If you were not aware, a number of high profile college and universities, including Stanford, Yale, University of Southern California, University of Texas, Wake Forest University, and Georgetown University were implicated in a college admissions scandal. The gist of the scam was this: wealthy parents bribed testing proctors and college officials to ensure that their children would receive better scores and favorable treatment in the admissions process. Millions of dollars changed hands and several high profile people were named (including actresses, financiers, and fashion designers).
Two of the most interesting aspects of this scandal were:
- If the students admitted were such low performers, how are they still able to persist as students? After all, you would imagine a weak student to suffer at a top-notch academic institution that they were not qualified for. The likely reasons are watered down rigor and grade inflation.
- The “brand” and prestige of a college or university is still a very powerful signal in the world.
Regarding the point #1, it reinforces the old adage that “the hardest part is getting in.” However, this fact seemingly serves to undermine point #2–why is college such a powerful signal if it actually is not providing a rigorous experience? How are unqualified candidates able to succeed at top schools?
The natural conclusion to all of this is that we need better signals of talent. After all, what does a diploma tell us? You attended a school where a certain percentage of people were denied? The fact that you completed a certain amount of credits? Maybe this made sense centuries ago, but in a digital, data-driven society, this mentality seems downright archaic.
Talent is everywhere in the world, but opportunity is not evenly distributed. Take this research study that we did with Tata Strive in India. We compared a group of elite MBA graduates and a group of Indian youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. The results were stunning:
Disadvantaged Indian youth stand shoulder to shoulder with MBA students on both STEM and Learning potential, with the distributions of STEM and Learning potential being virtually identical.
When discussing the impact of Knack, Salvatore Piazzolla, Head of Group Human Resources at AXA Group in France said:
“We now put less value on academic background, and emphasize the individual’s potential to perform successfully.”
We want to live in a world where potential and skill are the currency of the talent marketplace. Education is certainly important, but as a society, our slavish devotion to degrees from specific institutions will not only limit talent pools, but limit success, innovation, and inclusion.