Who would have thought late May would be a time of college admissions madness?
Stories from two coasts raised the ire, eyebrows, and I-can't-believe-its of counselors, parents and students everywhere, as news about college costs and college tests sent members of the high school Class of 2013 running into the summer sun, hoping to find shelter from the brighter heat of what promises to be another interesting year in college admissions.
The first news came when College Board announced a 2012 summer testing date for the SAT. For the first time ever, students would have ample time to focus on the test without the distractions of regular school -- provided, of course, they enrolled in the three week summer program at Amherst College, the one and only place where the summer test will be offered.
If you're afraid of where this is going, don't worry -- it's already there. The cost of the program is $4,500.
In response to concerns that College Board is engaging in elitist practices, a statement defended the action, saying security measures have to be closely monitored before "millions" of students had the chance to take the test.
Fair enough -- but this leads to three questions:
• Wouldn't it make sense to pilot the summer test date at a school that serves as a testing center for the rest of the year, since they already have the security kinks worked out?
• If the test scores are different in the summer administration of the test, how can you tell if that's due to the time of year the test was offered, the impact of the camp, or both?
• What exactly makes a summer test site inherently less secure than a school-year test site? Mosquitos?
It's often wise to begin change slowly, but piloting this long-requested test date at a few public high schools and one or two Upward Bound summer programs would have gone a long way to make this effort seem less privileged and more representative of those who take the test any other season.
The second news came from the chancellor of the storied University of California system, who admitted the educational quality of the UC system is not quite what it used to be. Citing skyrocketing costs and higher enrollments, UC and its students have had to do more with less, including the laying off of graduate assistants, a reduction in the number of classes offered, and class sizes that swell above 500.
This isn't news to many college counselors, who have had students come back from UC campuses complaining they will need well more than four years just to get the classes they need for a degree -- and at $54,000 a year, the five-year plan isn't exactly pocket change to most families.
If passed this fall, a new tax would raise significant revenue for the UC system. Then again, with a presidential election on the horizon, voter response to a tax hike is likely to be even more vociferous than usual, even if the increase is in the best interest of their colleges, their students, and their property values.
Things have come a long way from the days when the SAT was just something students did one Saturday morning, and UC colleges were tuition free to all California residents. Let's hope this first move doesn't make summer testing the New Coke of college admissions, and the second move doesn't foretell the end of a college system that was once the envy of the world. Both are good ideas that have hit a rough patch; smoothing them out is something students deserve.