All posts by Samson X. Lim

About Samson X. Lim

Samson Lim is the Founder and Chairman of the Board of Scholarship Junkies, a Seattle-based scholarship resource organization that works to help students make higher education more affordable. Sam spent the 2010-11 academic year in Berlin, Germany, as a U.S. Student Fulbright Scholar and is currently pursuing his Master of Arts in Education Policy at Teachers College, Columbia University. When he’s not buried in grad school reading, Sam emerges every once in a while to highlight higher education and financial aid issues in 140 characters or less at @samsonxlim.

What Do the Changes to the SAT Really Mean?

In college, I took an intro-level microeconomics course with a professor who had taught for a long time at the university. Every few years (even though it seemed like an annual ritual), he would put out a “new edition” of his microeconomics textbook, slap a new cover photo on it, and jack up the price – all while requiring students to buy the newest edition.

So, was this “new edition” really all that new?

Of course not. None of my classmates nor I ever found any major (or even minor) differences between the editions. It was still an overpriced textbook, and requiring the newest edition really only helped boost the professor’s textbook royalties.

Naturally, when the College Board announced “major changes” to the SAT, I thought back to my intro to econ course. How “major” are these changes to the SAT really? Is reverting back to the 1600 scale truly all that new?

The answer to these questions depends on your frame of reference:

Now, we know what most of the media thinks about these latest developments with the SAT:

  • CBS called the announcement “sweeping changes
  • The New York Times called them “major changes” (Note: An updated headline has now removed the phrase “major changes” from the title, but the URL still reflects the original title)
  • NBC News labeled them “big changes
  • The Wall Street Journal said that the College Board “shakes up” the SAT

You get the picture.

In large part due to this deluge of news coverage calling the changes such “big news,” I went on a bit of a Twitter rant to point out that the new developments were not, in fact, all that major. Here are a few highlights:

The truth is: the SAT is a charade. For all the College Board’s talk about “delivering opportunities” and making college more accessible for students, the SAT represents an unnecessary — and useless — barrier on the road to college.

Just last month, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) released a report that found virtually no difference in college completion rates for students, regardless of whether they submitted SAT scores or not. The study affirmed what previous research had already found: including or not including the SAT (or ACT, for that matter) in college admissions considerations really doesn’t make much of a difference.

So then, why do the SAT and ACT remain such a major part of the college admissions web? There are a couple of factors, but at the root of these is one common denominator — money.

Consider that the test prep industry generates over $1 billion each year (this doesn’t even include the profits from actual testing), and consider that the SAT is better at predicting a student’s socioeconomic background than his or her college success.

So, while the news of this week has focused on the College Board and what it has done to retool the SAT, the deeper issues that impede college access still remain. The true culprits in this equation are the colleges and universities that still feed into the testing frenzy, allowing concerns over institutional prestige and rankings to cloud their ability to enact truly impactful policies for expanding access.

When colleges and universities require the SAT or ACT, families with the means to put their children through test prep courses are at an even greater advantage over low-income and even many middle-income families who simply cannot afford such extraneous luxuries. Frankly, what does it say about the test itself when an entire industry is built around prepping students for it? And, truthfully, a nice PR move like partnering with the Khan Academy is nothing but a band-aid solution to a much deeper issue (and what does it say about the Khan Academy, too?).

It’s time to throw out an anachronistic component of college admissions that is doing nothing but driving an academic arms race among higher education institutions. Instead, let’s focus our efforts on real, substantive issues such as trimming the costs of administrative bloat, addressing the mountainous student debt bubble, and boosting declining state investment in higher education. The bigger news focus this week should have been on efforts such as the new Higher Ed, Not Debt initiative launched by a number of education champions, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

But, instead, we’ve been hearing all about this “new SAT.” As a higher education access and affordability advocate, I could certainly break down the ways in which the changes to the SAT might impact how we work with students as they prepare for and apply to college. But that’s for another day, since — as a higher education access and affordability advocate — I also feel the need to point out when the discussion is heading in the wrong directions.

And that’s the point — because, in the grand scheme of things, until we really shake our college admissions processes free of these measurement tools of privilege and focus on true systemic ways to increase access for low-income, underrepresented, and first-generation students, changes to the SAT really aren’t that major after all.

“The Star” bows out on Homeland‘s Season 3 finale

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Jay: So, where does Homeland go from here? Brody’s dead, Carrie’s both promoted and pregnant (with both assignments seemingly up in the air, for the moment), and the U.S. and Iran have signed a nuclear deal (in a scene that must have been shot very recently). I confess that it is difficult to imagine a scenario next season that would really keep my interest at this point.

As for the episode itself, I was disappointed, I think. I can’t put my finger on any specific flaw, other than the pervasive notion that this show has really meandered without any real objective for quite some time now. In Season 1, Homeland was about patriotism, family, and loyalty. Much of what happened that season can be analyzed via Brody’s relationships with other people: Carrie, his wife Jessica, his daughter Dana, his mentor Abu Nazir, etc.

But as Season 2 began to run off-track and then Season 3 continued the trend, I’m much less clear on what the show is “about” now. And while I’ve been predicting Brody’s death for quite some time, the fact that it’s now actually happened does raise a lot of questions as to how the series will proceed.

In some ways I think it would be best if they just stopped the show entirely here. What do you think? Continue reading “The Star” bows out on Homeland‘s Season 3 finale

“Big Man in Tehran:” On Homeland, Brody’s past closes in

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Sam: So, what’s the over-under on Brody making it out of Tehran alive? Or Carrie, for that matter? Does it strike you as not coincidental that the two of them are in Tehran for the final episode? It seems rather likely that one of them (dare we say both?) might end up not making it out of Tehran.

Overall, this episode felt like a giant teaser for the finale, though. The entire episode seemed like a whole lot of tension over whether or not Brody would carry out his mission. While the twists were clever, they seemed reminiscent of what we’ve seen from Homeland before: Carrie goes rogue in a foreign country, the original mission goes out of whack, and then things end up okay somehow.

We’ve harped on this before as well, but Saul really cannot be surprised that Carrie flat out cannot take orders, right? I mean, even Dar Adal can tell him that. Why they continually send someone like her into the field (and into Tehran, of all places) is just absolutely ridiculous. I suppose it helps with the storyline, I guess.

What’d you think of this episode? Continue reading “Big Man in Tehran:” On Homeland, Brody’s past closes in

Brody lives on for another “Good Night,” as Homeland Season 3 nears its conclusion

Jay: This was a riveting hour of television. And even aside from the theatrics of trying to get Brody across the Iraqi border and into Iran, the episode did well in other ways too — especially by avoiding some other pitfalls that could have easily induced some eye-rolling.

For one, I was cringing pretty hard as Carrie shouted at Brody over a secure line: I was just waiting for the moment when she’d scream, “I’m carrying your baby!” Perhaps the show’s writers realized that that would’ve truly been the moment Homeland would’ve jumped the shark. But it came perilously close.

Another nice little non-moment was the senator’s relatively reasonable behavior at the secret CIA site. You can often discern the quality of a show by the dimensionality of its heroes and villains. So the fact that Homeland has been gradually willing to portray the senator in a more sympathetic light is a good sign, methinks.

Personally, I could quibble a bit with the way that Brody’s vehicle looked like it had been utterly destroyed — occupants included — before they both miraculously escaped. But the moment actually turned out to be rather useful, as Brody’s Marine instincts clearly kicked in and he went from being a blubbering victim (as any of us would’ve been) to a man in charge instantly. I also liked the fact that Javadi killed Brody’s partner, which at least somewhat tempered the miraculous nature of their escape into Iran.

I’m a little less clear on what comes next. I tend to agree with some other predictors who are guessing that Brody isn’t actually the father of Carrie’s child — a point which she seemed to confirm to Quinn in this episode (although that could easily be a lie). On the other hand, if Brody’s fated to die this season anyway, it would make sense to have a mini-Brody born soon thereafter so as to provide Carrie some measure of solace, at least. (There, even more ridiculous theories for you.)

What did you think? Continue reading Brody lives on for another “Good Night,” as Homeland Season 3 nears its conclusion

“One Last Thing” for Brody? Flashes of brilliance in Homeland‘s Season 3, Episode 9

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Jay: So this episode may have been the best one all season. Granted, there were some pretty unbelievable parts, and some somewhat ridiculous time-warp moments (like the jarring “Sixteen Days Later” transition), but Brody’s return to the United States as a full-fledged human being (as opposed to a full-fledged junkie) breathed some life into what has otherwise been a subpar season.

Even Dana didn’t bother me as much in this episode. Alan Sepinwall hit all the right notes in his review already, among which were two important ones: 1) Dana works best when she’s in scenes with her father, and 2) Brody is almost definitely not going to survive this mission.

While I’ll probably miss him — and while the show may struggle to figure out how to move forward without him always lurking on the periphery — it’s probably about time he disappears. Even if he were to make it back alive, another season of him trying to woo Dana again probably isn’t a season worth watching.

Of course, Carrie continues to be reckless at all times, including a truly mind-blowing escape from the secret compound to take one of the world’s most wanted men to see his emotionally unstable teenaged daughter. What could possibly go wrong?

Fortunately, nothing did. But Carrie is getting increasingly hard to root for.

How would you rate this episode? Continue reading “One Last Thing” for Brody? Flashes of brilliance in Homeland‘s Season 3, Episode 9

“A Red Wheelbarrow:” Sam and I chat about Homeland, Episode 8

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Jay: Initial thoughts: not as great as all the reviewers promised. There was a flurry of Twitter activity suggesting that this episode would be a return to all things great about Homeland. But while some of the excitement returned, I’m not at all convinced we’ve reached any kind of turnaround.

First of all, you just knew Carrie was going to defy orders at the motel. Yes, I get that this is completely consistent with her character, but at some point it just gets tiring. I actually rolled my eyes when she got out of the van and started following Franklin. I understand that she’s impulsive and headstrong, but at what point does it become completely unbelievable that she could keep her job after so many betrayals? Similarly predictable was the fact that Carrie was clearly not going to die, no matter how ominous Dar Adal and Quinn tried to sound while warning her from continuing.

Mira’s lover being some sort of spy was decidedly less predictable, but I’m not at all persuaded that that plot point makes any sense. And speaking of nonsensical moments, Carrie being so open with her doctor about her job (referencing the “father” in relation to her work) was an absurdly risky moment in a series in which characters are supposed to be devoted to secrecy and information security.

Slightly more intriguing was Saul’s visit to Venezuela to visit Brody. It’s confusing on a few levels, actually: why was Saul so cagey with Carrie when she asked about his conversation with Javadi? And why the hell is he visiting Brody if he knows he didn’t do it? What could Brody possibly do for Saul now that he’s been shown to have been uninvolved with the bombing?

I guess I don’t see this as much of a step forward. Do you? Continue reading “A Red Wheelbarrow:” Sam and I chat about Homeland, Episode 8

Homeland, Episode 7: Sam Lim and I discuss “Gerontion”

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Sam: As much as I enjoyed this week’s episode, why does so much of it seem like deja vu? A turned informant? Carrie fixating on “the truth” about Brody?

I feel like we know where the coming weeks are going to take us: Carrie’s going to go on a crusade to clear Brody’s name. I can hardly wait (yawn).

On the plus side, there were moments I very much enjoyed and appreciated: Quinn’s resigned conclusion after his talk with the detectives and Saul calmly walking the Senator (and Dar Adal) through his master plan and then promptly locking him in the conference room.

I’ve neglected my winners and losers of the episode thing for a few weeks, so let’s bring it back:

Winner: Saul, hands down. Nothing must’ve felt better than to lock the Senator in the conference room and then clicking the button that fogged up the glass. In your face, Senator!

Loser: Mira. I’m so tired of her pathetic character. She’s getting close to Granny-level of annoyance for me (Dana has her own scale). Just go run away with the other dude already.

Your thoughts on this week’s episode? Continue reading Homeland, Episode 7: Sam Lim and I discuss “Gerontion”

“Still Positive” that Homeland‘s still got it? Sam and I break down Episode 6

Jay: Well, the consensus — at least among the reviewers I read — seems to be that Homeland is drifting farther and farther from its Season 1 glory. While I tend to agree that this season in general has had more than its fair share of rough patches, I’m not as appalled as some of the reviewers. Not yet, anyway.

This week’s episode contained what was, for me, perhaps the single most shocking scene in Homeland history, when Javadi used a bottle to puncture to death his ex-wife, who had defected to the United States years earlier. That moment was so singly un-Homeland-like in its brutality that I almost couldn’t believe it at first.

It also raises many questions. First of all, why was Saul so hellbent on ensuring that Javadi not get into the house? This is especially bizarre considering the fact that, as Quinn and Carrie briefed him immediately after entering the property, Saul didn’t even seem to realize that Javadi’s ex-wife was even living there at the time. (Or am I getting the chronology mixed up?) Methinks there’s some more history between Saul and Javadi’s ex: something about the way Saul held up the picture of her earlier in the episode suggested a deeper backstory.

Speaking of possible romantic connections, whatever was left of Saul’s marriage is definitively disintegrated in this episode, while Carrie suddenly seems to be carrying someone’s child. The obvious implication is that it’s Brody’s, but weirdly the first guy I thought of was that rando from the liquor store in the first episode of this season. Given the way some of Homeland‘s plot twists have petered out so quickly this season, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if that happens again here.

What did you think? Continue reading “Still Positive” that Homeland‘s still got it? Sam and I break down Episode 6

Episode 5 of Homeland: Is “The Yoga Play” the beginning of Saul gone rogue?

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Sam: Before we begin, let me just say: good luck to your Boston Red Sox. As a Seattle Mariners fan, I have no idea what it feels like to cheer on your team in the World Series.

Now, on to this week’s episode. I think we started to see the beginnings of how the Brody family drama is going to intersect with the Carrie-Saul story. But, c’mon, would Jessica really go to Carrie looking for Dana?? It just felt like a huge leap to put them in the same frame again.

And would Carrie seriously put ALL that undercover work on the line just to check on Dana? It seemed all too implausible. But then again, it’s Carrie. I feel bad for Max and Virgil.

I feel bad for Saul, too, since he pretty much thought he’d be taking over the CIA. I mean I did, too, until the senator showed up. I think this also sparked a new track for the Saul-CIA story as well. Might Saul join Carrie in going rogue later on the road? Might Brody fit into that?

This week’s episode left me lots of questions, I guess. What about you? What were your thoughts on this episode?

Jay: One game to go! Man, I’m losing years (and hair) this October. But if they win on Wednesday or Thursday, it’ll all be worth it.

The Jessica-to-Carrie twist was a bit weird, for sure. I know she said she had nowhere else to go, but…really? Nowhere at all? Her local barista wasn’t working that day? Her stylist? Anyone else? I’m pretty certain Carrie is not the person she’d go to in that situation, especially when she’s shown zero interest in Brody’s kids (or wife, obviously) before. I also had the same feeling you had about Carrie: one second she’s saying this is not a good time for her, and the next moment she’s breaking all kinds of unwritten rules and jeopardizing an entire high-level spying operation in order to find a teenager who’s run off with a boy. Just…no.

Saul, for his part, seems ready to go rogue himself — as you suggested. His career’s just taken a hit, his wife seems to be cheating on him, and Carrie may have just blown the one intelligence operation that could manage to save his job.

That said, Carrie’s decision to go off her meds is so. Goddamn. Exhausting. Enough with that meme already. Just put her back on her medication and be done with it. The whole “will she or won’t she?” about taking her drugs is just beyond ridiculous at this point.

I’m not even sure what to think about Dana anymore.

My guess? Brody will be back in a big way either next episode or the one after. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brody show up in Carrie’s apartment as a cliffhanger to close out next week.

What do you think is coming?

Sam: Totally with you on the whole meds and Carrie saga. I get that the show, as Mandy Patinkin said in a recent interview, is shining a light on mental health issues, but it’s rough seeing it recycled into the plot every season.

I forgot about Saul’s wife and “friend”! That’s a strange development. Not sure how I feel about the show diving farther into it beyond just the continued tension between Saul and his wife.

You know what made me laugh? Quinn’s reaction to Saul looping him in to the secret mission. If he had had a cigar in one hand and a bottle of booze in the other, he could’ve been Bunk.

I think next we may see the Brody connection come back with Carrie getting her face-to-face with Javadi. I have to think the mission will get messier before it gets resolved considering the unfolding clashes between Saul and the new CIA Director.

What are your thoughts on Javadi? How dangerous is this guy, you think?

Jay: Ha, is this our first-ever Bunk reference? How did we not incorporate him into our recaps already? Either way, excellently done.

One thing I find consistently frustrating about Homeland, by the way, is the way in which it perpetually places extremely high-level characters into gritty settings in which their real-life counterparts could not possibly ever find themselves. This happens so frequently at this point that it’s hardly worth mentioning, but I will anyway:

– Dar Adal riding the bus last season
– David Estes frequently hanging out around the secret control room the CIA used to track Brody while he was working for them
– And now, the deputy intelligence director of Iran (right?) driving himself into the country under false pretenses

A few times is forgivable. But the constant switching between worlds is more and more distracting each time it happens. Isn’t part of the point of Homeland to illustrate the enormous fallout from the actions taken by distant bureaucrats and politicians on the lives of ordinary citizens living out their gritty existences? That’s, in fact, the entire internal struggle that animated Brody in Season 1: Issa, a real flesh-and-blood child that he loved, was taken from him as the direct result of men in suits halfway around the world deciding to push a virtual button on a remote-controlled aerial vehicle.

But when everyone’s crossing between these two worlds — going from the halls of power to the “real world” and back — the show is abandoning its (important) point about how desensitizing politics and espionage and bureaucracy can be. The characters are no longer insulated (as their real-world counterparts generally are) from the consequences of their actions: Carrie can go from phone conversations with the interim director of the CIA to being kidnapped by the Iranians in the course of 24 hours.

And speaking of Javadi, it’s hard to tell how dangerous he is yet but I hope they don’t turn him into some poor man’s version of Abu Nazir. What could be interesting is if Carrie ends up involuntarily reenacting the reverse of Brody’s plot last season: forced by the Iranians to work as a double-agent for them after they’ve discovered her ploy by going back to the CIA and feeding them false information or something similar.

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“Game On” for Homeland: the twists return

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Sam: Finally! The Homeland I’ve been waiting for is back. How can we not start at the end?

Did you see Carrie playing an undercover role here at all? Did she not seem off her rocker, for real? All the promos and stories so far this season have pitted Carrie against Saul, and I didn’t think for a minute they might be in on the whole thing together.

Damn it. Continue reading “Game On” for Homeland: the twists return