Earlier this past summer, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would eliminate a student’s opportunity to list in rank order the colleges and universities to which he or she had submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Many in higher education, and most involved in college counseling, applauded the decision.
Then, this month, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling amended its ethical guidelines to memorialize the department’s action, and it now discourages colleges from asking applicants to list in rank order the colleges they are considering.
These recent changes will force many of us who work at colleges and universities to more directly ask students about their level of interest in our institution. Because we will no longer be able to rely on our ranked position on the FAFSA, which had very high predictive value related to a student’s prospect for enrolling, we now will have to do the asking. This will be new territory for many of us and for students, but I believe such directness can be good for colleges, admissions offices, families and students.
I suspect this shift in communication may have been unintentional on the parts of both the Education Department and NACAC. I also think their actions were the result of a “parade of horribles” -- what-ifs and speculations -- that undoubtedly will bring focus to other important strategies and tools used by many colleges in the contemporary practice of admissions.
Oft mentioned among the parade of horribles are:
the potential for admissions offices to use (“misuse” is a better term) information, like rank order, to influence admissions and financial aid decisions;
the pressure on students to develop a strategy in developing their list order to make sure to maximize their options;
the potential that first-generation students and those from underserved or underresourced areas will not understand the process.
These sound pretty awful, while the actions of the Department of Education and NACAC, designed to protect students, seem sensible. So why in the world would admissions and enrollment professionals, also presumably interested in serving and recruiting students, engage in such practices?
Let’s start with two premises.
First, there are three types of colleges: superselective institutions that have the luxury of “crafting a class,” open-access colleges that accept everyone who applies and colleges that work tirelessly all year just to make each class.
Second, one of the primary responsibilities of today’s enrollment manager or senior admissions leader is to predict who will enroll.
While my institution may be positioned between the superselective and the just-make-the-class types, my sympathies are more closely aligned with the latter, given the realities of demographic shifts, changes in ability and willingness of students and their families to pay, and the affordability advocates who tout cutbacks to areas such as marketing, administration and recruitment.
At Augustana College, where I work in admissions, one of my primary responsibilities is to offer the president and the Board of Trustees a data-informed prediction about who will enroll each year. This prediction sets in motion a budget and planning process that impacts the quality of education we offer our students and the livelihoods of the people who serve our students. Therefore, I want to have as many resources as possible to help inform that prediction.
We don’t ask students to rank order the institutions to which they’ve applied, but we do ask admitted students whether Augustana ranks first or in the top three or top five choices. We’ve done this for years, postadmission, and have found it to be very helpful in prioritizing our outreach to students and making the best use of our time as admissions professionals. We’ve used this information along with FAFSA position to help predict who will show up on our campus in the fall.
So, let me offer a few reasons -- not in any rank order -- why an admissions office might want to have a good idea about our relative standing with students in an effort to be efficient and make credible predictions.
Limited, constrained human resources. For most college admissions offices, especially at those institutions that need to work very hard to make the class, human resources must be deployed carefully, thoughtfully and with the greatest good in mind. Given the size of applicant pools, it is usually impossible to develop relationships with everyone who applies. Many admissions offices try to learn where to focus their efforts to make the most meaningful connections. Information like the ranking of colleges, and many other things that demonstrate students’ interests, can help an admissions counselor prioritize work and concentrate on the students most likely to enroll. At institutions that need 20 to 25 percent of our admitted students to enroll, being able to connect with those most likely to choose our college is quite useful.
The need to work smarter. A constant chorus on college campuses today is to “work smarter, not harder.” Data equip an admissions office to do that. I am aware of very few admissions offices that are increasing staff sizes, which means we are expected to work smarter every year in an environment of heavier workloads and shrinking resources. Lacking human resources, we need data, tools and processes that streamline and focus attention and allow us to be smart in our work.
Vital volunteer engagement. When it takes a village to make the class, ensuring that your village of volunteers has meaningful engagements with prospective students is crucial to long-term recruitment and admissions success. Most admissions offices rely on campus partners to supplement the recruitment effort and ultimately be effective. If there’s one thing I know about volunteers, it is that one bad experience can turn an enthusiastic volunteer away forever. Many admissions offices need to do an internal sort to make sure volunteers have good experiences. Data that inform an internal sort are important to maintaining valuable relationships with our volunteers, too.
Efficiency and access. Most important, good use of time means we can focus more on first-generation or underresourced students and families. One of the reasons we must prioritize is so we can spend more hours on creating access -- working with populations who are not as familiar with the college search process or our type of college. Understanding that one student is clear about choosing your college can free you up to counsel others who need more information to make a comfortable and informed decision.
Most people would agree this list does not in any way sound related to a “parade of horribles.” In the end, it may just come down to the fact that communication patterns and predictions keep changing. Perhaps in a couple of years, students, becoming more savvy by the minute, will decide once they’re admitted to tell each college or university that it is number one on their list -- thus hoping to get more attention. To get to the real truth, we will again have to change our approach to how we ask them.
Because, ultimately, we should do all we can to communicate honestly and in depth with our accepted students, and that begins with directness and an effort to truly know what they are thinking. It’s the kind of communication that should precede any commitment of this magnitude.
W. Kent Barnds is vice president of enrollment, communications and planning at Augustana College.
Submitted by Jake New on October 27, 2015 - 3:00am
The University of Mississippi Police Department quietly lowered the state flag early Monday from its position atop a flagpole in the center of campus, removing a symbol that students and faculty have decried as divisive because it features the Confederate battle emblem.
“The University of Mississippi community came to the realization years ago that the Confederate battle flag did not represent many of our core values, such as civility and respect for others,” Morris Stocks, the university's interim chancellor, said in a statement. “Since that time, we have become a stronger and better university. We join other leaders in our state who are calling for a change in the state flag.”
The decision followed months of protest on campus. Last week, Mississippi's Associated Student Senate, the Faculty Senate, the Graduate Student Council and the Staff Council all passed measures requesting that the university remove the flag. The flag will be stored in the university's archives, along with the resolutions that called for its removal.
John Fennebresque, whose tenure as chairman of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors was marked by unhappiness over his brusque and secretive style and capped by the controversial selection of Margaret Spellings as the system's president, resigned Monday, UNC announced.
Fennebresque, a lawyer who has been on the board since 2011 and became its chair last year, was seen as largely responsible for pushing out the previous president, Thomas W. Ross, for reasons that were never quite clear. He led the search for Ross's replacement, which ended Friday when the board selected Spellings, the former U.S. education secretary, as president. Many observers of the search, including some of Fennebresque's fellow board members and some Republican legislators who had backed his selection as chair, criticized the secrecy that enveloped the process and the fact that Spellings appeared to be the only candidate whom the board fully considered.
Some people questioned Spellings's selection because it resulted from a process widely viewed as flawed, with one going so far as to refer to it as “fruit from a poisonous tree.” The resignation of Fennebresque may quiet criticism of Spellings and give her presidency a better shot at succeeding.
Clay Christensen, a professor at Harvard University's business school, has since his 1997 book The Innovator's Dilemma been widely acclaimed in the business world for his theory of “disruptive innovation” to explain why upstarts derail established companies. A later book applying the ideas to higher education has led many administrators to feature Christensen at meetings and quote him to promote various ideas about change. But an article in The Boston Globe notes that his ideas are increasingly being questioned. A year ago, The New Yorker published a critique. But now an article in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan Management Review (summary available here) offers detailed academic criticism of the disruptive innovation theory. The article questions whether many of Christensen's examples actually prove what he says and cautions business leaders against relying on the theory. In another article in the Globe, Christensen explains why he thinks the theory is still valid.
Submitted by Jake New on October 26, 2015 - 3:00am
Recruits visiting the University of Louisville were allegedly entertained by nude dancers and prostitutes paid for by a program assistant. How culpable is head coach Rick Pitino, and is the case a symptom of a larger problem in college sports?
Submitted by Paul Fain on October 26, 2015 - 3:00am
PricewaterhouseCoopers, the large auditing and professional services company, has created a program to help its new hires pay off their student debt. The company, which hires up to 12,000 recent college graduates each year, will contribute $1,200 per year for up to six years to pay down its new employees' student debt.
The average PWC employee is 28 years old, said Bob Moritz, the company's chairman and senior partner. And student loans are a big problem for many of the company's younger employees, he said, particularly those who are members of minority groups, who tend to have a higher average debt level.
The company will make automatic monthly contributions directly toward its employees' debt. The payments can be applied to both undergraduate and graduate debt.
Moritz said one goal of the new program, in addition to helping employees, is to encourage them to stay with the company longer.
Submitted by Paul Fain on October 23, 2015 - 3:00am
Three Senate Republicans on Thursday wrote to the U.S. Department of Defense to question its recent decision to temporarily suspend the University of Phoenix's eligibility for military tuition benefits.
The Pentagon's sanction of the for-profit chain was due to allegations about Phoenix improperly sponsoring recruiting events and using the Defense Department's seal on commemorative coins. Newly enrolling students may not use military tuition assistance at the university. Roughly 4,000 Phoenix students currently receive the benefit, which active-duty members of the military are eligible to receive.
Senators John McCain, Lamar Alexander and Jeff Flake, all Republicans, wrote to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, asking him to "examine and reconsider" the decision. They said the move was unfair and based on vague, technical violations the university has worked to fix. The senators also wrote that the Pentagon's sanction was motivated by partisan congressional critics of for-profits, and criticized that the Defense Department cited ongoing investigations of Phoenix by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and California's attorney general as part of the justification for the decision.
"We strongly believe that these earned benefits and educational opportunities for our service members should not be jeopardized because of political or ideological opinions of some members of Congress regarding the types of institutions that provide postsecondary education to our troops," they wrote.