and go to the right school. God forbid they should go to Foothill followed by SJ state, not posh enough. I know San Jose State grads who have been very successful but ironically send their kids to private schools out of state, would not even consider local state schools. Pampered entitled kids turn into dysfunctional adults, thanks to their parents.


21 people like this
Posted by LC
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 14, 2019 at 12:15 pm

What did the teenagers think when they were alone with an adult helping with the answers - while their friends talked about how they sweated out the tests with other kids.?

I feel sad for those kids that were/are so under estimated that parents didn't trust them to make it on their own with hard work, ...one has to wonder how they got through the top tier college. There is a world of difference between helping and dong.... Did they get the same kind of assisstance through college (under the table so to speak) ....what a sad thought.. Hopefully this is farfetched, but I have to wonder about some of the ethical standards we are reading about in the papers

To those kids (including mine) that made it through HS, the SATS, got into college, wrote their application letters, etc - on their own....... kudos to you all. You can proudly own all your accomplishments.


17 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 14, 2019 at 12:31 pm

@Entitled kids=dysfunctional adults you are right. Just look at the White House to see how this plays out. Bigly dysfunctional.


9 people like this
Posted by Observations
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 14, 2019 at 12:43 pm

I was intrigued today reading about the Hollywood parents thinking of themseves ad “VIPs.”
We should consider those we “honor” as “VIPs” with associated entitlements (over or under the table!) and some of those we pay highly in this society like the Kardashians and the vlogging USC cheating sisters who are paid “social media influencers.”
I do not bow down to or follow on social media such low calibre persons (no matter how well coiffed or photoshopped) such as those mentioned in the student cheating scandal. I do not purchase random products/services just because a young woman sexily promotes these, though I realize sex sells.
But at what cost.
There are some high achieving honorable persons who have assisted society to a great degree, etc. who can easily walk through an airport without public notice while some complete idiots like many Hollywood or rapper “celebrities” are fawned over. The artistic talent of many of the latter is questionable, too. Promotion - even negative publicity is the name of the game.
I actually pay attention to where I spend my dollars - wish more of the public would refuse to reward these idiots.....


12 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2019 at 1:35 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

I wonder: Will elite schools audit their own past admissions to see if they can detect nefarious admissions practices? Like many, I suspect that this sort of thing has happened for many years. Perhaps a light shined on it by current administration and independent auditors might reveal whether it was as extensive as some suggest.


7 people like this
Posted by retired
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 14, 2019 at 3:22 pm

So glad to see this discussion happening more now! Not only for the corruption aspect but for the problem of the pressure on our kids and teenagers! As a retired lecturer and current college application essay counselor, I see so many parents intent on their kids getting into elite schools. First thing I do is talk to the parents and kids and ask them to read at leas the intro to Frank Bruni's book, Where You Go is Not Who You'll Be. Lots of nice facts in there about the truth - no big difference in future success when you go to any of the top 200 schools in the country. The other thing that would put me out of job but would be a great idea would be if college application essays were timed, proctored essays, NOT written by hired consultants. What I love about this job is talking to the students who feel they have nothing to say and then talking to them in depth and teasing out their special events, qualities out.. ( And yes , I do pro bono work for students from low income families.) But what makes me so mad is when someone else has clearly written part of the essay for applicants. When I taught at Stanford a student in my class was writing at about a 5th grade level. First I contacted the disability folks to see if he had a disability - no. Then I contacted the admissions office to see about his essay. They reported it was flawless and brilliant. They contacted the private school where someone had obviously written it for him, and warned that school that if this ever happened again there would be grave consequences. The kid eventually flunked out of Stanford so this did him no favors , in addition to the fact that he took a spot from a qualified kid.The essays are key, and that is where a lot of the cheating goes on.. In my opinion it is ok for kids to have someone read over these essays and make observations, but it goes way beyond that in most cases. Studies show that colleges place great weight on these essays, so this is another area that really needs to be controlled for the cheating to stop. Easy to do, hold proctored, timed essay writing periods in the high schools. Students could have the questions ahead of time to make it more fair for those students who don't do well under time pressure. Some students would still have the advantage of hired coaches, but at least those coaches could not be writing the actual essays for them! And students with lower income families could still discuss the questions with their families. And then, most importantly, we need to address the larger issue of the insane pressure on these kids to attend the top 10!! I am really heartened to see the number of college application advisors attempting to put a different spin on the process. Some parents won't listen, but I find when I pull out the starting salary charts comparing Stanford and Harvard with the other top 200 schools, they start to realize what a myth it is that you have to go to an elite to have a good life!!


31 people like this
Posted by Learning-First Family
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2019 at 5:54 pm

As a local parent who has been an unplanned independent-learning educator for my child’s high school years, I see these discussions now in a very different light.

First, when you leave the school system entirely and truly seek independence and a self-directed education, you start to realize how much of the burden of the system exists for the benefit of the system and not for learning or development of the children. You start to realize, for example, what an opportunity cost there is to all the testing and that whole — what Sir Ken Robinson calls — factory model of education.

As my child said many times after the first year of independent education: “I never realized just how dependent I had become on external direction in school.” What can children be doing with their time and lives instead of preparing all the time for tests? I have been trying to put together my child’s transcript for college and I’m being told to find a way to underplay or NOT report some of the courses and credits because its too much, it will look like we’re making it up. But my child would never have been able to do any of that in school, to have anything like that kind of broad and diverse educational experience, or to succeed to that degree, it was only possible because of offloading so much unnecessary — and in my child’s case, destructive, depressing, and unhelpful — academic overhead that existed for the system, not to help kids like that succeed.

Second, when you leave to seek an independent education, you realize that this binary choice between a student having rigor/stressful oversheduling and being high-achieving/ambitious/advanced/getting a good education is a false, harmful, and completely unnecessary choice. Students can learn and do MORE with LESS stress and “rigor” — the problem is not the colleges, it is the K-12 “Prussian model” of education (well, and that colleges can be a souped up version of that model, too). Saying that the solution is just a matter of setting sights on a different college or browbeating parents to fix what they MUST be doing wrong is like telling the 17th century harem girl she just needs to be a feminist (at least until she’s executed for it). Self-direction under the circumstances of our current schools, especially ours, is mostly a self-delusion.

Especially since in a school district like this, there will always be enough children who can excel at or even enjoy the burdensome hoop jumping aspects of this educational model, it becomes so easy to falsely and singularly equate that with intelligence and potential (and to see anyone else by implication as being less intelligent, and tell them they shouldn’t try to overextend themselves). It’s not JUST that everyone doesn’t have to go to Harvard, it’s that many, many super smart kids in our district are so ill-served by our schools that they would never be able to get in because of the record that comes from their grades-focused education, and even if they did somehow get in, being at a place like Harvard wouldn’t nearly be the best way to support their talents and abilities. (The tragedy of course is that for many of these kids, their opportunities are actually hurt, not helped, because of the narrow way of our local schools. Again, there are enough children for whom it works that it’s easy to just dismiss everyone else as somehow less able. That helps no one, not the kids who don’t learn what creativity and picking themselves up from failure look like, not the kids who think they are failures because they are creative, or their way of learning isn’t supported.)

Third, when you experience an independent, self-directed education, you begin the see a healthier way to foster independence for life, for parents to partner with older children (as they would do with other adults) and remain close even while better fostering their children’s independence. You begin to see the false choice between family closeness and children’s independence that our local schools seem to be peddling from early on as the answer to the system’s faults. The schools are literally pushing the idea onto the children and their parents that family closeness is incompatible with independence, and interpreting disconnection as a sign of independence. The problems the harem girl has to deal with are totally different when she’s not a harem girl, and they aren’t an immutable part of the gender, but when one is immersed in the culture, it’s hard to see that. I constantly see parents falling all over themselves to say how their kids don’t want to have anything to do with them to try to show they are fostering independence. It’s just tragic. Sure, the kids will probably be fine. Probably. But so many families will never be what they would have been, if they had realized they don’t have to choose between a close relationship and a good education/independent development for their child. Family closeness is a frequently cited benefit of independent schooling/homeschooling, and it’s hard to even describe to people what that means when they exist in a framework where children’s success is pitted against a good and close family relationship. Parents become this caricature BECAUSE of the system. Students rebel BECAUSE of the system. It can look very different if learning and life autonomy is supported.

The above in particular is one of the most annoying things independent educators have to deal with, people asking about how you socialize your kids (as if kids being sequestered into boxes with exact age-matched peers their entire development somehow has any precedent in human evolution — no wonder we as a society don’t know how to respect our elderly, and older women have trouble gaining any power in society). There’s a phenomenon that independent educators recognize, the invisible walls around schooled kids especially teens — exemplified by Charlie Brown’s teacher's wa wa wa wa — you can have teens and adults in the room, and it’s like they exist on a different plane, the invisible wall around the teens is palpable. I was talking to a parent the other day, with his teen standing right there, and it was as if the teen thought it was normal to act as if there was no one else there, just his dad. People think this is teen behavior, but it’s not, it’s SCHOOLED teen behavior. Independent/homeschooled kids tend to be much more comfortable across age groups, younger and older, because they don’t usually spend all their time working and learning with kids of exactly the same age. The phenomenon is frequently discussed among many homeschoolers — how gross (term I have heard used) it is when the behavior (usually temporarily) rubs off when homeschoolers are around schooled kids — and everyone knows what it means, but it’s very, very hard to explain to people who have never had the opportunity to see that it’s really not normal human behavior.

Fourth, when you leave to seek an independent education, you realize that so many of the benefits can be had IN SCHOOL, if only those in school would allow for it. We don’t have to set up a whole new school with school buildings, all we have to do is be willing to support a program of independent education. That could happen next month. And it will save money (allowing more money to go for salaries and supporting existing in-house programs). Allow homeschoolers to take a few classes at the local school. Or work with them, set up a Middle College specifically for homeschoolers. Learn from what is working in independent education, be willing to work with people (teens AND parents) who expect and understand what autonomy in learning looks like. Learn what it takes to help students in school transition to an independent education (hint: it doesn’t involve browbeating their parents or creating massive emotionally divides in families). Stop being threatened by independent education, too. The program we left for was actually in a public district, and since we left, we’ve heard it’s under attack because people immersed in the system just simply don’t trust freedom and autonomy. Children who are thriving because they found a place they could truly have a self-directed customized PUBLIC education are being attacked again. (If you don’t trust freedom and autonomy, you cannot really help children grow into it, no matter how much you browbeat their parents.)

Since we left for an independent education, we learned you don’t really have to leave to change things. But you do have to understand that so many of the choices being presented are false choices, including by the most well-meaning of sources. You don’t have to go down the gauntlet with everyone else. You don’t have to stay on the path that these people in this scandal cheated to get around, in order to drastically change a child’s trajectory for the better.

Students: the best thing about an independent education is that you can prepare for the future AND learn and live life now. School isn’t a waiting ground for high school isn’t a waiting ground for college, isn’t a waiting ground for an advanced degree, etc. Life is learning. It’s a very different view from here, and the only way to truly understand it is to come up and see. The best time is before 9th grade, because the best time to experiment with education is before the dreaded high school transcript. When enough people can see that there really are better ways for many students to succeed, THEN things will change, irrespective of what the colleges do. (Homeschoolers tend to use the community colleges much more freely and without prejudice than kids on the college prep track, even homeschoolers who go to elite schools. Homeschoolers tend to be more willing to choose colleges based on their learning goals rather than prestige.)


26 people like this
Posted by Learning-First Family
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2019 at 6:51 pm

"Require students to show up at designated centers to fill out an online college admissions app and write an essay on the spot. No need for hiring someone to write the essay for them. The schools would get a real sense of the students interests and abilities, versus being misled by parents and paid professionals who fill out and write essays for these kids.”

@StanfordalumnwhodidNOT

This is so wrong on so many levels. That kind of high-stakes high-pressure exam-writing skill may be what works best at Stanford, but it’s not how most professionals write, and it would make many kids fail who otherwise are wonderful writers.

A gifted child with dysgraphia, for example, might do really, really well on a standardized test, but bomb on that kind of exam writing. I know from experience how hard our district works at NOT recognizing or supporting the LD’s of some kids, especially gifted kids or kids who are already in the special ed pipeline for other reasons. Mine was almost paralyzed to write after PAUSD schools, despite well-meaning and (I believe) reasonably good teachers. Again, the system is not currently set up to support kids like that, it supports the kinds of kids who do well in what you envision would ferret out the cheaters — probably because Stanford sorts for those kinds of students.

As part of an independent education, my kid has produced numerous essays (not for a grade, but for the learning itself), some after long-term research and numerous revisions over time, one or two that could probably earn a master’s degree — highly creative, original theses, deep analysis and support, highly intelligent writing, months of research involving deep investigation into dozens of books in the field. The same kid would produce unintelligible, spelling and grammar error-ridden poorly organized chicken scratching on a test like that, because of a learning difference called dysgraphia (not dealt with in school, but independent education has allowed that child to work in a way that makes it as moot as it would be in the real world). I have taught my child to seek out feedback and hone, hone, hone. In school, that often isn’t allowed, because we teach kids they have to work as islands (which hurts many kids who then don’t trust the very same behavior which in the real world is called “collaboration” or “editing”). Kids work for a grade and to turn things in — how many keep working long after the semester is over, because the work is out of interest not to jump another school hoop? The same child is really only able to write by dumping everything onto lots of paper space and spending time molding it. It’s a messy and time-consuming process. Said child was not only NOT learning how to write in school, but felt like an utter failure and was learning to hate writing — precisely because of the kind of expectation you describe setting that child up for failure. Over and over again.

College *should* be an opportunity for children capable of such advanced work to be supported and thrive, not to be filtered out by the very same high-stakes and unrealistic expectations we got away from by leaving traditional high school.

And by the way, usually if the issue is extra time for tests, studies of disabled students find that if you give students without a disability extra time, they typically aren’t going to do better. For the child with learning differences, it can mean they can get the education to support their potential, especially 2e students who might be able to compensate EXCEPT when they have to churn out fully-formed essays under someone else’s thumb like monkeys for the organ grinder.

That’s why this scandal is so damaging — in our district, kids who get the accommodations they need are usually the ones who can press the issue with expensive lawyers and advocates, district people all the up way to the board do NOT NOT step in and proactively help (as the child find provision of the IDEA actually requires), and they DON’T step in to undo damage they witness, they usually just try to make the families go away. That is still the case. Now these very public cheaters are making it even harder for the kids who really need the accommodations to get them, because it casts suspicion on everyone.

My child took a creative writing course at one of the colleges, and there was a lot of workshopping. The two students with by far the most real-world marketable, creative, unusual you-would-really-buy-that work, also happened to be the two with the most difficulty with spelling, punctuation, writing (one was clearly severely dysgraphic, not my child), and first-draft polish. I cannot even imagine a scenario in which either of those two young men (dysgraphia is more common in men) would succeed in either your proposal or traditional school, and yet they had by far the most promise in their writing.

Please don’t propose things that cause such damage to the very students already being failed by our system.


14 people like this
Posted by Parent who resisted
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2019 at 10:36 pm

Unfortunately, this article, as always, relies on wuites from people who claim expertise, while relying on their own elite school credentials. This renders the article useless in the fight to stop the wrongheaded worship of these institutions.

If we learn one thing from the latest revelations, let it be that the self priclaimed elite universities are packed with ordinary students, which makes the opinions of their graduates at best syspicious.

Can the author please, for once, seek out experts who are not products of the same institutions whose disingenuous bragging is at the root of the problem?


15 people like this
Posted by Learning-First Family
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2019 at 12:43 am

@ resisted,

You make a good point. But I also don't think their opinions are INvalid because of coming from an elite university that happens to be nearby, especially Challenge Success which is doing such great work.

Perhaps instead of just asking people to put their money where their mouths are by behaving as if other institutions are equally respected, everyone should start donating as if that's true -- donate to the community colleges and the like.

But also, donate to help provide real-world ways that validate the other institutions. Olin College in Massachusetts (like project-based college) is getting huge respect, it's now really hard to get into, but the first classes to come out were taking a huge risk because it was completely new. Why don't we have opportunities like that in California? (Stanford is so rich, why doesn't it open a satellite campus in parts of California or nearby states that might want the benefits of attracting population and jobs because of it?)


17 people like this
Posted by Seriously
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 15, 2019 at 1:17 pm

The US is increasingly a class-based society, as bad as Europe or India. Here, though, the totem of aristocracy is the name of one's university. The gatekeepers inside and outside of universities are gathering huge fortunes and large amounts of power because of this, by selling and trading admissions to the rich, to politically powerful identity groups, and to the well connected.

The solution is to have blind, purely meritocratic admissions. Unfortunately, that's the one thing that no one is calling for, so we'll go round and round fighting over pieces of the pie. Schemes like this one will simply be driven further into the shadows, or further into the light under the guise of some hypocritical connections racket.


13 people like this
Posted by A College Drop-Out
a resident of another community
on Mar 15, 2019 at 1:25 pm

All colleges are diploma factories & businesses at best. When will people finally realize this? Academics is a make-believe word.

The paper certification means nothing. It's what's accomplished afterwards that matters.

Which is why I opted to drop-out of college & pursue my vocation...in game APP & my best friend left college & signed an MLB contract for $750,000.00.

Besides, except for what they lecture about, most professors are no more in tune with life than others. It's just an ego trip.

Don't get sold a bill of goods.


3 people like this
Posted by Parent Who Resisted
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 15, 2019 at 3:06 pm

Learning First Family, With apologies for my typos in the earlier comment, again, this and other publications always quote the same few people when ever there is an education related issue in the community, citing their credentials as if that would guarantee superior knowledge than any of the hundreds of people who might have something new and interesting to say.

Objectively, year after year, their remarks are often lacking in depth, and rehash the same tired ideas. The reason they are quoted is because of their 'elite' credentials. Isn't it time to ask people who something fresh and insightful to contribute? Isn't it time to stop pretending that the 'elite' credential makes a person somehow magically superior?

This absurd belief is at the root of the college arms race insanity that results in so much cheating, bribery, and child abuse.


10 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 15, 2019 at 6:55 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

The root of the problem is our crony capitalism system, fueled by 35 percent marginal tax rate that allows the oligarchy to accumulate more and more wealth. I recently heard of a suggestion to raise the marginal tax rate to 90 percent. I strongly disagree, we should raise it to 97-98 percent. We must get rid of the oligarchy, which games all systems, including college admission.


19 people like this
Posted by Learning-First Family
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2019 at 8:39 pm

@ resisted,
I can't argue with you there.

@Seriously,
Also very good points. When you think about it, this is not just about students entering college, but about how our whole society functions.

Women who have children and want to go back to work and disadvantaged by this narrow gate with all its gauntlet-like unnecessary academic overhead. Think of how different things would be if moms or older women could use validated microlearning to be ready for new careers when they are ready. Business schools now know to prioritize students with business experience, but it's next to impossible for people who experience serious chronic illnesses to become doctors, given the sheer physicality of the training and the even narrower gateway, despite studies that show you can adequately train primary care GP's online. (People who have a problem to solve themselves are very often the innovators.). Think of how much better our lives would be if there were problem-solving areas of the profession that could be trained for without forcing people to train in the same gauntlet as the surgeons and ER docs. Micro-learning, online learning, dissertation-only PhD's (through online programs). Disabled people with many illnesses like MS are practically locked out because of the waxing and waning of symptoms — what could they do if micro learning and other alternative learning was more available and accepted? With all the many changes of the last 20 years, it's just no longer necessary to educate people the same way we did 100 years ago, with its attendant limitations, and validating very different learning could change things overnight. If you want to change things when change is hard, you have to make a path (see the book "Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard).

Investments in community colleges would go a long way. They are places of great and diverse learning opportunities and academic freedom. They're pretty constrained because of budget limitations, for example, they have trouble offering the courses they want because they must have some large limit of enrollees. That makes it hard to offer things on a continual basis, and that hurts enrollment overall and individual student learning plans. Support changes at the state level and better funding so they can be more flexible. Foothill has this great maker space now -- but they could use a real space for it to expand. (Donations.). They could use donations to create extensions of those opportunities, like a patent development lab for students making prototypes in the maker space. Make opportunities available for people to get around the gates and do what they want to do with their lives.


11 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 15, 2019 at 10:51 pm

Research shows that in a free economy people who are either smarter or harder working will rise to the top of their organizations. Fortunately, the top 2% in any profession from plumbers to bakers to candle stick makers do very well.

Web Link

Of course, it can take years to make it and their are certainly cases of corruption recently. However, the most competent and determined usually work their way to the top and it is fair.

In the 1930s, the German Army developed a classification scheme using a 2x2 matrix for the clever, the industrious, the lazy, and the stupid. Depending on which cell they fit into, they were selected and assigned to different positions.

What they found were that the clever but lazy people made the best leaders and the industrious but stupid people where considered dangerous and the worst of the bunch. They were considered very destructive to the organization and were not to be given responsibility because they created constant problems that others had to clean up.

[Portion removed.]



2 people like this
Posted by @Sanctimonious Poster
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 15, 2019 at 10:54 pm

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 15, 2019 at 11:43 pm

[Post removed.]


11 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 17, 2019 at 3:41 pm

This is a supply-and-demand problem. Millennials and Gen Z are among the largest demographic groups in history. Add the growing international access to desirable American higher-education into a system that hasn't not grown markedly in 50 years, this is what you get.

The tide has risen to the point that the backup schools of our youth are now "highly selective."

Instead of democratizing access to elite institutions, they've continued to go up market, reaping the benefits of high donations and tuition increases that outpace inflation. (there's also easy money by the government being injected into the tuition system with student loans, but that's a topic for another time).

But really, the employers are as much to blame as anyone else. Companies here like Google and Facebook are just the latest in a line of successful organizations (think Wall Street before) that use elite school diplomas as filtering mechanisms for hiring and recruiting.


Like this comment
Posted by @Me2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2019 at 5:10 pm

Me2 said: "Companies here like Google and Facebook are just the latest in a line of successful organizations (think Wall Street before) that use elite school diplomas as filtering mechanisms for hiring and recruiting"

That's not true at all.
Google uses referrals, references, experience, multiple interviews and on the spot testing. The School a candidate attended is not a pre-selector or "filter" at all.
Same for Facebook.


19 people like this
Posted by Walk Away
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2019 at 6:57 pm

The most successful people I know didn't go to any of these schools. Ambition and work ethic are usually a better indicator of how you will do in life. You are paying for access to a network that's all it really comes down to, many students don't truely understand how to utilize it anyway so a waste of time and money.
SJSU most underated college in the nation, best ROI of any school if you choose the right major. The engineering college places more graduates into the valley's big 5 than any other school in the nation. God forbid you might make friends with some actually normal people from working class families, you might actually see what diversity really looks like. Just saying, if you are not shackled by status none of this ridiculousness really matters. How you get there doesn't really matter as long as you get there.
I graduated from Palo Alto High School, went on to my undergrad out of state at a non designer school and got a second degree at an even more non designer school, I make great money, was able to buy a house in 2016 in a beautiful historic neighborhood in Santa Clara Valley and bite my tounge every time I have to hang out in Palo Alto with my Parents friends. The bubble is blinding and what those inside the bubble don't seem to understand is that no one likes them, honestly feels sorry for them. Just walk away people, you will be so happy you did. None of the status matters, especially if you are in jail. I used to defend my Palo Alto roots, and they run deep, 4 generations deep, but at this point there is nothing left in that town worth defending. What a great community it once was, but it has been corrupted by extreme wealth, greed, and the endless pursuit of status. I would not dare raise my children in the cesspool that Palo Alto has become. Looks can be decieving. Sorry newbies it ain't what it used to be, when a towns soul dies it is over. Join us in the southland if you are tired of all the status hungry D-Bags in Palo Alto, same weather just as many beautiful neighborhoods and no one gives a @#$& what you do for a living, actually no one asks, it's just normal. This statement does not apply to Cupertino, that town is fast getting worse than Palo Alto, sorry Cupertino.


8 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 17, 2019 at 7:01 pm

“That's not true at all.
Google uses referrals, references, experience, multiple interviews and on the spot testing. The School a candidate attended is not a pre-selector or "filter" at all.
Same for Facebook.”

You must be new here. They famously focused on these type of grads for a long time In fact, Marissa Mayer was very proud of that. She brought it to Yahoo from Google.

Web Link

I see this attitude across tech.



2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 17, 2019 at 7:04 pm

“ Join us in the southland if you are tired of all the status hungry D-Bags in Palo Alto, same weather just as many beautiful neighborhoods and no one gives a @#$& what you do for a living, actually no one asks, it's just normal.”

Right No D-bags in Hollywood. Right.


4 people like this
Posted by Walk Away
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2019 at 7:23 pm

Me Too,
Southland as in the Valley, Santa Clara Valley, San Jose/Santa Clara/Campell Southland, you know where the normal rich people of Silicon Valley live, most Palo Altans don't bother to come down except to go to the airport, I was certainly guilty of that. So glad I got over it. I would much rather hang out with the eastsiders at an Earthquakes game and get some real culture, or chop it up at a sharks game or god forbid get some actual real Mexican food that isn't served on linens (Reposado) than sit through another Stanford Football game ever again. Not a Stanford hater for the record, the university is my employer.
You are right about Hollywoodland though, maybe the greatest cesspool of them all, but that's part of the deal down there, it's the brand to be superficial and lust after material pursuits. The thing that gets me about Palo Alto anymore is the culture will have you believe they are above this and in reality it's all the same BS.


7 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 18, 2019 at 7:01 am

So funny. Having lived in LA in the past, I'm used to calling the LA basin the Southland. Never heard of the South Bay called the "southland" before. Or "East SJ" called the eastsiders. Sounds very New York.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2019 at 9:33 am

Posted by Walk Away, a resident of Crescent Park:

>> What a great community it once was, but it has been corrupted by extreme wealth, greed, and the endless pursuit of status. I would not dare raise my children in the cesspool that Palo Alto has become. Looks can be decieving. Sorry newbies it ain't what it used to be, when a towns soul dies it is over.

I'm not giving up. "Sorry."

Your points about education are well-taken. Most students are not on the PhD track. Most students, the ones who are not future PhD candidates, will benefit more from high-quality teaching than from rubbing shoulders with TAs who are rubbing shoulders with famous professors. University rankings based on research quality shouldn't matter to non-research students. Learning should. The folk song comes to mind, "Where have all the flowers gone." Oh, when will they ever learn? I'm not waiting for it.


14 people like this
Posted by Learning-First Family
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2019 at 9:50 am

@ Walk Away,
Have you read the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaakson? (Don't know if I spelled that right.) Jobs made it chic for the billionaires to come to Palo Alto and live amongst the ordinary folk here. They wanted to escape the affluenza of living with other billionaires, but it wasn't a reciprocal benefit. Especially in Palo Alto where the billionaires have no interest in preserving civic integrity they way they have in Los Altos. There are lots of studies about all the ills caused by extreme wealth disparity. The problems aren't usually as much from absolute wealth but from disparity. Greed, that you'll find in various forms everywhere. "For the love of money is the root of all evil" as the Good Book says.

I do think the South part of town still has many pockets that resemble what Jobs was seeking, despite the City's pressure on the neighborhoods. North side of town is a bigger bubble (that famously looks down on the South side, mostly, even as the North side benefits from more public amenities supported by pretty similar value per square foot tax base across town, and that have become less accessible to the South with overdevelopment).

Contrary to how it sounds, I am not a billionaire snob (certainly nothing like they would be a snob about me). I am disappointed in the lack of civic-mindedness in the ones Palo Alto got, and the lack of awareness about their negative impact on everyone else (much less interest in mitigating it).

I do think support for independent learning in our community could help be a relief valve on the pressure. When every student isn't being molded to be another same-size or just-slightly-superior widget in exact-peer-matched cohorts, there is less tendency to compare and sort, and more tendency to look at individuals.


16 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 18, 2019 at 11:49 am

How about let's quit educating everyone else's kids in the world and giving them
the keys to joyride this corrupt vehicle we call America into the ditch?

When looked at over time and globally education ( the non-corrupt kind ) pays
society back *in* *multiples* . We lose those multiples when we empower those
who care nothing for what this country stands for. Opposition in the US to thing
kind of corruption and dilution is what is wrongly being labelled "nationalism" or
"racism" by the very people who benefit from it.

When we educate students from other countries, those countries that oppose us in
the world and do not subscribe to Western values and human rights *we* *lose*
- *SUBSTANTIALLY* ... the that is "we", *Americans* , not the we that are the
cheating, unpatriotic elites who call themselves globalists and view the rest of us
as disposable pawns for profit.

Here a distinction needs to be drawn between globalists and "tolerants", that
is globalists as the people who want the world to settle into some kind of manageable
average of corruption versus those "Tolerants" who want to accept people of differing
backgrounds as long as they support Western or American tolerant values.

It's the value system, stupid!

The forces of chaos, terrorism, authoritarianism, and elitism win when we abandon
our own people. They not only win, but they infiltrate and beat us at our own game
we have wrongly called *capitalism* . Capitalism today is really just a facade, a rally
cry, just like these college admissions are a corrupting lie.

When we have relationships, educationally, economically and socially with countries
like Saudi Arabia, we help them sustain, reproduce and grow their brand of corruption
and intolerance in the world, and it comes back to infect our people, out system and
our culture.

To keep those foreign students here we have to lose our egalitarian culture to bribe
them to stay here and work for us in this country. And in relationship with the corrupt
countries and domestic cliques here who compete amongst themselves and do not
even think about the people of the world, the stall or reverse the trend of democracy
and social justice.

Surely there must still be someone at Stanford that is objective, honest, and conversant
enough with the data to tease out these trends statistically. We lose because elites in
our own country are now selling out our education and culture today as they did our jobs
and technology starting 40 years ago.


5 people like this
Posted by There will always be ways to cheat
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 20, 2019 at 11:51 am

@retired thanks for sharing your story on the Stanford student who cheated. Some of the paid college advisers do write parts or all of the essays. Some kids also use parts of previous students essays. Some kids misrepresent themselves in terms fo being first generation, racial ethnicity (e.g. mixed only listing more favorable race) or representing yourself as low income although not really. At the end of the day they hurt the student most since your goal should not be to be in the bottom 25% of the school you get into but rather the top 25% in part because its such a great fit for your personality and passion that you will thrive once there. Unfortunately, proctored timed essay could be gamed as well. You can still have a college advisor write it for you and then memorize it. You can also use fake id to have someone else impersonate you and take the test for you (this can be done for SATs or GREs). Lastly, I think some excellent students do not do well under time pressure and should not be overly pressured.


Like this comment
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 21, 2019 at 10:40 am

Annette is a registered user.

@Walk Away - thank you for what you have written. It smacks of honesty.


9 people like this
Posted by James Thurber
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 21, 2019 at 10:45 am

James Thurber is a registered user.

The entire system reeks of ultra-stress. It's time for EVERYONE to back off.

It's also time for California to return its University System to the State of California - lower tuition (or eliminate tuition entirely for California residents) and quit focusing the admission departments on high paying foreign and out-of-state students.

I never, ever told my children that I expected them to be THE BEST and, on their own, they have been successful beyond evaluation. Parents should SET THE EXAMPLE and quit telling their children what they're expected to do / be / et al.


3 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Apr 4, 2019 at 3:12 pm

pearl is a registered user.

Two excellent books addressing this topic:

The Price of Admission - How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way Into Elite Colleges-And Who Gets Left Outside The Gates, by Daniel Golden

Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be - An Antidote To The College Admissions Mania, by Frank Bruni


6 people like this
Posted by Learning-First Family
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2019 at 9:22 am

@pearl,
All this is well and good, but for students who are already there, the struggle involved in putting learning first, even at community college, is very real. When you choose an independent education, you have to constantly face this choice between learning and feeding the system enough so that eventually you aren't locked out of the educational opportunities at the college level.

It's all very well and good to say that students should prioritize learning, etc, but students who do this, really seek to do this, find that their choices in colleges where they can continue can be very very limited. Despite all the talk from “innovators”, mostly they’re not putting their money where there mouths are or funding opportunities that would allow people who are already there to continue on that path. People complain about the system but show almost no commitment to really changing it. Showing that it’s possible brings people in, but those opportunities, if they are funded well enough like Olin College, are so rare, they quickly become swamped.

We have this discussion all the time in independent learning circles. Did we all take these risks to get an independent education focused on learning, focused on doing, focused on self-direction, only to funnel them back into the same system we left in order to do this? When we decided to do this, I wondered how I was going to ensure my child was going to be "good enough" per the system to get into college. Gradually I've started to wonder how any college is going to be good enough for my child to continue the kind of education most of them give lip service to wanting or even offering but don't even really understand. While my child is looking at the programs, there is also this concern about what kind of students get admitted — again, it’s all well and good for colleges to tell students they don’t have to be a certain way, but where are the high-quality alternatives for gifted, avid learners who reject the unnecessary gauntlet?

We have even talked about how grad school is probably the closest thing to what kids like this would want, but where are the undergraduate programs that resemble this? (Name one in California.) Where are the affordable state college options that resemble this?

College seems to mostly be a souped up version of high school, and even of the ones that say they aren't, most admit the kinds of kids who are so immersed in (and successful at/seeking to continue) the current educational model, in educational environments geared for that, we're hard pressed to see how it could be a positive community of learning for self-directed students. When you leave for a self-directed education, you see that the transition isn’t automatic or instantaneous, and takes a deliberate effort. (See the film Beyond Measure for an inkling of this.)

This piece from the Chicago Tribune What Changed This Teacher’s Mind About Homeschooling sort of gets to the issue:
Web Link
"If every student in my classroom were a radio, my home-schooled student was the one whose switch was turned on.”

But that’s because they chose the learning path, but colleges mostly don’t offer a way for them to capitalize on that in college. Where are the choices to find communities of learning where that is mostly true? Students who make those choices that are being pushed on all these discussions mostly still find those choices don’t exist at the college level. The choice becomes that they must put aside learning and growing in order to feed the system so they don’t become locked out.


4 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2019 at 9:50 am

pearl is a registered user.

@Learning-First Family:

These books address these very issues, in depth.



7 people like this
Posted by Learning-First Family
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2019 at 9:52 am

Sorry, this was poorly worded, I should restate, it’s an important point.

We have this discussion all the time in independent learning circles. Did we (parents and students) all take these risks to get an independent education focused on learning, focused on doing, focused on self-direction, only for circumstances (need to shoehorn back into the system to have a record that allows for obtaining college-level opportunities, and the desperate lack of college choices with real opportunities for learning-focused students) to funnel them back into the same system we all left in order to do this?

What do Da Vinci, Einstein, and Jobs have in common? They could never have been who they were if they had gone to Stanford (and probably couldn’t have gotten in anyway). But this does not mean they could have succeeded without access to rich learning environments and collaborators.

When we decided to do this (my student asked for three years straight), I wondered how I was going to ensure my child was going to be "good enough" per the system to get into college, because we don’t have the resources or the circumstances to provide the educational resources that would have best met learning needs while ignoring the gauntlet entirely.

Gradually we all started to wonder how any college is going to be good enough for for continuing the kind of education most of the colleges give lip service to wanting or even offering but don't even really understand. (I think therein lies the problem related to people in industry’s complaints that so many students right out of college aren’t capable, they’re good at getting A’s but so putting their efforts into that didn’t prepare them well for the modern work world.)

My child keeps articulating a desire for an educational path that most of the colleges claim to aspire to but don’t really offer. My student is also concerned about what kind of students get admitted to high-quality programs — gifted students yearn for the ability to be in communities of learning with other bright, motivated students. But the brightest students are usually so much a part of the system, and the alternatives just don’t really seem to exist. It’s like that play Rhinoceros by Ionesco. Again, it’s all well and good for colleges to tell students they don’t have to be a certain way, but where are the high-quality alternatives for gifted, avid learners who reject the unnecessary gauntlet?


7 people like this
Posted by Learning-First Family
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2019 at 10:03 am

@pearl,
I don't need another analysis of the problem, I need to know where are the colleges for these kinds of learners? (Especially state schools or schools in the West with tuition exchanges.) I've read all the books, Colleges that change lives, etc. Very few of the colleges mentioned in that book are in the West, by the way. And one of the problems for self-directed learners is that the reality is often not equal to the hype -- students who have the chops to get into the schools often don't handle the newfound freedom in the kind of constructive way that make it the most positive learning -- or social -- environment for many existing self-directed learners.

People keep talking talking writing writing about these problems, but for those who are actually DOING and LIVING the answers, the choices at the college level are still very, very thin.


Like this comment
Posted by member1
a resident of another community
on Apr 11, 2019 at 6:44 pm

member1 is a registered user.

Yes they are out of control yet the school makes it harder for kids in almost every way and then acts like kids are stealing from them when they want full credit for classes they took.


2 people like this
Posted by Just Another Brick In The Wall
a resident of another community
on Apr 11, 2019 at 7:46 pm

I dropped out of high school after my junior year & hit the road. Fortunately I had a skill & a passion. You have probably heard me and/or seen me if you are into classic rock music.

I've read a lot of books & so in certain ways I am self-educated. Traveling throughout the United States along with several trips to the European continent has also expanded my horizons.

If given the choice a second time around, I would probably have done things no differently (sans a couple of short-sided marriages on my part).

I'm still out there doing my thing & perhaps we'll cross paths at the Mountain Winery this summer.

Until then & as I've told my two kids, just live your own life as there will always be doctors & lawyers & businessmen to fill the bill.


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