Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Undergrad Racket

I think I grew up in the first generation that assumed I would be going to college, and the question was "where," not "if." (Of course, no one bothered to ask me "what," which would have been helpful!) Seth Godin points out that the generation after me took that "where" question to the next level, and created a nice marketing hole that many unsuspecting undergrads are having a hard time climbing out of -- the marketing of the Top 50 universities, as compared with the Top 500.

Seth points out that the elitism built up over these Top 50 schools makes for a fabulous marketing case study, but at the expense of students. And that's where he stops. While I love the marketing aspect of what has happened, I can't help but be concerned for high schoolers who are so pressured to get into a Top 50 school, when really the Top 500 might even serve them better, at least in the self-esteem arena. After all, working in American Business is schooling enough on kow-towing to superiors. College should be about learning, not superiority.

This gets me thinking about how intensely I've been pushing my fifth-grader to work harder so he can go to the science magnet middle school here in town. The last thing I want him focusing on is doing the "meaningless tasks" just to get the reputation. The whole point of the exercise is to help him fulfill what he has expressed his dreams to be -- become a mad scientist. He is slated to go to an excellent middle school based on where we live now; do I push to send him to the school that's "known" for its science program, or let him flourish in a "regular" (or, as Godin puts it, "good enough") science program?

I'd hate to see the kind of pressure put on students at the high school level -- the next step in the marketing food chain.

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