Are Applicants Avoiding Politicized Colleges?

By April 12, 2005

An article by Steven Roy Goodman in Sunday’s Washington Post (one-time free registration required) suggests that college applicants are becoming dissatisfied with the increasingly politicized atmosphere on today’s campuses. Goodman, who is a college admissions consultant, says that an increasing number of students and families he deals with are turning away from Ivy League schools or other institutions that have the reputation of being highly partisan. My favorite paragraph from Goodman’s article:

I’m not arguing that universities should teach only engineering, business and computer science. Liberal arts courses, taught in the context of free speech, have always helped open young minds to the excitement of the marketplace of ideas and to the value of even unpopular opinions. But that tradition seems to have been stood on its head. There is a world of difference between challenging students to think more broadly and trying to shoehorn them into a more narrow spectrum of thought, which many parents feel is happening.

If the dissatisfaction Goodman is seeing is a sign of a larger trend, it could have a serious impact on the academy. A decrease in enrollment is universally seen as a bad sign for colleges and can seriously risk their bottom line. Granted, I would expect that most top schools are far from having the problem of not enough applicants. But every highly qualified applicant who turns down one school he or she sees as politicized for another that he or she sees as less so has an effect, and in the aggregate we could see some measurable declines in the credentials of those who enroll at the “politicized” schools. Time will tell, but it’s certainly interesting to contemplate. If it does happen, though, it will certainly get administrators’ attention.

Thanks to Stanley Kurtz of National Review Online, whose article yesterday brought Goodman’s article to my attention.