Thursday, September 19, 2013

NACAC Toronto - Day 1!

Thanks to the generous support of the PTA, I am currently in Toronto, Ontario to attend the National NACAC Conference – an annual gathering of high school counselors, admissions representatives, and various others who work within the world of post secondary education.

I started my day with a morning trip to the St. George campus of University of Toronto, the largest university in Canada. It is only my second time on a Canadian university campus, so it was exciting to get to walk around, especially at a time of year when so many students were on campus. Our tour was standing outside of the building where the largest lecture hall is located (it seats 1700! But don’t worry, I think the tour guide said the the largest class tops out at a measly 1200 or so) and let me tell you, we could tell when class let out. So many students bustling about! There are five schools within U of T, Art & Science, Architecture, Engineering, Kineseology, and Music. In addition to these divisions, the university is also divided up into 7 colleges – each student taking their place in a Harry Potter style group which is purely symbolic (students get to rank the colleges that they want most and it is not based on major or interest). No doubt this is designed to help students build communities within communities since the urban campus has so many undergrads. Application to the University of Toronto is completed on the OUAC website (like the Common App, for Ontario) and students are then contacted for a second phase of the application based on what their particular program requires. The average admitted student has an 1800 or above on their SAT (26 or above on the ACT) and has a B+/A- average. Students must also submit either two AP scores or two SAT Subject Tests. All in all, I think this school would be most appealing to students looking to be at a top research institution (Harvard is the only North American school that publishes more than they do). It is also an interesting option for students that are not US citizens and thus won’t be sacrificing Federal or State aid by popping up to Canada for college.

Next, I attended the opening Keynote address by New YorkTimes columnist Thomas Friedman. I would be remiss to try and summarize all the different things that he touched on, but suffice it to say, his message was focused on asking us to consider the new reality of the modern world – that the intersection of technology and education is not going away and that colleges will need to adapt and adjust. Just as Mr. Friedman has seen the advent of the internet and blogs drastically change his work in print journalism, colleges will need to be ready for the new wave of online education, MOOCs, and a new highly interactive admission experience. He also discussed how technology is making average obsolete. New jobs being created are not average. Average tasks are now done by machines, and done more efficiently at that. Instead, the new college graduate is going to need to be more innovative, more entrepreneurial, and more passionate so they can create the job that they need.

There was only one education session today and I decided to attend the session with College Board President David Coleman. The title of the session led me to believe that we would learn more about the ‘new’ SAT revamp that is on the horizon to align the SAT more closely with the Common Core Standards (guess who designed the Common Core Standards? It rhymes with Lavid Boleman). I genuinely went into the session with an open mind. Not expecting to like what I heard, but expecting to at least glean some concrete advance information about the changes to the test and the trajectory for the future. What I experienced instead was a whole lot of hot air with little to no actual information. I had my pen in hand ready to take notes and I couldn’t even find a single thing to write down for the first 25 minutes of the session. Even then, the only two things I really learned about the revised SAT is that it is projected to launch in 2015 and that it will try to replace esoteric “SAT words” (see what I did there? :) with more commonly used words like “distill.” Mr. Coleman waxed poetic about the beauty of the changes. In my opinion, he spoke in a patronizing tone and essentially said that we’d get more details in January. The aim apparently is to integrate the new design with the best of the course work that is going on in the high school classrooms. And instead of just being asked to give the right answer, students will need to give evidence for why it is the right answer. What will that look like? I guess we will find out in January. 

More tomorrow!