Who is the Rasputin of the world of elite college admissions? Lloyd Thacker.

Even before Lloyd Thacker quit his job as a counselor in 2004, he had become something of a legend in the world of college admissions. His talks at meetings of deans and the rank and file of college admissions drew packed houses — and standing ovations — for his assaults on standardized testing, admissions consultants for students, enrollment consultants for colleges, early decision hysteria and just about every other trend in college admissions.

Admissions officers bought his book, cheered Thacker on, and donated to his new nonprofit group, but they quietly doubted he’d have much impact. He’ll run out of money, they predicted. He’ll never get any presidents to back him. He’s absolutely right about the issues, but the odds are stacked against him.

All of the sudden, however, there are signs that Thacker’s quest to reform college admissions just might have legs.

More background here.

No manifesto emerged. But the man behind a meeting last week to consider bold changes in competitive college admissions said Monday that there was wide support for identifying ways to reform the system.

Lloyd Thacker founded the Education Conservancy two years ago out of the belief that the admissions system is out of control and that obsessions over rankings, money, prestige and testing are hurting students. While Thacker almost immediately attracted fans in the admissions world, last week’s meeting marked a shift in his reform movement as many of the participants were presidents of elite liberal arts colleges.

Thacker will be a key figure in the debate on college admissions going forward. The meeting referred to in the article included Morty and there are quotes from former economics professor Mike McPherson.

Michael McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation and former president of Macalester College, says he always believed that Thacker’s “concerns were very real ones,” but that he had a “skeptical reaction” initially on whether Thacker could bring about change in the “competitive world” of admissions.

Now, McPherson says he thinks that Thacker has traction in part because the problems have become so bad. “There really is a kind of pathological situation, with students from good suburban high schools and prep schools and the admissions operations at top academic institutions where they are combining to make each other crazy,” he says. Even if the worst problem in admissions is “the failure of so many poor kids to go to college at all,” there is a sense that the hysteria at the top end is bad and diverting attention and needs to change.

Perhaps. All that I know for sure is the elite college admissions is much fairer now then it was 20 years ago, when places like Williams and Harvard colluded on financial aid offers via the Overlap Group and saddled thousands of poor students with excessive debts. Competition can work wonders.

By the way, with regard to the antitrust issue, how do you think Justice department lawyers will like this language?

Growing concern about the college admission environment calls for
immediate leadership among college presidents. If a group of
presidents were united by the prospect of improving the present
system, what might be the outcome and impact? Our meeting is
being planned to explore this opportunity and to formulate a
strategy for effecting meaningful and lasting change.

If a group of supermarkets or automakers or any-other-business-but-colleges “were united by the prospect of improving the present system, what might be the outcome and impact?” Well, they might be able to collusively raise prices, for one thing. Just saying!

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