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.
Lasell College has announced that it is no longer requiring the SAT or ACT for undergraduate admissions. According to FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing, which is critical of standardized testing, Lasell is the 30th college to make such a policy change in the last 12 months, setting a record pace in the push against admissions testing requirements.
New York University will announce today that it will stop considering at all a broad question on the Common Application about applicants' disciplinary and criminal records. The Education Department and many organizations have been pushing colleges to avoid policies that may punish students for incidents they have moved past, or for encounters with a law enforcement system that in some localities is seen as hostile to minority youth. NYU previously announced that it would stop considering answers to the Common Application question (which includes any discipline from ninth grade on) in the first review of applicants and would only consider answers for those who made it past the first review of applicants. Under a new policy, applicants will be asked not about all disciplinary or criminal records they may have, but only about violent incidents.
For example, the criminal question on the Common Application covers any crime. On the NYU application it sends those using the Common Application to apply, students will see a more focused question: "Within the last seven years after the age of 14, have you ever been convicted at trial, or pled guilty to, a criminal offense involving violence, physical force or the threat of physical force, a sexual offense, possession of a weapon, kidnapping, arson, or any offense which caused physical harm to another person?"
The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success -- a group of dozens of leading colleges and universities -- has released its first application form. Most of the questions are similar to the information requested by most applications. But the release provides the first look at how the coalition is handling questions on gender and disciplinary or criminal records, two topics that have been the subject of much debate of late.
Under gender, the application gives a choice of male or female and then another box, "Gender (optional)," in which applicants can provide more information. Both the Common Application and the Universal College Application in April, in response to many years of pushing by advocates for transgender students, added new ways for applicants to indicate that the male/female binary is not a choice that corresponds with their identity.
The Education Department and others have been urging colleges to rethink whether they need to ask about disciplinary and criminal records of applicants, given concerns that such requests for information may discourage some students from applying and that many minority youth feel treated unfairly by law enforcement officials. The coalition application stresses that people who answer yes to any of the questions will be able to explain the circumstances, and that answering yes will not automatically lead applicants to be rejected. The relevant questions are:
Have you ever been convicted of a crime other than a minor traffic violation?
Are there any criminal charges currently pending against you?
Have you entered a plea of guilty, a plea of no contest, a plea of nolo contendere, an Alford plea to a criminal charge or a plea under a first offender act?
Do you currently have disciplinary charges (nonacademic or academic) pending against you from a high school, college, university or other postsecondary educational institution?
Have you ever been suspended or expelled for any reason from a high school, college, university or other postsecondary educational institution?
Carthage College, in Wisconsin, has dropped its requirement that applicants submit SAT or ACT scores. The college explained the shift this way: "Why test optional? This policy aligns with our admissions philosophy of holistic review and aligns with the college’s strategic plan on access. The best indication of whether a student will be successful at Carthage College is their performance in high school -- the grades they earn and the rigor of their course work."
The option is not available to those applying to study nursing, applicants who have been homeschooled and international students for whom English is not their native language.