Wake Forest University

October 2012

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Archive for October, 2012

Are AP Exams a Scam?

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Former college professor and high school teacher, John Tierney sure thinks so.

Last week in a piece included on the Atlantic’s website, Tierney, an oft critic of the Advanced Placement program, outlined a series of issues he and colleagues deem to be in direct opposition to what the program is said to accomplish. At the center of his criticism is the assertion that AP courses do not, in the slightest way, resemble college-level courses. From his perspective, AP curricula is thought to be too jam-packed and rigid to cover the depth that most college courses cover, instead focusing too much on exams that await students at the end of the year. Many high schools employ an open-enrollment policy for its AP classes, often allowing ill-prepared students a path toward further academic frustration and insurmountable challenges that come along with trying to “pass” AP exams. Furthermore, schools that attempt to offer a variety of AP courses – an assortment that can include up to 39 different subjects – must then reserve the best teachers for these classes, leaving students in non-AP courses at a disadvantage. Who are these students? To a disparate degree, it’s minority students who are forgotten.

Then, take fact that the College Board – the non-profit managing organization for the Advanced Placement program – charges $89 a piece to administer AP exams to millions of test-takers, often several times over in a single year. In fact, College Board makes more than half of its revenue from the fees it charges for this set of exams alone.

At the end of the day, one must ask whether a system like the AP program does more good than harm. If AP courses are the best preparatory tool for college, shouldn’t we encourage students to invest in this process? However, if the purported objective of the program is not being realized, students may stand to lose a lot more than they might ever gain.

The Use of Race in College Admissions

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Last week, the Supreme Court began hearing a potentially landmark case regarding the use of affirmative action in college admissions, revisiting an issue last addressed in 2003. At that time, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the author of the [Grutter v. Bollinger] opinion, ruled that policies that favor underrepresented minority groups – combined with the used of a variety of other evaluative metrics for all applicants – did not equate to a quota system, and therefore was deemed to be constitutional in application.

This time around, the Court’s focus will be the University of Texas system, which was sued after a white student, Abigail Fisher (a Texan), was denied admission in 2008. The school, which has a policy of admitting 75 percent of its class by guaranteeing  admission to in-state students who graduate within the top 8 percent (initially included students in top 10 percent) of their high school class, [justifiably] denied Fisher who graduated at 12 percent. The other 25 percent of the class is admitted through a process that considers – among several factors – race and socioeconomic status. Herein lies Fisher’s claim of wrongdoing.

For the University’s part, Texas (as well as many other proponents) feels that such a policy serves to counteract the effects of largely segregated pre-K through 12 schools. By guaranteeing admission to the top students at each school statewide, Texas assures that racial diversity exists at the college level, though even then it is not fully representative of the minority populace throughout the state.

But a “new affirmative action” plan, as Insider Higher Ed writes, may be on the way – one that considers class as a factor. In a report just released by the Century Foundation, Richard Kahlenberg, the report’s author, argues that an affirmative action policy that focuses on an applicant’s socioeconomic status is deemed as being more acceptable by Americans. Such a policy is thought to indirectly produce the type of racial and ethnic diversity that the University of Texas seeks with its current policy. Furthermore, the report suggests [and we agree] that socioeconomic diversity should be as important as racial diversity in the context of admissions.

Web Profiles Haunt Students

Monday, October 8th, 2012

From The Wall Street JournalMBA1

By Douglas Belkin and Caroline Porter

A growing number of top-ranked U.S. colleges say they are finding objectionable material online that hurts the chances of prospective freshmen.
About a quarter of admissions officers at the nation’s top 500 colleges have used websites such as Facebook and Google to vet applicants, according to an annual Kaplan Test Prep survey. Of those, more than one-third say they have found something that has hurt a student’s chance of admission, up from 12% last year.

“We have seen students that have been involved in bullying behavior or alcohol or drugs,” said Martha Blevins Allman, dean of admissions at Wake Forest University. “We never use it as a single indicator and we don’t search blindly, but if we have other suspicions, we will look.”
Vetting by using social-media sites including Facebook and Twitter still hovers in a gray zone at most college admissions offices. Just 15% of the schools in the survey had an official policy about whether to do so, and more than two-thirds of those schools said they won’t use the technique.
Among schools without a policy, more than a quarter say they have checked out a student’s online persona, up slightly from last year, said Jeff Olson, vice president of data science at Kaplan Test Prep, who conducted the survey this summer. Kaplan has included questions about social media in its annual survey for four years.

“The trend line is there,” Mr. Olson said. “My advice to students is to be smart and think twice about what you post online.”
Most colleges don’t have the time, resources or inclination to vet every candidate’s social-media presence. The amount of information that students provide—between essays, transcripts and recommendations—can be overwhelming. But several admissions officers interviewed said they occasionally Google students to learn more about a project in which they were involved, or because a red flag was raised in an interview, recommendation or somewhere else.

“We leave it up to the individual admissions officers, and if something gives them cause to scratch their head, then they do it,” said Paul Marthers, vice president for enrollment at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. “But it’s a very small number. Among the 15,000 applications we get, it would be well under 100 times.”

Mr. Marthers said his school has turned up cases of plagiarism and accusations of sexual assault. It also has found behavior that resulted in school disciplinary action but didn’t rise to the level of a suspension and didn’t show up on the student’s transcript.

One applicant Mr. Marthers said he encountered at his previous job at Reed College was asked to leave a private high school for bullying. Mr. Marthers called the counselor at that school who said, “It’s not something I would ever put in writing but, yes, that’s what happened,” Mr. Marthers said. The student was denied admission.

At Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee, spokeswoman Laurie Saxton said a student who had been accepted for the class of 2015 and was at the university for a summer session ahead of his freshman year posted “inappropriate comments” on the school’s Facebook page for the freshman class.

“We sat him down and told him that was not the right way to communicate,” Ms. Saxton said. “He removed his comments.”

Today’s prospective freshmen have come of age using Facebook and are increasingly savvy about its use, but many still said the idea of college admissions officers reading their posts seemed weird.

Naomi Wiener, an 18-year-old freshman engineering student at Cornell University, said the issue’s fairness comes down to the amount of disclosure on colleges’ part.

“Everything you present to a college you prepare for,” she said. “To blindside someone by looking at some side of them without them knowing is different from every other part of the college process.”

Marilyn Scholze, a volunteer college counselor at Lowell High School in San Francisco, said that while she reminds students to monitor their online behavior, it isn’t part of the counseling curriculum in a systematic way.

“I would prefer that colleges didn’t use online profiles that way,” said the 61-year-old, who has volunteered at the public school for 14 years. “I guess if someone was on the margin and they were really concerned about a student’s character, they might take a look. It’s a personal thing and a little bit unfair.”