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by Diana Senechal

Previously, Elizabeth’s attention deficit problems would have hurt her academic performance. Now she sets skill-appropriate goals so she can excel every time.

While schools nationwide have been gearing up for the daunting task of making all students “college and career ready,” a consortium of colleges and universities has proposed an innovative solution: make the colleges student-ready instead.

“When you’ve got a college, and even one child does not get into that college, you’ve got a problem, and it’s not the child’s problem,” said Fred Veter, director of the Consortium for Higher Education Accessibility Transformations (CHEAT). “It’s we, the colleges, who are failing to do our job. We must refashion our entire approach to teaching and learning so that any student who applies to a college will be admitted, as long as he or she pays tuition.”

“There’s no such thing as a student who isn’t college-ready,” associate director Valerie Akimirksnis piped in. “It’s colleges that aren’t student-ready. The vast majority of them, I’ll add.” But she saw hope in the air. “As of this moment,” she said, “nearly a thousand colleges have adopted best practices in order to become one hundred percent student-ready by 2014.” Such practices include a merit-blind admissions policy; a curriculum of learning strategies and social skills; a personal digital assistant for every student; and a guaranteed passing grade for all. “Failure is not an option,” she explained. “The kids are here to succeed, and succeed they will.”

Asked how such a curriculum would prepare students for their eventual careers, Veter excitedly started up a slideshow. “Look at the skills we’ll be teaching here,” he said, pointing to a bar graph, “and look at what the employers want over here. Very close, and we’re working on making them closer.” According to Veter, CHEAT is collaborating with the business network Endless Attainment Today to create jobs based on what applicants already can do. “Empty jobs are much easier to maintain than substantial ones,” he noted. “You just tell students and employees to set goals for themselves and then create bar graphs to show that they are meeting their goals. The trick, of course, is to choose goals that they’ve already met.”

We asked whether an economy could sustain itself with such practices. “Eventually jobs of that sort stop being profitable,” Akimirksnis acknowledged. “At that point we get rid of them and start over with a new illusion. That’s the easy part. The hard part is getting some colleges and employers to change their ways.”

According to Veter and Akimirksnis, some colleges cling to outdated admissions policies and curricula; some workplaces still require their employees to know things. “It’s old-world snobbery,” said Veter. “It’s the attitude of ‘Some college or other will probably accept you, but we won’t, because, you see, our standards are so lofty.’ Or: ‘We are sorry to inform you that you do not have the necessary qualifications for this position.’ A cozy world for the ones who belong to it,” he said, “but ill suited to the 21st century. Sooner or later they’ll have to change. No one likes change, but the people who change have an edge. They can call themselves innovative, accountable, cutting-edge, and adaptable, and then they’ll get big grants, like we did.”

At the end of our interview, Veter and Akimirksnis took us on a brief tour of a model school-to-career pipeline. Within a single hour, a student applied to a college, was accepted immediately, attended a ten-minute workshop on body language, applied for a job, got the job, set goals that she had already accomplished, and demonstrated her success in a brief multimedia presentation. “Of course things take longer than that in reality,” said Akimirksnis, “but that’s the general idea.”