Wake Forest University

April 2009

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Archive for April, 2009

A ratings alternative

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Jeff Brenzel

Jeffrey Brenzel, dean of admissions at Yale, says colleges are missing the point to simply criticize U.S. News for its college rankings. They do satisfy the raging public demand for information and clarity in a process that is very complicated and time-consuming for most families. “We seriously misstate the challenge by pointing a finger at U.S. News as a cause of the problem,” he said. U.S. News fills their niche for three reasons: a consumer society that’s trained us to rely on rankings; the high stakes and information overload of the college-search process; and U.S. News has done a very good job building, promoting and guarding their niche.

But why are rankings bad, Brenzel asked? He listed several reasons: rankings are often based on things that are irrelevant to the actual educational experience a student receives; they allow students to avoid the hard work that should go into choosing a college that’s best for oneself; they cause students to assign their own self-worth to the ranking of the college they attend; and there are many excellent colleges that offer certain things that a student might be seeking.

Brenzel is part of a group seeking to offer an alternative system. It should have four elements: access to wide variety of data; students decide for themselves what factors to weigh based on what’s most important to them; it must contain tools to help guidance counselors help students decide the best college for them; and it should have user generated data (students rate what was most important in choosing their college and then rate their experience once in college.)

Ending with a bang

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

The final session of the conference promises to be a great one. Robert Morse, director of Data Research for U.S. News & World Report; Jeffrey Brenzel, dean of admissions at Yale; and Richard Vedder, professor of economics at Ohio University and the architect of a new college-ranking system for Forbes, are the final speakers. Brenzel is up first: “We’re ending things with a bang. Few issues are more contentious than rankings.” Responds Morse: it’s the colleges that have made rankings powerful. Now Morse is warning Vedder of the criticism he can expect with the new Forbes’ ranking — “welcome to the club.” More soon.

Helping students succeed

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Omari Holmes Swinton

Omari Swinton, a professor at Howard University, discussed a study he conducted on Benedict College’s policy of grading students on both effort and knowledge. Because Benedict College has an open admissions policy, SAT scores and high school GPAs are irrelevant to whether or not a student is accepted. His findings did indicate that higher GPAs and SAT scores predicted student behavior better for first-year students than for sophomores, juniors and seniors. He also suggested that colleges and universities who admit men and women with lower SAT or ACT scores and difficult life experience may need to find ways to help these students develop the skills needed to succeed.

Holistic vs mechanical assessment

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Scott Highhouse, professor of industrial-organization psychology at Bowling Green State University, challenged the current assumption that “holistic approaches” to college admissions is better than mechanical ones. “I’m not going to advocate for the SAT,” he said right off the bat, but for standardized procedures, whatever they might be. He is an expert in industrial-organization psychology – how you select and assess people.

A holistic approach sounds great, but hasn’t lived up to its expectations, he said. Why do people believe that an intuitive approach to assessment is superior to an analytical one? Because they have an erroneous belief in their ability to predict human behavior, he said. When looking at things such as high school grades and college GPA, you can measure a certain level of correlation. But when you add in human opinion to that equation the results are actually less reliable. Test scores aren’t perfect measures, but are not improved by adding a holistic approach, he concluded.

Educational experience varies according to discipline

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Panelist Steve Chatman presented findings from his study with University of California students that suggest those factors predicting success vary according to what discipline a student chooses. “Academic major impacts a students experience, and we deal with it very little as a profession,” said Chatman. He named a variety of studies that reinforce the idea that there is no such thing as one undergraduate education but many experiences which are filtered through a student’s choice of study. Chatman suggested that these findings should be considered when discussing to what extent SAT scores or high school GPAs predict academic success. Chatman is project Director, Student Experience in the Research University, Center for Studies in Higher Education, UC Berkeley

Texas rethinks admissions

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Bruce Walker, vice provost and director of admissions at the University of Texas, gave one of the most interesting and impassioned presentations of the conference. He described Texas’ “top 10 percent solution,” adopted 10 years ago. That guarantees admission to every in-state student in the top 10 percent of their high school class to any school in the University of Texas system. What he called a “grand experiment” is a great example of what this conference is about. Texas took a bold step and is an example of redoing admissions within the culture of a big university. Now after 10 years, they have great evidence to support that change.

Walker said that has brought a lot of students into Texas colleges who otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance, he said. He showed a number of great slides that showed statistics of how well those students have succeeded. “Students in low-performing high schools, if given a chance, can succeed in a major college, even when social structures work against them,” he said. But most colleges spend their time and money recruiting students at the top end of the income scale, he said. “What would happen if they spent all that time and money recruiting low-income students?”

The probability of students enrolling in college increases as their family income increase, he noted. “It’s easy to recruit those students,” he noted. “Down at the bottom, there’s very little family social capital, so institutions have to make up for that. It takes more energy and assets to lift the poor to college… You can create an economic engine to change that family’s future forever. You begin to deliver social capital to people who never had it before.”

We can do it. Yes, we can!

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

“No one likes what’s going on in college admissions,” said panelist Lloyd Thacker, “and we each have a role to play in improving college admissions.” Colleges have more to gain by working cooperatively than competitively. Many road marks suggest that colleges and universities are rethinking admissions processes and fighting against the commercialism of education. Increasing numbers of colleges and universities are disengaging from college rankings. More colleges are evaluating and changing aspects of their admissions processes to align with their values. Educators are developing ways to provide useful information about their colleges and universities outside of rankings. “I see these activities as pieces of a growing campaign to lend prestige to a new way of doing things and to push back against commercialism in college admissions,” Thacker said.

Commercialism in education

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Commercialism has transformed education into product and students into consumers. Lloyd Thacker asked the conference participants to identify these billion dollar industries that affect education. Test prep, enrollment management consultants, a consultants for kids industry, and a “how to beat the system” industry were shouted out by attendees. What have been the results of this commercialization? More money spent by colleges to self-promote, more public cynicism, more hype, more social stratification, and a drastic shift in financial aid from those most deserving to those most desirable. 

The role of the student not the school

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

There are many studies that show that it is student qualities that make for success in life – qualities much more important than the prestige of any one college or university. When conference participants were asked what student qualities inspired their work, potential, curiosity, hope, imagination, risk-taking, and a sense of wonder, were given. These qualities are the ones that educators are entrusted to nurture and cultivate. The current commercial environment of college admissions, however, underestimates the role of the student in making education happen and overestimates the rank of the college in this process, according to panelist Lloyd Thacker, the director of Educational Conservancy.

Education as a ministry

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Lloyd Thacker, the director of Educational Conservancy, delivered an inspired presentation. The room enthusiastically responded to his focus on education as a ministry. “Education as a ministry reminds us of common purposes and shared commitments to serving something of such profound importance, and it might help us move forward to improve college admissions for all,” he said.