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Prestige...unmasked, Part II

A year ago, I wrote a post in reaction to the new test-optional admissions era. Thankfully, though my 2022 grads are all happy, 2022 admissions tells me that this point needs to be made--and questioned--even more strongly.

Learning the definition of “prestige" on Jeopardy! really clicked for me as an independent college consultant:

From the original Latin praestrigae juggler’s tricks...derivative...of praestringere “to blunt (sight or mind), literally, to tie up so as to constrict. >French: deceits, delusions, juggler’s tricks, 1650-60

When I visit campuses, I enjoy seeing new halls of science (bonus points for planetariums), small classrooms that spark great discussions, and living/learning dorms that house individual tutoring and even career centers on the first floor. These educational pluses serve students--should they choose to use them--directly.

Colleges also seduce families with gyms with climbing walls, lazy rivers, tanning salons, and outdoor pools. All are designed to conjure the mood of an upscale resort on a campus. Most of all, the name of a college is its most seductive attribute. But a name's power grows as acceptance rates plummet and certain schools gain popularity. Does a lower acceptance rate mean those colleges offer better outcomes than they did five years earlier or is it simply the mask of prestige?

What role do amenities and names play in student success? Do they truly enhance the value of four+ years spent at a college? Families and the media focus on how few are admitted to top universities, but colleges fight hard and smart. They follow the demographics, knowing that the number of students, especially those who can afford full tuition, is declining. Colleges play the prestige card, but we play a role in opening ourselves to the illusion.

Do we really believe there a spot on campus for every qualified applicant to a hyper-selective college? When we choose to deny logic by expecting admission to be "fair," we buy into the delusion.

Where does the conjuring truly originate--with the colleges or within us? I've posted many times about the flawed methodology of the USNWR college rankings in this blog and on social media, yet we allow them to work their false magic on us. Can we honestly state what creates real transformation on college campuses?

Our students are real, prestige is not. They transform themselves and their institutions, creating what we equate with prestige (knowledge, reputation, achievement) when they engage on their campuses. Some of them may not be ready to actualize or define their version of it until they are older, in graduate school or the work world. There is no magic, but there is always promise. And belief in that promise, what students will actualize beyond the juggler's tricks the colleges sell or what we may tell ourselves, is what captivates me every time I walk onto a campus. Best of all, students make it happen all the time at many, many colleges.


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