Wake Forest University

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Admissions and Campaigning Are Alike In Many Ways

November 14th, 2012

Now that the 2012 elections have come to a close, this is the perfect time to reflect over the campaign season. Last week, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Head Count blog discussed just a few of the ways that the political campaign cycle could be likened to the college admissions process: both create intense emotion on either end of the spectrum, create frenzy among analysts who attempt to predict outcomes, and invoke a desire to put bumper stickers on cars.

Burke Rogers, the director of college counseling at St. George’s School, shares a few more of the metaphors between admissions and political campaigns here.

Finding the “Fit” for Top-Performing Low-Income Students

November 4th, 2012

In Miami last week at the College Board Forum, Caroline M. Hoxby, an economics professor at Stanford University, discussed some of her research that looks at some of the missteps that low-income students experience in pursuit of a college education.

The Chronicle writes, a staggering number of high-achieving low-income students – roughly 82 percent of an annual cohort consisting of 35,000 – do not apply to colleges that are thought to be “good fits,” at which students from similar backgrounds experience success. Many of these students do not possess savvy in the application process, limiting their college search to too few schools and often relying upon recommendations rather than seeking out the schools that appeal most to their ideals for a college experience. As a result, these students are more likely to attend schools that are less selective than they are qualified to attend.

So who are these students and how can colleges better recruit them? Hoxby’s research identifies the affected group as students coming from large urban areas, often under-served by their schools, who are “isolated” as one of few high-achievers in their peer group. Schools who target these students by mail more so than electronic communication (or better – in person), do well in recruiting and ultimately changing the outcomes of low-income students.

Are AP Exams a Scam?

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

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

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.”

An Increasingly Test-Optional Landscape

September 28th, 2012

Today in high schools throughout America, there is arguably more emphasis than ever on the [perceived] importance of college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT. A number of schools – private and public – offer test prep as part of their curriculum. The College Board, the SAT’s parent company, also offers a slew of preparatory experiences including the PSAT, study guides, and online resources. And yet, all the while, as the Los Angeles Times wrote last week, college admissions is becoming increasingly supportive of the test-optional movement.

Take, for instance, the fact that more than 25 percent of the U.S. News & World Report Top 100 Liberal Arts Colleges employed test-optional policies in 2007,  a statistic that now stands at roughly 30 percent. In all, 875 – or 38 percent of all accredited 4-year colleges – now make submitting test scores optional for applicants. Even top ranking officials at some of the country’s most elite colleges have hinted at continued examination of the role of testing in admissions. Here’s why:

Evidence shows that the SAT is not the strongest predictor of students’ college performance; rather, it most strongly correlates with students’ family income. Assessment of a student’s course load and classroom performance across the duration of high school best demonstrates a student’s potential for college success. Test-optional policies hold college admissions officers accountable for delving into the essence of students (via thought-provoking essays or personal interviews), necessitating that they be seen as individuals – not test scores. It is a tall task to ask, but well worth the payoff.

The richness of perspective in test-optional learning environments is undeniable. Students come from many backgrounds and walks of life and facilitate deeper, more comprehensive [and necessary] dialogue both inside and outside of the classroom. Ongoing research has also shown that students who chose to withhold test scores during admission perform on par with – or better than – students who submitted scores.

SAT Scores Down Create More Cause for Concern

September 27th, 2012

This week news of the continued streak of average SAT scores falling highlighted a number of issues around students’ general preparedness for the test, as well as the disparities that exist among different racial/ethic and socioeconomic groups. For the second year in a row (and fifth year in the last seven) the average scores in critical reading and writing have dipped, both of which now sit below the 500-point benchmark. While the number of test-takers grew for both the SAT and ACT, the average score for the ACT remained the same as last year – a 21.1 composite. While these statistics are cause for concern, perhaps more startling are the gaps between majority and minority groups of test-takers, with black and Latino students performing the lowest of any groups.

A reason for such a trend might be students’ curricular experiences leading up to these tests. The vast majority of white students (80 percent or more) who took the SAT report completing their high school’s core curriculum; conversely, only 69 percent and 65 percent of black and Latino students, respectively, have done so. Socioeconomic statistics provide additional perspective; only 65 percent of students with a family income on $20,000 or less completed the core curriculum, whereas 84 percent of those with family income about $200,000 or more did so.

Juvenile Records and Admissions

September 23rd, 2012

College admissions officers rely upon the information told to them about a student to make suitable admissions decisions on behalf of the university. While there’s virtually no way to share every piece of information that a college may wish to consider about an applicant, shouldn’t colleges be made aware of matters that involve even the slightest misstep of the law? Most colleges do, in fact, ask questions of their applicants pertaining to ‘criminal convictions;’ however, in some states, such wording would not encompass violations that occurred when the applicant was a juvenile (or under the age of 16).

So, what to make of this?

This month, a Pennsylvania court of appeals ruled that Temple University (and other institutions) should have been made aware of a student the school accepted (and who ultimately enrolled there) who had been previously found responsible for disseminating child pornography (the case has since gone to another appeal). The juvenile court that originally heard the case ruled that Temple be notified, though this never occurred after the court stayed its ruling (on objection from the defendant). The defendant’s high school had no obligation to notify the colleges to which he applied because he had not violated any school rules. Perhaps worse – he had committed, what would have otherwise been classified a crime, if not for his age.

Finding the middle ground between allowing troubled youths to move beyond their transgressions and keeping college campuses safe is a tall task. High schools do not have standardized policies for notifying college admissions officers of violations of any sort, which therefore has a disparate impact on some students. Likewise, state courts still struggle to determine where the line should be drawn. Always a hot topic, it will require that high schools, the courts, and colleges all work together to create a system that is in the best interest for all parties involved.

The Link Between the SAT and Wealth

September 17th, 2012

In recent years, a number of studies have concluded that the SAT, thought for decades to be the best measure for determining college preparedness, is in fact most strongly correlated with one’s household income – not his or her predicted success in college. However, a new study published in the journal Psychological Science looks to reestablished the SAT’s predictive value, saying that it is a strong measure, especially when evaluated in combination with high school GPA. The study, which employed several large samples across socioeconomic groups, could serve as a strong argument against recent  movements that look to diminish the SAT’s significance (i.e. test-optional admissions policies).

However, to say that circumstances surrounding this study are biased would be an understatement. Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising aspect of the new study is the source of its funding – the College Board – the very organization that administers the SAT. Furthermore, one author of the study, Paul R. Sackett, a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, also works as a consultant to the College Board. Though the study itself makes note of the College Board’s hand in funding the research and Sackett’s relationship with the College Board, the official press release issued by the Association for Psychological Science (the publisher of the journal) made no mention of the link.

In the coming days, there are sure to be a number of national conversations around this study and on both sides of the argument. We’ll keep you posted.

The Changing Demography of Higher Education

August 23rd, 2012

The number of Latino students attending college (2-year and 4-year institutions) has reached an all-time high in the United States, now comprising the largest of any minority demographic at 16.5 percent.  With more than 50 million people, the Latino community accounts for roughly the same percent of the U.S. population. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington, DC based research organization, the number of Latino students (18 to 24 years of age) enrolled in four-year colleges rose to more than 1.2 million within the last year, as similar trends were seen among two-year colleges. Furthermore, the percentage of all Latino students ages 18 to 24 having a high school diploma  or a General Education Development (GED) in 2011 rose to 76.3 percent. An assessment of  pre-K through grade 12 public school students also reveals the direction of the future. Latinos now account for almost one quarter of all public school students.