The “Character Movement” and the Institute on Character and Admission

A 2013 TED Talk by Angela Duckworth went viral in business and education. Schools began to do more to foster character education. Books on character by Duckworth and David Brooks were NY Times best-sellers.

In recent years, the college admission process has been called into question due to a combination of factors:

  • stress from the complexities and demands of the admission process itself
  • stress from striving to get admitted to one of a small group of highly selective colleges (as well as a small group of highly selective independent schools)
  • stress from high tuition, incurring unwanted debt, and an unreliable job market
  • a perceived over-reliance on cognitive-based admission tests (ignoring a holistic view)
  • a sense among many that the high levels of depression and suicide among high school and college students are due, at least in part, to a flawed admission process
  • a sense among students that the “real me” is lost in the admission process and in the criteria used to evaluate one’s candidacy

Influenced by these developments, various admission-related initiatives (e.g., test-optional project, the Common App), and writing such as a 2015 article by David Holmes in the Journal of College Admission (“Overdue Revolution: Character Strengths in the Admission Equation”), a number of educators began to discuss how they could elevate the role of character in admission. Toward this end, a newly-formed Institute on Character and Admission convened in September 2016 before the NACAC national conference in Columbus, Ohio.

The first gathering included 55 leaders of college admission, college counseling, standardized testing, research and reform projects, independent secondary schools, national educational associations, etc. With (1) common concern about the admission process for colleges as well as secondary schools and (2) an overriding desire to elevate character in education, admission and society, the group agreed unanimously to continue as an entity and to “signal” to a national audience the importance of character in admission. Since this time, Institute members have spoken at numerous national and regional conferences about character in admission.

Since 2016, the group — now called the Character Collaborative — has met annually before the NACAC national conference and grown to 75 institutional members and 40 individual members. Annual dues underwrite the cost of the annual meeting, gatherings of task forces, member presentations at national meetings, institutional support, and development of materials and tools. Recent developments are described in the “Emergence of the Character Collaborative.”