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.
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).
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."
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.
Submitted by Paul Fain on October 16, 2015 - 3:00am
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.
The University of Oxford has released a list of sample interview questions prospective students could face in advance of the Oct. 15 application deadline, Times Higher Educationreported. Oxford’s director of admissions and outreach, Samina Khan, said the university released the sample questions to dispel “myths” surrounding the interview process: “We want to underscore that every question asked by our tutors has a purpose, and that purpose is to assess how students think about their subject and respond to new information or unfamiliar ideas,” Khan said.
The Times Higher Education article includes explanations from Oxford professors of the reasoning behind the sample questions. The questions include: “Why is income per head between 50 and 100 times larger in the United States than in countries such as Burundi and Malawi?” (for philosophy, politics and economics applicants), “Do bankers deserve the pay they receive? And should government do something to limit how much they get?” (for economics and management applicants), “Why is sugar in your urine a good indicator that you might have diabetes?” (for biomedical sciences applicants), “Place a 30-centimeter ruler on top of one finger from each hand. What happens when you bring your fingers together?” (for engineering applicants), and “Can archaeology ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ the Bible?” (for Oriental studies applicants).
The University of Massachusetts at Lowell is ending a requirement that applicants submit SAT or ACT scores. An email to high school counselors said that "we feel this more inclusive approach is fairer to students and will help more of them find a right fit at UMass Lowell."
The new program, a pilot, is only an option and students who wish may continue to submit test scores.
The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success -- a group of more than 80 colleges planning a new application platform -- was announced last week and quickly ran into considerable criticism. On Wednesday, in response to some of that criticism, the coalition sent a letter to high school counselors announcing that the launch of a key feature was being pushed back from January to April. The reason for the shift, the letter said, was "to allow for more time to engage and answer questions and for counselors to be closer to finishing their work with the current senior class." That feature was originally called a portfolio, a name that was dropped in favor of "virtual college locker." The locker will be a tool for high school students, starting in ninth grade, to save work they have done in any medium, as well as records of meaningful experiences they have. Many high school counselors have complained that the new locker will be complicated to produce and thus will favor wealthier students, who will receive more help.
Further, the letter reiterated and elaborated on past statements pledging to work with counselors as the new system is developed, and to make sure the new system helps low-income students.
Several critics of the new system said via email Wednesday night that they were pleased with the move to push back the launch of the locker, and with the promises to continue to consult with others, but that their larger concerns were unchanged.