Rankings, Polarization and the Fall of the CMC Middle Class

Recently, many CMC students and alumni have demanded that the administration abandon its quest for rankings and appreciate CMC and its traditions for what they are. Despite this decree, we must acknowledge that rankings do play an important role in the resources and opportunities made available to a college and its graduates, and so complete ignorance of rankings-related pressures is unrealistic. Unfortunately, the antipodal pressures of tradition and aspiration may force the administration to try to get the best of both worlds – an effort which will ultimately have devastating consequences to the unity of the student body.

By focusing too hard on the extremes, in a graceless counterbalancing maneuver, the administration risks running the “average CMCer” into extinction.

There are no distinct classes of students at CMC. In a way, everyone is average. This is one of the school's greatest strengths: We can all relate to one another. Most everyone is similar in academic caliber, social engagement and disposition toward embracing life. Whether you started your day with a refreshing beer shower or awkward walk of shame after a one night stand with Poppa, you can have dinner with any other CMCer and have something to talk about.

CMC is a tight-knit family of peers who respect each other's differences because we have so much in common. From the brawniest bros to the haughtiest hipsters, from the soberest Starkies to tipsiest TNCers, the term “typical CMCer” applies to all of us.

We cannot take this for granted. If the administration is not careful about how it tweaks its admissions policies, we are headed for cultural armageddon and the destruction of CMC's middle, and only, class.

Rankings are based exclusively on hard factors, and the game is getting increasingly competitive: College selectivity is at an all-time high, and institutions are constantly modifying their admissions pools to gain an edge. Over the long term, CMC admissions will be forced to reconcile our soft-factor spirit with our hard-factor aspirations.When adding to the CMC family each year, the admissions office looks at a number of “hard factors” (test scores, GPA, etc.) as well as a number of unquantifiable “soft factors” (athletics, leadership, overall Stag Factor, etc.). Traditionally, admitted students have a good balance of both hard and soft factors, perhaps leaning slightly more on one or the other.

To accomplish these ends, the administration will initially simply reduce the weight it puts on soft factors; leadership experience will play a diminished role in admissions, coaches will be told they can lobby for fewer recruits and the minimum acceptable test score will be inched upward, disqualifying more soft-factor reliant applicants.

But there is only so far we can go down this road. Eventually, there will come a point where the administration realizes it is straying too far from its commitment to a well-rounded student body. Without a critical mass of soft-factor students, CMC will begin to lose its identity and the unique vibrancy of campus life will fade as more CMCers forgo ski-beach day and the Green Beach slip ‘n’ slide in favor of a Starbucks Doubleshot and a Honnold carrel.

Nobody wants this, and I don’t think it will be allowed to happen. Despite the recent characterization of the administration as a rankings-hungry zealot willing to sell our soul for a spot in the U.S. News and World Report Top 10, I do not think this will be our fate. I have faith that there is an understanding, even within the administration, that without a healthy level of exceptional athletes, brotastic campus organizers and TNC theme loyalists, CMC will lose that special something that distinguishes us from our East-coast wannabe neighbors to the South.

So what happens when we cannot cut the soft factors any further without risking significant losses in culture and identity?

The obvious mathematical solution (that still sates our rankings craving) is to balance the necessity of soft-factor admissions by overstocking on their hard-factor counterparts. Instead of well-rounded students, with decent hard AND soft factors, the administration will turn to a policy of admitting students with either exceptional hard OR soft factors. Since there will be an effective quota of reserved slots for soft-factor applicants (whatever the administration deems to be a “critical mass”), the only way to maintain a national ranking based on hard-factor averages will be to up the admissions standards for everyone else. Soft-factor applicants will still get in on athletics, leadership or other intangibles, and the burden of upholding test-score and GPA averages will fall on those whose applications who rely more heavily on academics.

Put simply, we will be forced to compensate for our commitment to leadership by cutting out the middle of the spectrum. It will take an impeccable GPA and test scores to get in on hard-factors alone.

The consequences of such a policy will be disastrous. The student body will become increasingly dichotomized. The sobriety of Stark will spread quickly to Auen and Fawcett as masses of SAT-perfect overachievers are let in to pay the rankings debt of CMC tradition. The fluid spectrum of interests and abilities that characterizes present-day CMC will fracture as it becomes easier to tell who is a rankings baby and who is on “leadership welfare.” With less in common, the two communities will become more insular; the bunker design of North Quad will finally be put to use as bros barricade themselves inside, fervently defending their right to blast music at 2:00am on a weeknight against an onslaught of RAs summoned by the enemy to enforce a more “study friendly” environment.  Mid Quad lounges will be set aflame as the two sides fight a turf war over space to party or study. John Faranda will weep on parents field.

Hyperbole aside, I have a legitimate fear that this fate, should it befall us, will go overlooked by the administration. So long as there are enough students in each group, activities and opportunities tailored to each will remain sufficiently popular to give the illusion of cohesion. TNC will go on, CMS will continue to dominate the SCIAC, and the number crunchers at Princeton Review and U.S. News and World will be none the wiser. CMC will have accomplished the impossible, preserving both our institutional identity and academic acclaim. On campus, however, it will be abundantly clear that the “typical CMCer” is gone and the achievement of a well-rounded student body has come at the cost of the well-rounded student.