Several Ohio universities report that they are tightening admissions standards in light of the state's new performance-based funding system, which punishes institutions with low graduation rates, The Dayton Daily News reported. Central State University, for example, raised its grade point average requirement from 2.0 to 2.2, and its minimum ACT score from a 15 to 16. Fewer students were admitted than would have otherwise been the case, but university officials predict better completion rates.
The Center for Community Alternatives’ report on the use of prospective students’ high school disciplinary behavior records in the college admissions review process exposes the wild, wild west that exists with high schools and their disciplinary policies. Both the school-by-school variations in reasons for suspending or expelling students and the differing methods for reporting such information understandably raise concerns about negative implications of the collection and use of such information.
Particularly troubling is the impact that differing disciplinary policies and practices have had on students, primarily underrepresented students, beyond high school. However, CCA’s recommendation that colleges cease any consideration of student discipline as part of the application review process is an irresponsible solution to a problem that requires a more judicious approach. Disciplinary behavior information is important for legal and public safety reasons and is often obtained and used without harming campus diversity.
As an admissions officer at a public four-year institution that serves an urban population, I am always concerned that our admission policies not create barriers for minority students. At my institution, high school applicants are required to provide transcripts and test scores. They also have to indicate whether they have been subject to disciplinary action at their secondary institution and/or have a misdemeanor or felony.
I know the admissions process is often mysterious and daunting, even without requiring supplemental information such as personal essays and recommendation forms, especially for underrepresented students. Requiring criminal history information adds to the fear some applicants have about how they will be viewed during the decision review process. I have spoken with students and parents who are concerned with how disciplinary and/or criminal disclosure information is used in the admissions process, and whether it is necessary, especially if the person has already paid their so-called dues to society. I also have seen a difference between punishments imposed on applicants, and have heard applicants express frustration with biases they have experienced, based on race.
Thus the CCA’s concerns over how this information could come to play in the review are important, but they do not warrant abandoning an often carefully considered process that serves a valid purpose in higher education admissions. Checking a box stating that the student faced disciplinary actions while in high school does not have to be the end of a student’s dream to obtain a college degree.
As a matter of both policy and process, the collection of disciplinary information during the admission process serves an important function in higher education for at least two reasons. First, part of assessing admissibility involves making a determination about character. Students involved in cheating, for instance, may not stack up as favorably as students who have earned their grades honestly.
Second, while some disciplinary disclosures are now required for campus life purposes (and therefore not necessarily used as a factor in admission decisions), there are institutions where the admission process and the enrollment/matriculation process are one and the same. So banning any consideration of disciplinary information in admission presents a procedural obstacle to fulfilling requirements many campuses must meet under state laws and universitywide policies. For instance, changes were made to Indiana law in 2014 restricting the use of expunged criminal history records in the hiring and academic admissions process. This prompted Indiana University to adopt a universal criminal history policy for all campuses.
For reasons such as these, the CCA’s recommendations fall far short of a solution to the problem they rightly identify. I would prefer that higher education focus on CCA’s point about the assessment of disciplinary information by “untrained” professionals, which is something that admissions professionals and their professional associations are well poised to address.
Each institution should adopt its own uniform policy for all applicants requiring the disclosure of any disciplinary action taken against them at another school or college. A collaboration of personnel from admissions, other enrollment services offices and the dean of students/student affairs and legal counsel could be required to write, monitor and review a comprehensive policy, and thereby address concerns related to balancing legal and public safety concerns with diversity recruitment initiatives. Having the same staff responsible for reviewing the disclosures would address the arbitrary decision making by “untrained” staff that CCA notes as a limitation to the review process.
Under well-developed and researched policies, institutional admissions staff could be trained on how to differentiate between those behaviors that would be considered normal teenage behavior versus those actions that, if repeated, would be a potential threat to campus safety. It would be important to emphasize during training the disciplinary review process is not an opportunity for the campus to readjudicate the student for past behavior. Such training would almost assuredly be the subject of ongoing discussion in the professional community that groups like CCA could strongly influence.
Having a policy under which students are asked to disclose information about past behavior and using it in the review process does not automatically guarantee a safer campus. However, the legal ramifications of not collecting information, or receiving it involuntarily and not using it to make an informed decision, should be compelling enough to persuade any institution of the wisdom of an unbiased, uniform and nonjudgmental collection of information about high school disciplinary behavior.
Pamela Brown is associate director of undergraduate admissions at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
The University of Texas Board of Regents adopted a policy Thursday under which a campus president may in a limited number of cases offer admission to a “qualified” applicant who would otherwise be rejected, The Austin American-Statesmanreported. The board acted in part due to a controversy over interventions by Bill Powers, formerly the president at UT-Austin, that many said exceed the sort of limited intervention others would accept. The board policy states that such instances must be “very rare” and in circumstances of “highest institutional importance.”
More than 80 years ago, the state of Michigan promised Native American tribes that if they would give up land Central Michigan University needed to expand, Native American students would forever attend public colleges in the state free. But as The Detroit News reported, the state has not been providing nearly enough money to keep its promise. This year the state provided only $3.8 million of the $8.5 million needed for the program. As a result, the colleges and universities that enroll Native American students lose money since they can't charge tuition, but the state doesn't provide the funds it promised, either. College and tribal officials are pushing the state to keep its promise, saying that failing to do so means that colleges have a disincentive to recruit Native American students.
California lawmakers decided to take a hiatus from requiring an exit exam to earn a high school diploma, so for the next few years, it's not essential. But for this spring's class of high school graduates, it remains a requirement, and some college admission offers are contingent on passing the exam. But as The San Francisco Chronicle reported, California officials decided to call off the July administration of the exam. The problem is that thousands of students who took the test before and failed at least part of it are now in limbo. In one case noted in the article, an admission offer was rescinded.
A federal judge on Friday upheld most of the rules an independent panel had ordered the Law School Admission Council to make so that people with disabilities could seek accommodations on the Law School Admission Test. The panel was set up as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by federal and California officials, arguing that people with disabilities were not having legitimate accommodations awarded. While the judge rejected a few of the panel's decisions, the vast majority of those challenged by the council were upheld. The rules stipulate the kind of documentation needed to demonstrate a disability requiring an accommodation. The council did not respond to a weekend request for comment.
And in a sign of the continued importance of the LSAT, the American Bar Association has ended after one year an exemption that allowed selected ABA-recognized law schools to admit up to 10 percent of their classes from applicants who hadn't taken the LSAT, The National Law Journal reported. Officials said that the exemption was confusing and inconsistent.
Two more colleges -- Marymount University, in Virginia, and Point Park University, in Pennsylvania -- announced Friday that they are creating options for undergraduate applications without SAT or ACT scores. In both cases, the option will be available to applicants with at least a 3.0 grade point average in college preparatory courses.
Western New England University has dropped its requirement that all applicants submit either SAT or ACT scores. However, those applicants who opt not to submit test scores will be required to do an additional essay.