Wake Forest University

college admissions

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Posts Tagged ‘college admissions’

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

Sunday, 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.

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.”

Juvenile Records and Admissions

Sunday, 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

Monday, 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

Thursday, 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.

How Are You Spending Your Summer?: Narrow Your College Search

Monday, May 21st, 2012

We thought this checklist might be helpful for all rising seniors who will spend the summer traveling across the nation’s highways in pursuit of the college that speaks to their hearts.college-one-way-sign-wht While this process is exciting and daunting all at the same time, it’s important to keep it all in perspective, and in doing so, determine which aspects of college will be – and should be – the most significant factors in your decision. So here’s a few items for thought:

  • Know the college’s profile.

Whether it be the liberal arts or scientific research-focused, medium-sized or large, knowing the school’s profile can be a quick way to help narrow your search. In this instance, one size does not fit all and there are some very stark differences between colleges that you should taken inventory of when deciding what’s the best fit for you.

  • What are your academic passions and intellectual curiosities?

Chances are, if you haven’t already honed in on your academic passion(s), you’ll be asked that very question in the coming months.  What subjects or topics ignite your curiosity? Are there areas of study that you’ve yet to discover but know you can pursue in college? Most colleges won’t make you declare a major as soon as you arrive on campus, but it’s also not a bad idea to put some thought toward where you’d like to begin your adventure.  Consider the array of majors, minors, interdisciplinary courses, and study abroad programs  that your potential college offers to see whether they fit your requirements.

  • Know the college’s requirements.

Each college has different admissions requirements for its applicants. Many selective colleges specify the number and type of course credits that applicants must complete in high school as prerequisites for admission. Some colleges do not require submission of standardized test scores.  And still others ask that admissions candidates sit for a face-to-face interview. Familiarizing yourself with admissions’ checklists can save you a lot of stress as the process gets toward the latter stages.

  • Who’s teaching my courses?

Of the many questions that are asked on college tours, perhaps this is one of the most important: “What percentage of courses are taught by faculty?” The answer can provide great insight into what your experience might be like. Does the college require faculty to teach as well as conduct research? Do you want to know and work closely with faculty? Determine how you envision your learning experience to be and where teaching exists on the college’s priority list and ask yourself, “is this for me?” At the core, isn’t college supposed to be built around learning?

    New Leadership at College Board

    Thursday, May 17th, 2012

    The College Board has announced that David Coleman, architect of  the Common Core State Standards, will become its new president and chief executive officer, beginning in October.  Already, the announcement has created waves across the nation’s educational landscape as many have begun to speculate what changes Coleman’s appointment might bring to the nonprofit organization and one of its best-known products – the SAT.  Over the last decade, Coleman has made a name for himself in the K-12 arena, an area that College Board hopes to penetrate further with implementation of new programs that reach beyond the scope of the AP and the SAT; Coleman provides the “linkage” that is expected to “benefit both K-12 and higher education,” says Lester P. Monts, a former College Board trustee and search committee leader.  Discussing his plans in an interview, Coleman remarked: “What the Common Core does in combination with the College Board is make it more realistic for us as a society to make sure that a kid’s educational life is richer and more rigorous every year,” he said, “so there’s not this sudden rise in challenge when it comes time to take an examination.  Still, critics of the College Board, including Robert A. Schaefer, public education director for FairTest, point to the organization’s continued attempt at using ‘one-size-fits-all’ practices to ‘administer’ the country’s public education.

    Whatever your opinion, this juncture provides an opportunity for colleges and high schools to find common ground around an important topic. Coleman’s hiring signals a commitment toward education reform and provides an opportunity for the organization to reforms its own image. “The College Board needs to be known more for what it does than for the SAT and its other products,” says Jerome A. Lucido, another former College Board trustee.  Only time will tell whether this goal might be fulfilled.

    Going Against the SAT (cont.)

    Monday, November 21st, 2011

    Last Sunday, Wake Forest University dean of admissions Martha Allman made a guest appearance in the Washington Post in an article that discusses the merits of the SAT, as well as Joseph A. Soares’ new book, SAT Wars: The Case for Test-Optional Admissions. Considering all of the pieces that comprise a student’s admissions profile,  the article asks the question: “Is the SAT the best way to spend a Saturday?”

    Going Against the SAT

    Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

    From the New York Times:

    A New Book Argues Against the SAT

    By REBECCA R. RUIZ

    When Wake Forest University announced three years ago that it would make the SAT optional for its undergraduate applicants, among those cheering was Joseph Soares, a sociology professor at the university. Mr. Soares has channeled his enthusiasm for Wake Forest’s decision — as well as for similar policies at several hundred other colleges — into a new book, “SAT Wars,” that argues for looking beyond standardized test scores in college admissions. (The book was published last month by Teachers College Press.)

    “The SAT and ACT are fundamentally discriminatory,” Mr. Soares said in a phone interview last week.

    Through his own essays in the book, as well as those of contributors that he edited, Mr. Soares seeks to build a case against the SAT. He characterizes it as a test that tends to favor white, male, upper income students with the means to prepare for it.

    Chang Young Chung, a statistical programmer, and Thomas J. Espenshade, a sociology professor, both at Princeton University, co-authored one chapter in which they cite a study that examined national SAT data from the late 1990s. That study broke applicants into three socio-economic classes. They found that 29 percent of students from the highest social class scored above 1400 on the SAT, compared to 24 percent of middle class students and 14 percent of lower class students. Turning that pyramid on its head, the study found that those students from lower social classes were more likely to have earned a top high school G.P.A.

    In seeking academically engaged students, Mr. Soares said in an interview with The Choice, colleges should pay more attention to high school grades and give less credence to standardized test scores.

    “High school grades are the single most powerful predictor of college performance,” he said. “High SAT scores over-predict how well a student is going to do in college, and they’re inversely related to academic engagement.”

    In another chapter of “SAT Wars,” Jay Rosner, executive director of The Princeton Review Foundation, addresses the gender gap on the SAT. Mr. Rosner asserts that the math portion of the test is “male-leaning,” citing data from 1998 and 2000 which found that men performed better than women on 97 percent of math test questions whereas women performed better than men on only .8 percent of them.

    Mr. Rosner suggested that the composition of questions is unfair, and that the percentage of questions skewed toward men versus those skewed toward women is unnatural.

    Mr. Soares agreed. “I don’t blame the SAT,” he said. “But they’ve inadvertently ended up with a statistical algorithm that is systematically biased against racial minorities and women.”

    Mr. Soares emphasized that those colleges that have taken the plunge, and gone test-optional, have found themselves choosing from an applicant pool that is richer in the diversity of students’ backgrounds and interests. He cited Wake Forest as an example, where in the three years since eliminating the SAT as a requirement, the school has seen dramatic increases in minority applicants, international students and Pell Grant recipients at rates far outstripping the overall rise in total applications (16 percent).

    Martha Allman, dean of admissions at Wake Forest, echoed the satisfaction with those statistics. A contributor to “SAT Wars” herself, she had written that she was “still a little scared,” at having eliminated the SAT. But, in a phone conversation last week, she sounded more confident.

    “The first cohort are now juniors, and we’ve seen our applicant pool change,” she said. “We have greater diversity and better students. The proof is in the pudding.”

    At the least, the book appears to have gotten some attention within the corridors of the College Board, which oversees the SAT exam. Kathleen Steinberg, a spokeswoman for the board, said in an e-mail message that “a number of staffers” had read it.

    “As a nonprofit education membership organization, the College Board respects the right of colleges and universities to set their own admissions policies,” Ms. Steinberg said. “However, given the complexity of the admissions landscape, we strongly encourage institutions to use as many valid factors as possible when evaluating their applicants, including standardized test scores.

    She added: “Research shows that the SAT, when combined with high school GPA, is the best predictor of first-year college success. And performance on the SAT also can be used by admissions personnel to help predict retention and performance beyond freshman year.”