College of Charleston Starts 'Top 10%' Admissions

The College of Charleston has announced that it will start a "top 10 percent" plan for admissions. Unlike the Texas percentage plan, which is statewide, Charleston's will apply only to seven counties (including the county in which the college is located and those that surround it). Applicants will still be required to submit SAT or ACT scores but they will not be considered in admission, which will be automatic for those in the top 10 percent of public high school classes. Officials hope to send a message to students about preparing for college, and also expect to see gains in minority enrollment.

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To Prevent Bias, British Applications to Be Name Blind

In an effort to prevent racial bias, university applications in the U.K. will be “name blind” starting in 2017, Prime Minister David Cameron wrote in an op-ed in The Guardian. In his op-ed, Cameron argued that anonymized applications prevent reviewers from being influenced by the ethnic or religious background an applicant’s name might imply.

"Some research has shown that top universities make offers to 55 percent of white applicants, but only to 23 percent of black ones," Cameron wrote. "The reasons are complex, but unconscious bias is clearly a risk. So we have agreed with UCAS [the centralized application processing service] that it will make its applications name blind, too, from 2017."

2 More Colleges Go Test Optional on Admissions

The College of Idaho and Salem State University are both dropping requirements that all applicants submit SAT or ACT scores. The College of Idaho will ask those who don't submit test scores to answer several short essay questions.

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Why colleges engage in certain admissions practices (essay)

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.

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Some Colleges Are Flexible in Light of ACT Delays

With ACT scores delayed beyond some early action application deadlines, some colleges are announcing that they will allow applicants to send screenshots of the portion of ACT scores that are available. ACT has told test takers that the writing scoring is delayed but other scores are available, unofficially, on the ACT website. Some colleges are saying they will accept these scores for consideration. Among them are Loyola Marymount University and the University of Chicago (links are to their announcements).

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Major Delay in Obtaining ACT Scores

Students and colleges are being told by ACT that test scores from September are delayed because of high volume of test takers and because of longer scoring time for a new writing test. Students and colleges are frustrated and some fear missing some early decision deadlines.

Steve Kappler, vice president of brand experience for ACT, wrote to members of the National Association for College Admission Counseling to explain the situation, but his answer has not satisfied many ACT test takers or colleges.

"We understand that some students may be facing important application deadlines. Students who took the ACT with writing may view their multiple-choice scores -- their ACT composite score, subject test scores (English, mathematics, reading and science), and subscores -- on the ACT student website. Official score reports, however, cannot be sent to students, high schools or colleges until the writing test scoring is complete," he wrote.

"Because of the unique nature of this situation, ACT urges colleges to consider accepting screenshots of the student’s September multiple-choice scores from their official ACT student account as a provisional measure, if application deadlines are nearing, until official scores are sent. We will encourage students facing deadlines to send a copy of the email they receive from ACT, along with a screenshot of their ACT multiple-choice test scores, to any applicable colleges to verify that they are among the students impacted by this situation."

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U of California Plans to Admit More In-State Students

Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system, said Wednesday that she will soon release a plan to significantly increase the number of California residents admitted to UC campuses, The Los Angeles Times reported. Legislators have been urging her to move in that direction and even have offered financial incentives to the system to do so. While Napolitano did not offer details of her plan, she stressed that it would have an impact on all system campuses, including those at Berkeley and Los Angeles, which are particularly challenging for applicants.

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Biden, opting out of 2016 run, backs four years of free public college

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Announcing his decision not to enter the 2016 presidential race, Biden endorses four years of free public higher education, proposals that his would-be Democratic contenders have been championing.

LinkedIn Study on Prospective Grad Students

LinkedIn, the career-focused networking site, this week released new research on the decision-making process of prospective master's and M.B.A. students. The study, which was based on survey responses from 1,627 LinkedIn members, found that respondents had an average short list of only three institutions. About three-quarters of prospective students developed their short list before reaching out to a representative at those institutions. And 93 percent ended up enrolling in a college on the list.

Peer groups and professional networks are significant influencers on prospective students' decision about where to enroll, the study found, second only to an institution's website.

Jesuit high school counselors urge new coalition on college admissions to reconsider plans

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More than 100 college counselors at Jesuit high schools urge group seeking to reform admissions process to rethink its plans and push back scheduled start for new system.


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