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From the Desk of the Superintendent...

OCTOBER 2019 DISTRICT DISPATCH Does the brand name of the college you attend actually matter? Recent research on the question suggests that, for most students, it does not. Researchers from Challenge Success, a research and advocacy group founded at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, conducted an extensive review of academic literature on the subject. They found that a school’s selectivity (as typically measured by a student’s ACT or SAT score, high school GPA, high school class rank, and the school’s acceptance rate) is not a reliable predictor of learning outcomes. As common sense would suggest, students who study hard at college are the ones who end up learning the most, regardless of whether they attend an Ivy League school or a local community college. It turns out that what students do at college is much more important than where they go to college. Students who benefit the most from college are those who are the most engaged in academic life and their campus communities, taking full advantage of the college’s opportunities and resources. Studies conducted in recent years by Gallup show a strong connection between certain forms of engagement in college and future job satisfaction and adult well-being. In particular, researchers found six key college experiences that correlated with how fulfilled employees feel at work and whether they thrive in life after college. Those six key college experiences are as follows: (1) taking a course with a professor who makes learning exciting; (2) working with professors who care about students personally; (3) finding a mentor who encourages students to pursue personal goals; (4) working on a project across several semesters; (5) participating in an internship that applies classroom learning; and (6) being active in extracurricular activities. Given the research on what matters in college, the best advice for choosing the right one would seem to be finding a place where the student will be engaged, in class and out, by all that the college has to offer. The good news is that engaging experiences of this sort can happen in a wide variety of colleges, regardless of selectivity, size, or location. Would such research have mattered to the parents involved in the college admissions scandal that has unfolded over the past several months? Probably not according to Dr. Denise Pope, co-founder of Challenge Success and a senior lecturer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education. In an essay entitled “A Fit Over Rankings: Why College Engagement Matters More than Selectivity,” Dr. Pope notes: “In a society that is extremely focused on achievement, credentials, and status, it is not surprising that some parents are willing to sacrifice just about anything, including their integrity, to get their child into a top-ranked school. Parents should play an important role in the college search process, but should keep the ultimate purpose of college in mind and let the student lead the way.”