The University of British Columbia recently announced that starting in the 2012-2013 academic year admission to the institution would no longer be dependent exclusively on grades. All applicants will be required to complete a supplementary questionnaire about their extracurricular activities and life experiences outside of the classroom.
The reasoning behind this decision is that the leaders of tomorrow (and source of future alumni donations) need to have interpersonal skills, not just book smarts, in order to succeed. Because we all know that, once you graduate, being able to network is far more important than knowing stuff.
As a closeted academic who still dreams of going back to school to do a PhD the way other people dream about early retirement, my initial reaction to this decision was one of total horror.
During my postgrad days I worked as a teaching assistant for an undergraduate marketing class. With every assignment I graded, I became more and more concerned about the lack of basic writing skills among the student body. I encountered so many spelling mistakes and grammatical errors that I began to question how some students had even managed to pass a high school English course. With this in mind, the last thing we need is for universities to begin experimenting with lowering their admission standards in the name of well-roundedness.
On the other hand, a culture of grade-chasing overachievers doesn’t allow for the type of creative minds that we need in academia, business, the arts, medicine, law and so on. Perhaps the move to a more holistic set of admission requirements isn’t about “dumbing down” post-secondary education, but about encouraging a student population that is more intellectually, socially and emotionally diverse. Then again, I’m not sure when being “smart” and being “sociable, physically active, compassionate, etc.” became mutually exclusive.
I don’t believe we should judge students on how well they can recite textbooks verbatim and memorize formulas. We should look at university as a place for breeding critical thinking and intellectual curiosity. Not only that, they are places for personal growth, blossoming independence and cultivating all those basic life skills you didn’t figure out back when your parents were doing your laundry and cooking your meals.
That said, universities aren’t grownup summer camps and they shouldn’t be treated as such. More than anything, those four years are about higher education, and if you don’t have the marks to get there how are you going to get the marks to stay there?