Syracuse University has been criticized by some of its minority students for an increased emphasis on rankings and for scaling back involvement with the Posse Foundation, a highly regarded program to attract low-income students to colleges they might not otherwise select. New data from the university show that the percentage of minority students in the class enrolling this fall is 24 percent, down from 28 percent a year ago. The figure includes all minority groups, and those who identify with more than one racial and ethnic group. The university is pledging a series of steps to enroll more minority students. Among the steps:
Creating a team of four experienced recruiters focused specifically on diversity recruitment.
Charging all admissions staff members to prioritize recruiting a diverse student body.
Creating and enhancing incentive financial aid to encourage minority enrollment.
Kaplan Test Prep is announcing today that it will offer free online PSAT instruction, starting in October. Kaplan will offer eight one-hour sessions live, with recordings available for those who can't participate live. Kaplan's announcement noted that, for many students, the PSAT is "the first meaningful step on their path to college."
The move comes at a time that more testing services are offering free test prep. The College Board has been boasting about the free test prep it is offering for the SAT through the Khan Academy. (And the College Board notes that this program is open to those preparing for the PSAT as well.) In April, ACT and Kaplan Test Prep announced a collaboration to provide free online instruction, taught by teachers, for low-income students. That service will be available to all, but those who are not low income will have to pay a fee, estimated to be under $200.
Asked if the latest announcement was part of competition in the free test prep space, Lee Weiss, Kaplan Test Prep vice president of college admissions programs, said via email: "Not at all. Kaplan has been developing our live online instruction capabilities for years. We know that good live teaching makes a meaningful difference in student performance, and we’ve recognized that quality live instruction is not available at scale. As technology has evolved, we saw an opportunity to use technology and our respective expertise to create something that didn’t yet exist."
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents on Friday raided the home of a former employee of the College Board as part of an investigation of a security breach involving hundreds of SAT questions, Reuters reported. The former employee is Manuel Alfaro, who left his job as executive director of assessment design and development at the College Board last year and who has -- since then -- been stating on his LinkedIn page that there are serious problems with the new SAT. A College Board spokesman told Reuters that the accusations were “patently false.” On his Linkedin page, Alfaro confirmed the raid and blamed it on the College Board.
St. John's University, in New York, has dropped its requirement that applicants submit SAT or ACT scores -- for at least a three-year trial period. The option will not be open to students who are homeschooled, have a first language other than English or who are applying to a small group of majors.
Ursinus College is making a bid to prove to top students that it can be affordable, starting a new scholarship program guaranteeing tens of thousands of dollars for four years for freshmen who meet certain academic standards.
The 1,700-student private liberal arts college outside of Philadelphia has created a Gateway Scholarship guaranteeing $30,000 per year for four years. To be eligible, students must earn a minimum ACT composite score of 28 or a combined 1260 on the SAT's critical reading and math segments. They must also meet college preparatory-level course requirements.
The $30,000 per year is roughly half of the $61,690 total cost of attending Ursinus in 2016-17. Ursinus charges $49,370 in tuition and fees and $12,320 for room and board. But its 2015-16 discount rate was 57.4 percent, and just 3 percent of its students paid the full cost of attendance.
Students applying for the new scholarship can still apply for additional need-based aid.
Birmingham-Southern College announced Wednesday that it is dropping the requirement that all undergraduate applicants submit ACT or SAT scores. “This move will in no way compromise the caliber of our incoming class or reduce BSC’s admission standards,” said a statement from Sara Newhouse, vice president for admission and financial planning. “Rather, we hope it gives bright, engaged students who fear BSC is out of their reach another way to apply.”
Adjunct advocates are campaigning for a California bill that would provide some job security to nonunionized adjunct instructors at community colleges. The proposed legislation, known as AB 1690, recently passed the California Senate Appropriations Committee. It now moves on to the general California State Senate, as well as the State Assembly. Provisions included in the bill are standardized, legal evaluation of nontenured faculty members; placement of long-serving, non-tenure-track faculty members on a seniority list for assignments; a consistent workload starting at seven semesters of service; the assignment of new courses based on seniority; and due process for qualified part-time instructors.
A petition asking Kevin De Leon, president pro tempore of the California Senate, to support the bill says benefits of the bill are that it’s more efficient and cost-effective to keep faculty members than shed them for new hires. A spokesperson for De Leon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
U.S. News & World Report, that heavyweight of the college rankings game, recently hosted a conference focused partially on diversity in higher education. I did an interview for the publication prior to the forum and spoke on a panel at the event.
I was happy to do it. As dean of one of the country’s most diverse engineering schools, I am particularly invested in these issues. My panel focused on how to help women and underrepresented minority students succeed in STEM fields, and I’m grateful to U.S. News for leading the discussion.
But the publication, for all its noble intentions, could do more to follow through where it counts. Diversity is currently given no weight in the magazine's primary university and disciplinary rankings, and it’s time for that to change. As U.S. News goes, so goes higher education.
Universities love to bemoan rankings, but we can’t ignore them. Our public images are shaped in part by top 10 lists and glossy magazine features. At my university and others, we encourage prospective students to consider how well colleges fit their goals, yet we never hesitate to brag about our standings in the rankings.
Prospective freshmen, transfer students and graduate students examine them, of course, but so do parents, alumni, professors and members of the news media. At least one or two other organizations have tried to rank some universities along these lines. But U.S. News, perhaps the most influential among ranking entities, has not included diversity in its overall quality rankings, and it is missing an opportunity to use its powers for good.
Enhancing diversity is not about political correctness. Studies show diversity enriches students’ experiences and is an indicator of quality. A 2013 report from Princeton University cited research on the benefits of diverse environments, such as greater civic engagement. A diverse environment is consistent with the core mission of a university.
U.S. News rankings at the undergraduate level consider factors such as faculty compensation, class sizes and even alumni giving rates. Graduate rankings look at research expenditures, GRE scores and faculty quality. Diversity is not given any weight, which implies that a top-tier education doesn’t require it. If U.S. News and similar organizations started paying attention to diversity, universities would start paying attention, because -- rightly or wrongly -- these rankings drive behavior.
Almost a year ago, about 100 of my fellow engineering deans and I signed a letter pledging to enhance our commitments to diversity. Many of us signed because we believe diversity is important, enhances the quality of our programs, and is part of our educational missions.
Plenty of less-heralded colleges already boast racially diverse student bodies. Community colleges in particular are unsung heroes. Nearly two-thirds of California’s community college students are members of minorities, while about half of Texas’ and Florida’s are.
One U.S. News list, which earns less attention than others, grades institutions only on diversity, and it looks very different from the publication’s more famous rankings. Yet a separate diversity ranking is not sufficient. It must be part of the overall quality evaluation.
Some institutions might argue that the demographics that comprise their typical applicant pool would make this unfair. But diversity has many dimensions -- race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and more. Adding diversity to rankings criteria is an essential component to showing how well we value inclusive excellence in higher education.
No region has any particular advantage with regard to gender diversity, for example, and that is just as important as ethnic diversity, particularly in STEM. Already existing ratings criteria are filled with biases that benefit colleges and universities regionally (such as Silicon Valley institutions having advantages with research expenditures and private colleges with resources having advantages over publics). Why should we have to bend over backward to level the playing field with respect to diversity? If diversity is a national imperative (and it is), colleges and universities should just have to adjust, or they can focus their efforts on more achievable non-diversity-related ratings criteria.
The diversity metrics currently used by U.S. News offer a helpful start. Instead of focusing on which universities enroll the most minority students, they examine how likely students are to encounter members of different racial or ethnic groups. What U.S. News might do next is create more comprehensive composite scores that consider female and minority enrollment, retention and graduation rates, or even faculty diversity.
There are many ways to approach the issue, and organizations that rank programs should develop criteria to ensure fairness. Whatever rubric is used, though, factoring diversity into rankings will establish an imperative: attract and retain students from diverse backgrounds or risk university reputations.
If universities wish to remain relevant -- if they want to be more than job mills for the next class of white-collar workers -- they need to tackle the problems facing the wider world. We have to acknowledge the value of diversity and stake our reputations on it.
Some institutions already do this. But if U.S. News and others that rank us change the equation, plenty of other universities will start paying attention as well.
Gary S. May is dean of the college of engineering and the Southern Company Chair at the Georgia Institute of Technology.