Stigma hurts reputation

By Editorial Board

For the third straight year since the boom of 2008, Columbia’s enrollment has fallen from a high of approximately 12,500 to 11,625, as reported by The Chronicle. Administrators at the school attribute this to demographics and the sour economy, and both are credible causes. If these were the only issues, though, there would be similar enrollment dips at other Chicago colleges—and there aren’t. Roosevelt is building an enormous skyscraper next door to house new students.

The real problem: Columbia is experiencing an identity crisis that has been germinating for some time now. It stems from the double intentions of the administration—to give all students a chance, regardless of their high school performance, and to create a rigorous learning environment that produces the best professionals in their respective fields. These goals clash with each other and sully what should be an excellent reputation.

Up until recently, the school accepted all who applied, and admissions soared. The thinking was that many creative students don’t do well on standardized tests. The idea that creativity doesn’t show up on an ACT was a common argument. This, however, created an environment in which many students weren’t eager to learn. Professors have a hard time building a challenging curriculum when a portion of the class can’t handle the workload. Droves of students became frustrated and left the school after their first semester.

A common way prospective students hear of Columbia is word-of-mouth. If so many people leave here with hard feelings, then more of the best and brightest high school students will decide not to apply.

Falling enrollment isn’t necessarily all bad. It should be in Columbia’s best interest to streamline the student population to attract the best students it can. However, fewer students means less revenue. Columbia’s alumni, for the most part, don’t have the six-figure incomes of law graduates and have less to donate to the school. Therefore, it’s important that Columbia’s enrollment at least stays flat.

There are two ways to accomplish this. The administration needs to market the school better. As Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs, said recently, Columbia students are some of the best in their fields, and the school should advertise that. Second, there needs to be stricter guidelines to be accepted into Columbia. Artists don’t have to be geniuses, but they should be ready to learn and work hard.

Columbia has some of the most creative students in Chicago. Yet many deal with the “Columbia stigma”—that the school lets anyone in. For the most part, that isn’t true. By creating tougher standards and gaining a larger pool of applicants, Columbia can choose the best to admit while still keeping enrollment up. Students pay a hefty sum to go here and deserve to be recognized for their hard work by peers and prospective employers.