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Educators Urge Parents And High Schools To Make Ethics The Heart Of College Applications04:45
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In this 2010 file photo, students at Dana College in Blair, Nebraska, walk to the admissions office. (Nati Harnik/AP)
In this 2010 file photo, students at Dana College in Blair, Nebraska, walk to the admissions office. (Nati Harnik/AP)
This article is more than 1 year old.

A new report is calling on parents and high schools to put ethical character at the center of college admissions.

The report, though long planned, comes out as the country is still reeling from revelations that wealthy parents bribed standardized test administrators, college coaches and at least one former college trustee to admit students who might not otherwise have been qualified.

The authors of the report say an intense focus on academic achievement has squeezed out attention on developing ethical, social and emotional capacities in students, especially in middle- and upper-middle-income communities.

The report's lead author is Richard Weissbourd, senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

A previous report sought to make college admissions more focused on ethical character.

This report focuses on high schools and parents.

"Many parents — particularly, middle- and upper-income parents — seeking coveted spots for their children in elite colleges are failing to focus on what really matters in this process," say the authors. "In an effort to give their kids everything, these parents often end up robbing them of what counts."

The authors say high schools often follow parents' lead.

"Many of these schools are too focused on highly selective colleges, don't adequately nurture students' interests and curiosity, and do little to challenge parents engaging in ethically troubling behavior," the authors write.

The authors make several recommendations to parents:

  1. Keep the focus on your teen. "It's critical for parents to disentangle their own wishes from their teen's wishes," the authors write.
  2. Follow your ethical GPS. The authors advise parents not to let their own voice intrude in college essays, and to not look the other way when hired tutors are over-involved in applications.
  3. Use the admissions process as an opportunity for ethical education.
  4. Be authentic. The authors recommend not sending conflicting messages to their children about what kind of college they should try to get into.
  5. Help your teen contribute to others in meaningful ways. "Service trips to distant countries or launching a new service project are ... not what matters to admissions deans," the authors say. They recommend parents focus on their children's authentic interests instead.
  6. Advocate for elevating ethical character and reducing achievement-related distress.
  7. Model and encourage gratitude.

Click the audio player next to this story's headline for our Morning Edition conversation with report author Weissbourd. 

This segment aired on March 18, 2019.

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Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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