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Rethinking Admissions

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Posts Tagged ‘higher ed’

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.

College Applications: More Isn’t Better–Part II

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently started collaborating with The New York Times, and the result is in-depth, high-quality reporting on issues of interest to the academic community. In the first article stemming from the team effort, Chronicle reporter Eric Hoover tackled the topic of application inflation. In his comprehensive and thorough overview of the reasons behind the spike in college applications nationwide, Hoover acknowledges that some increase in applications was inevitable as the number of college-bound students has grown. However, he also points to aggressive marketing and recruiting on the part of universities as a contributing factor.

“Admissions officers are chasing not so much a more perfect student as a more perfect class,” Hoover writes. “In a given year, this elusive ideal might require more violinists, goalies, aspiring engineers, or students who can pay the full cost of attendance. Colleges everywhere want more minority students, more out-of-state students, and more students from overseas.

“The pursuit reveals the duality of the modern college. It’s a place that serves the public interest, and a business with a bottom line. Although the tension between mission and marketing has long defined admissions, many believe the balance has tilted too far toward marketing. “

The article also includes interviews with some of the key players in the admissions world. Here’s an overview of what they had to say on the topic of application inflation:

 “It’s a classic arms race—escalation for not a whole lot of gain. I don’t think these larger applicant pools are materially improving the quality of their classes. Now what’s driving it is the institutional self-interest factor, where bigger pools mean you’re more popular, you’re better.”

Karl M. Furstenberg, former dean of admissions and financial aid, Dartmouth College

“Don’t kid yourselves, the presidents and trustees want you to have more applications. If you don’t think that’s the case, I don’t know what schools you’re working at, but it’s true.”

James G. Nondorf, dean of college admissions and financial aid, University of Chicago

“The pressure for more applications isn’t offset by an equal pressure for less, and no college wants to consciously put itself in a weaker competitive position.”

Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions, Duke

 “Nobody wants to go back to the bad old days, when getting into America’s top colleges was like knowing a secret handshake. If we started cutting back, applications would go down from the students who need real outreach.”

William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions, Harvard

“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.”

Post-Enrollment Recruiting Takes on Urgency

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

At this time of year, most of the admissions news focuses on the acceptance and rejection letters that are landing in mailboxes across America. But there is also another admissions ritual under way that is not quite as well known. Selective universities are busy quietly wooing admitted applicants to try and persuade them to enroll. The Chronicle of Higher Education  reports that post-admission recruitment is taking on a new sense of urgency as enrollment outcomes have become more difficult to predict. Because of the economic uncertainty, small universities with high price tags are having to invest the most time and money in the “science of small gestures” in order to get a good yield.

 “It’s more important than ever because the stakes are higher,” Robert J. Massa, Lafayette’s vice president for communications and acting dean of admissions and financial aid told the Chronicle. “College is more expensive, and there’s much more competition for students.” Lafayette, for example, is recruiting students with telephone calls, email messages, and campus events. This year, all accepted applicants have also received a follow up letter from distinguished Lafayette alumni inviting them to contact the sender personally if they have questions about the school. Current students are in on the act too. The admissions office has recruited students to make calls between 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. to about half of the admitted pool.  Among them is Hamish MacPhail, a freshman who received a phone call of his own last spring. “I was already sold on Lafayette,” he says, “but the call just kind of backed up everything that I already felt about the place.”

College Admissions: The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Your essays are written, your recommendation letters are mailed, and your college applications are submitted. Now what? Well, college admissions counselors suggest there are some things you can be doing while you’re waiting for the fat envelope. U.S. News & World Report talked to a few of them, and here’s what they suggest:

  •  Follow up with your high school: You requested your transcripts, but were they actually sent? This is a busy time of year for high school counseling offices, and it’s important to check so you don’t accidently fall through the cracks.
  • Market yourself to colleges: Now is the time to visit to the school of your choice and see if you can get an interview with someone from the admissions office. But once you’re there, be considerate of people’s time.
  • Consider your options: If you really like a school, but are undecided about your major, consider choosing a program with lower enrollments.
  • Think about finances: Now is the time to complete those lengthy financial aid forms, and talk to your parents about your options. Don’t wait until you’re accepted to apply for financial aid.

Those are some do’s, and you can find more tips here.  What about the don’ts? Greg Roberts, dean of admissions at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, says that’s pretty simple. Don’t “send mountains of unessential supplemental information, or e-mail or continually contact the admission representative during the time when they are reading applications 60 hours per week.”

Are College Rankings Based on Circular Logic?

Friday, January 15th, 2010

students_in_conversationWhen students are making the all-important decision of where to apply to college, they often turn to U.S. News and World Report’s rankings of colleges and universities. According to one study, more than half of incoming college freshmen surveyed said the rankings were important when making their decision about which school to attend.

But a new study calls into question the methodology used to rank the schools. Specifically, it examines the “reputational” survey that makes up 25 percent of the score that the magazine uses for its rankings. The research shows that reputational scores are based on the previous year’s rankings, and rankings, in turn, are based on the reputational scores. In other words, the scores are circular.

The study, published in the American Journal of Education, was conducted by Michael N. Bastedo, an associate professor of education at the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan, and Nicholas A. Bowman, a postdoctoral research associate in the Center for Social Concerns at the University of Notre Dame.

In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Bastedo said that the study raises serious questions about the validity of the reputational survey. The findings suggest that reputational rankings won’t change, even as the quality of colleges does change. But Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News, says it’s not surprising that reputational scores are “relatively stable from one year to another,” adding that “schools themselves say they change slowly, not rapidly.”

Failure Insurance for Students? Why Economists Think it May Work

Monday, January 11th, 2010

What if students applying to college knew that they could enroll in the school of their choice, and receive a tuition reimbursement if they later discovered it wasn’t a good fit? That might be possible some day if the insurance industry adopts a type of policy that two economists have outlined in a working paper. In Insuring College Failure Risk, Satyajit Chatterjee, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, and A. Felicia Ionescu, an assistant professor of economics at Colgate University, explain why such a policy makes sense.

At the annual meeting of the American Economic Association, the economists presented mathematical models, which show that “failure insurance” might be a useful component of the federal student loan program. The models theorize that students’ college decisions are driven by their finances, their views on future earnings, and the amount of “disutility” that they expect from the academic work. If structured correctly, the failure insurance would ease student anxieties over debt, while giving them an incentive to stay in school. The economists explained how it would work in a Q & A with the Chronicle of Higher Education.