Column: Striving for prestige

A few weeks ago I attended a ceremony held in the GW Office of Undergraduate Admissions during which the 20,000th application for the Class of 2008 was opened. While I cannot deny the smile that crept across my face as University President Steven Joel Trachtenberg opened the envelope, I now reflect on and consider what that admissions letter could mean. With growing application numbers, University officials are at a cross-road; they must decide whether our school is to follow the path of prestige or the path of financial wealth.

On one path lies one of the largest freshman classes GW has ever seen. Probably more important to University officials, strewn down this path lay little bundles of money, each containing an attractive sum of $43,000, care of every extra student GW could take in. While officials would have more capital to play with, the current student body would carry the burden. Classrooms would continue to be crowded, student-to-teacher ratios would likely remain as they are, and the various branches of the GW bureaucracy, already notorious for being overburdened and full of red tape, would remain slow and ineffective.

Down the other path is a freshman class similar in size to the class of 2007. It is the path less traveled in recent University history; it rejects money in hopes of increasing prestige, an area where GW has room to easily improve. The Princeton Review ranks GW’s Admissions Selectivity Rating in the 91st percentile; according to U.S. News & World Report, GW ranks 51st overall. Using ninth-grade math and a few simple cause-and-effect exercises, one can understand how to improve in both areas. If more students are applying than ever before, and the University accepts only as many as it did last year, it would create a lower ratio of students admitted to students applying. A lower ratio makes for a higher selectivity ranking, and a higher selectivity ranking makes for better overall position. It could potentially be enough of a boost to place GW among America’s top 50 universities.

The first course of action – taking on a larger class – is one that seems to deny the current GW student body the benefits to be reaped of a larger budget. Any major changes to the state of the University are likely to take years to implement. The latter path creates benefits for not only incoming freshmen but also students graduating this May. By increasing the prestige that a GW diploma carries, graduates could expect to have more of an edge on real-world competition in less than a year’s time.

It should also be noted that higher selectivity would not only reflect in Admissions Selectivity rankings, but also it would be seen in higher SAT scores, higher grade point averages and, in general, a more intelligent incoming class. Across the board, statistics would be boosted, and in a few years graduates would be the smartest ones to ever leave the streets of Foggy Bottom, once again increasing the esteem that the name of the George Washington University carries.

So are University officials content with GW’s reputation to the point that they don’t think there are benefits in making our school a little harder to get into? Has the University reached a plateau that they are so comfortable with that they refuse to attempt to climb higher into the ranks of America’s best schools? Are they arrogant enough to think they’re already the best? Or is it that they’re just so feckless that they don’t want to risk money for prestige? I would hope not.

I, for one, think that an important lesson college students should learn is to reach higher no matter what the odds are against them and no matter how high they’ve already climbed. Our University officials should – and, given this opportunity, I hope they will – lead by example and show that they will try their hardest to claw and scratch their way to a better position on the list of America’s best universities.

The writer, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

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