Wake Forest University

June 2010

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Archive for June, 2010

Copycats Beware: Turnitin is Coming to a College Admissions Office Near You

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

turnitin logoMost college students are all too familiar with Turnitin.com, an online application that professors use to detect plagiarism. At last count, nearly 800,000 instructors had used the system to check 125 million student papers for improperly used content or quotation errors. Turnitin analyzes whether students are doing original work by crawling billions of web pages and some 90,000 journals, periodicals and books looking for duplications.

Soon the system will use similar tactics to check for plagiarism in college admissions essays. About two dozen universities are testing the new Turnitin for Admissions, which checks for duplications of previously submitted essays and personal statements. “What we don’t do is call plagiarism out,” Jeff Lorton, business manager at Turnitin for Admissions told the Chronicle of Higher Education. “What we do is give people a tool to show matches, and it’s up to that admissions officer to look at that document and make a determination.”

Before launching its new service, Turnitin conducted an analysis of 450,000 personal statements, and found that 36 percent contained what it considered a “significant amount of matching text” – or more than 10 percent of the essay was duplicated. In most cases, matches came from web sites offering sample personal statements. What the system cannot do is catch students who ask someone else to do their writing for them, which may be more prevalent than copying. “Plagiarism doesn’t seem to be as big a problem in essays as other problems, such as shadow writing,” said David Hawkins, director of public policy for the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Study: Low-income students still unlikely to attend selective colleges

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

rewardingstriversResearchers Anthony Carnevale and Stephen J. Rose rocked the academic world in 2004 with their landmark study that showed students from the lowest socioeconomic quartile were 25 times less likely to enroll in the most selective colleges than their wealthier counterparts. In response to those findings, several highly respected universities changed both their admissions and financial aid policies in order to attract more low-income applicants. Public policy supported those efforts by making more federal and state financial aid available to low-income students.

But a new analysis by Carnevale, co-authored with Jeff Strohl, shows that despite these efforts, social, ethnic and racial stratification remains high. Their latest findings, published in the new book  Rewarding Strivers: Helping Low-Income Students Succeed in College, suggest that even more stratification has resulted from higher admissions standards put in place recently at selective universities. These standards are rooted heavily in standardized test scores, stacking the deck against minority and low-income students who have historically scored low on tests such as the SAT and ACT.

According to Carnevale and Strohl’s analysis, students from the lowest socioeconomic quartile accounted for just 3 percent of students at the most competitive institutions in 1982. Nearly a quarter century later, in 2006, they accounted for only 5 percent. “If this were K-12 education, we’d be in court” over the differences in how low-income and other students are treated in what he called a “dual system” of higher education, Carnevale told Inside Higher Education.

Given the lack of progress in moving low-income and minority students into selective colleges, it might make more sense to improve the quality of the institutions they do attend, Carnevale said. “Instead of continuing to struggle to move more students into selective colleges where the high-priced quality programs reside, we may be more successful moving money and quality programs to the community colleges where most of our students reside,” he and Strohl write in the book.

New Research Finds Racial Bias in SAT

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

SATAs research has repeatedly raised questions about the fairness of the SAT, more and more universities have opted to make the standardized test optional for applicants. Concerns that the SAT may be racially biased increased this week with the release of a new study that shows the test’s verbal section is unfair to African American test-takers.

The paper, published in the Harvard Educational Review, replicated a 2003 study by Roy Freedle, and confirmed earlier findings of racial bias in the SAT. The research was based on data for students who took the SAT and later enrolled in the University of California system.

“Although our findings limit the phenomenon observed to the verbal test and the African American subgroup, these findings are important because they show that the SAT, a high-stakes test with significant consequences for the educational opportunities available to young people in the United States, favors one ethnic group over another,” write the study’s co-authors, Maria Santelices, assistant professor of education at the Catholic University of Chile, and Mark Wilson, professor of education at the University of California at Berkeley.

“The confirmation of unfair test results throws into question the validity of the test and, consequently, all decisions based on its results,” the study says. “All admissions decisions based exclusively or predominantly on SAT performance — and therefore access to higher education institutions and subsequent job placement and professional success — appear to be biased against the African American minority group and could be exposed to legal challenge.”

The authors’ views were echoed by Robert Schaeffer, of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, who described the new research as “a bombshell.” Schaeffer told Inside Higher Education that the study “presents a profound challenge to institutions which still rely heavily on the SAT to determine undergraduate admissions or scholarship awards.”

The College Board, however, challenged the study’s findings and defended the fairness of the test. “There certainly are subgroup differences in scores,” Kathleen Fineout Steinberg, a spokeswoman for the College Board, told Inside Higher Education. “We recognize that and acknowledge it. It’s a reflection of educational inequity. It’s something we are concerned with.”

Girl Power: Women Outpacing Men in Higher Ed

Friday, June 11th, 2010

girls at wake forestWomen are headed to college in higher numbers than men, and are already earning the majority of undergraduate and graduate degrees. Those are among the findings in an annual report released recently by the National Center for Education Statistics. Titled “The Condition of Education 2010,” the report predicts that women will account for about 60 percent of undergraduate and post-baccalaureate enrollment within a decade. The prediction is in keeping with graduation trends. In the 2007-8 academic years, women accounted for 62 percent of all associate degrees, 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, 61 percent of all master’s, and 51 percent of all doctorates being awarded, according to the report.

Are women just high achievers, or is there another explanation for the trends? William R. Doyle, an assistant professor of higher education at Vanderbilt University who has studied sex-based differences in educational attainment, told the Chronicle of Higher Education that the wage gap is a contributing factor. Simply put, women earn less than equally educated men. “We have known for a long time that the amount of education people pursue is driven in some part by the labor market,” Mr. Doyle said. “For women, if you want to get a decent job and decent earnings, the state of the labor market is such that you are going to need to pursue a couple of extra years of education.”

But when it comes to wages, a college degree is a good buy for both sexes. The report found that among young adults ages 25-34 who worked full-time throughout 2008, those with a bachelor’s degree earned 28 percent more than those with an associate degree, 53 percent more than those with a high-school diploma, and 96 percent more than those who did not graduate from high school.

Changes May Be in Store for College Rankings

Monday, June 7th, 2010

us-newsAlthough much anticipated each year, the U.S. News & World Report college rankings are not without controversy. As reported on this blog, two recently published studies have questioned the methodology the magazine uses to come up with its list of America’s Best Colleges. In one paper,  researchers suggested that the reputational scores used in the rankings are based on circular logic. Another journal article by the same authors also stated that rankings drive reputations and not the other way around.

In a recent blog post  of his own, Robert Morse who directs the rankings, says changes in methodology may soon be in store. The first change would involve the reputational scores that have been the greatest source of contention. In order to get a broader view in the academic reputation component, the magazine may be adding high school counselors’ rankings of colleges into the mix. By combining the scores from the current peer assessment survey rating done by college academics with the high school counselors’ ranking, the magazine would create a new score called the “undergraduate academic reputation index.”

The magazine is also considering another change in its reputation index. It may be taking a college’s “admit yield” into account as well. That’s the percentage of students that the school accepts that actually enroll in the fall. “Yield is a very good proxy for student views because it’s how much students value their acceptance from that particular college,” Morse writes.

Only time will tell if the proposed change silence critics. But in the meantime, the magazine is inviting readers to comment on its methodology. Click here  to speak your mind.