Column: Measuring success the right way

By Tyler Friederich

During my senior year in high school, I applied to the University of Illinois and got rejected. To make a long story short, I attended community college and transferred into the College of Business in 2005. Even though I was undeterred and confident in my abilities as a student, I couldn’t help but feel resentment toward the University.

Our school has a notorious reputation for its emphasis on numbers when determining which students are qualified for admission. High school rank and ACT scores are two factors highly considered in getting accepted.

But the process just does not make sense, and here’s why. While using ACT scores as a model for future student success in college is logical because all of the students take the same exam, the same method doesn’t apply with high school rank.

The quality of the high school from which a student graduates has to be taken into account. Does it make sense to compare high school percentile ranks between students from different schools when the quality of the schools differs? The answer is a simple no. For example, should a company hire a University of Illinois graduate from the College of Business with a 3.5 GPA or a graduate from Skidmore College with a 3.7 GPA, considering all of the other factors are equal? Well, applying the method used at this University, the company should hire the Skidmore graduate.

A study conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago and published in the Journal of College Admission indicated that a modified high school percentile rank served as a much better indicator for success at college. The modified rank takes into account the individual student’s rank at his or her high school and the quality of the high school. The quality of the high school is determined by a number of factors, including the average ACT score among students, the number of students attending and graduating from college, the qualification of the teachers, and the number of AP courses offered.

When researchers compared the modified high school rank of the students at UIC versus their ACT score and their regular high school percentile rank, the former proved to be a significantly better predictor of success in college. According to the UIUC Web site, the admissions requirements for incoming freshmen include high school coursework requirements, ACT score, and a cumulative high school percentile ranking. It does not include, however, any kind of modified high school percentile rank. This is simply unacceptable.

I graduated from a high school that perennially ranks among the top high schools in the nation. The average ACT score among students was over 29, and its SAT average score was over 1300. Yet I was rejected, and for the life of me I still don’t understand how students who came from very poor schools got picked over me. I do not blame the students who come from poor schools; some students can’t change the school that they attend, and it is unfair for these students to be punished for that. But that is a discussion for another time.

Yet the fact of the matter remains that more qualified students are getting rejected every year, and there is a simple solution outlined above to the problem. Even though the Admissions Department declared that it did consider quality of the high school in response to my inquiry, it does not use a modified student ranking system. Yes, this system might actually involve some work and research by the Admissions Department. But isn’t it worth it?