The girls at Brearley prep are simply flipping out! According to The New York Times, many Brearley seniors didn’t get into Yale early admissions which means they might actually have to go to Cornell, or even worse, a state flagship. Every admissions season, the media loves a good story about how tough it is to get into college. These articles feature hard-working high school seniors (usually from more advantaged families) with great test scores and grades who applied to 10 or 20 schools only to be rejected from the Ivy League. But articles like this one, about how students are “flipping out” over not being able to get a coveted spot at a prestigious university, make it seem like this is the typical student population of higher education in America—seniors in high school matriculating directly into four-year institutions. This is not reality.
Our higher education student population is much more diverse than most of us perceive. Despite this great diversity within the student population, the media often frames the discussion of higher education around sensational stories about the struggles of traditional students. This causes us to completely misperceive the very real struggles, like being able to pass remediation and enroll in the classes necessary to graduate on time, of “nontraditional” students in higher education.
To ensure fair, balanced, and accurate reporting, the media needs to commit these three truths about students in higher education to memory:
1. “Nontraditional” students actually outnumber “traditional” students. Out of 19 million students enrolled in graduate or undergraduate institutions, only 7 million students fit the “traditional” profile of a student going straight from high school to university.
2. A large proportion of students attend nonselective schools. 43 percent of undergrads attend community colleges.
3. Many college students do not fall between the ages of 17 and 24. 37 percent of students are 25 years or older. And 61 percent of Pell grant recipients are independent students, indicating they are at least 25.