Wake Forest University

October 2010

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Archive for October, 2010

“Conscientious Objector” Opts Out of SAT

Friday, October 29th, 2010

lawrence_fullWhen admissions officers at Lawrence University met high school senior Sylvie Baldwin, they realized that she was a perfect example of why the school decided to enact a test-optional policy back in 2005. So they came up with the idea of producing a video with Sylvie and posting it on YouTube. In the 5-minute clip, Sylvie explains why she has decided not to take standardized tests ever again and plans to apply to both test-optional colleges and those that still require SAT or ACT scores.

Entitled “Standardized Testing in College Admissions: Profile of a Conscientious Objector,” the video begins Steve Syverson, Lawrence’s dean of admissions. Syverson explains that the school’s decision to go test-optional was driven in part by the fact that test-prep has become a $1 billion per year industry.  After Lawrence went test-optional, he added, even some students with very high test scores opted not to submit them as part of the admissions process because “they resonate so strongly with the attitude that these tests don’t represent who I am as a person.”

Enter Sylvie, a student at the Northwest School in Seattle. She made her decision to opt out of standardized tests after receiving notice that she would soon be “represented” by her test scores. “I don’t want that. I’m more than a number.” While she realizes that some universities might not consider her application without the scores, she is hoping to have conversations with admissions officers.  “I hope I’ve at least put the idea in their brain that there could be a ton of students out there who would say, ‘I don’t want to take this test. I don’t think this test is fair. I don’t think this test represents me or who I am.’”

Baldwin has calculated that she would have spent 50 to 60 hours preparing for the exams. She will invest that time instead in writing proposed legislation for the state of Washington that would require drivers ed courses to add a unit on the environmental impact of driving. She adds that her conscientious objector status has nothing to do with fear of not doing well on the SAT. “I don’t believe in (standardized tests). I don’t support this. And I’m one of those people that say if I don’t believe in this, I’m not going to do it.”

Two More Colleges Go Test-Optional

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Two more colleges have made the decision to go test-optional in recent days.  Virginia Wesleyan College limited its decision to prospective freshman with a grade point average of 3.5 in a college prep curriculum, but Sage Colleges of New York included all applicants in its new policy. In announcing the decision, Sage’s provost Terry Weiner said that high school grades and class rank are the best predictors of college success. “The SAT continues to be a less reliable predictor of first-year performance or success in college compared to high school GPA and class rank. Our own studies at Sage have confirmed this. We continue to rely on our assessment of the whole record as the best way to assess students ready for Sage,” Weiner said in a statement. But he added that there were other reasons why the policy makes sense. “In this time of economic distress students should not have to choose between expensive cram courses or tutoring for these tests, or worry about losing ground in the competition for college admission.”

 Virginia Wesleyan, which describes itself as the only private, liberal arts institution in the Hampton Roads area, is focusing its new test-optional policy on classroom “stars” who do not perform well on standardized tests. “These are some of the best students we see – superb in the classroom, but not necessarily super test takers,” Dean of Admissions Patty Patten said in a statement.  “We want to welcome those students into the college community and offer them financial aid and scholarships. Students with a strong track record in high school know how to study, and that allows them to be successful in the college arena as well.”

Affirmative Action for the Rich?

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Elite colleges, or colleges for the elite? That’s the question that Richard Kahlenberg poses in his New York Times op-ed about legacy preferences in college admissions. He points out that legacy preferences affect more students than traditional affirmative action programs, yet receive very little attention. “Unlike the issue of racial preferences, advantages for alumni children — who are overwhelmingly white and wealthy — have been the subject of little scholarship, no state voter initiatives and no Supreme Court decisions,” writes Kahlenberg, who is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation.

Nearly three-fours of selective research universities use legacy preferences in admissions, as do the majority of selective liberal arts colleges, he says. Studies show that these preferences can increase chances of admission by almost 20 percentage points. The result is that legacies make up 10 to 25 percent of the student population at many selective colleges and universities, Kahlenberg says.

At last year’s Rethinking Admissions conference, Daniel Golden, author of “The Price of Admissions,” also addressed the issue of legacy preferences. He concluded that children of alumni along with students from wealthy families and athletes make up as much as 40 percent of the student body at many colleges. In Kahlenberg’s column, Golden points out that legacy preferences are “virtually unknown in the rest of the world.”

Kahlenberg has solutions for what he characterizes as higher education’s biggest affirmative action program. “Congress should outlaw alumni preferences at all universities and colleges receiving federal financing, just as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws racial discrimination at them. Or lawmakers could limit the tax deductibility of alumni donations at institutions that favor legacy children on the principle that tax-deductible donations are not supposed to enrich the giver. If legislators don’t act, it will fall to lawyers to bring suit to enforce the 14th Amendment and the 1866 Civil Rights Act and put an end to this form of discrimination in higher education.”