NCAA Chief Warns Colleges on Academics

INDIANAPOLIS -- It is the job of universities with big-time sports programs -- not the National Collegiate Athletic Association -- to ensure that athletes are taking real courses and earning high-quality degrees, the NCAA's president told a roomful of public university presidents and other administrators Sunday.

Mark Emmert, the association's president, said that significant increases in the academic preparation of freshmen at many colleges and universities have put athletes -- whose academic profile has changed little -- at a growing disadvantage, creating a "mismatch" on "a lot of campuses." Athletes are competing in the classroom with ever-stronger students while spending "spectacular amounts of time" on their sports. That tension makes it incumbent on institutional leaders to ensure that "we are not cheating young men and women by not providing them academic programs of high quality," Emmert said.

"It's not the role of a national athletic association to say what an English course has to be to have integrity," he said. "Some people somehow think the NCAA ought to be able to walk onto campus" and play that role. "But that’s your job; you have to make sure you’re doing it."

Emmert's comments come at a time when the NCAA is preparing to increase its eligibility standards for athletes, and amid a rash of academic scandals that some attribute to the pressure on colleges to keep academically underprepared athletes eligible.

U of California Plan Would Boost In-State Enrollment

The University of California is planning to increase by 10,000 the number of Californians enrolled in system campuses by 2018, The Los Angeles Times reported. System officials said more Californians will be enrolled at all UC campuses. The plan follows criticism of the university for in recent years increasing out-of-state enrollments, a move the university has defended as necessary for revenue gained from the higher out-of-state tuition rates. University officials said they plan to pay for the increased California enrollment by phasing out the use of state and university financial aid funds for low-income students from outside California.

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Who are first-generation students and how do they fare?

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Research finds varying definitions of "first generation" result in big differences in how these students are counted -- but however they are defined, they lag behind their peers.

Duke Creates Program for First-Generation Students

Duke University on Thursday announced a new program for first-generation students or those from disadvantaged high schools, designed to help these students succeed at the university. The program will provide mentors, extra financial support and a summer "bridge" program to help students get ready for the academic demands of Duke. The university stressed that the participants will meet Duke's normal, highly competitive admissions standards.

“This is not remedial,” said a statement from Stephen Nowicki, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education. “But students who come, for example, from a less-resourced high school may not have taken Advanced Placement classes, while most of their Duke classmates have, so some start the race a few steps behind.”

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ACT Says All September Scores Released

All ACT scores from the September administration of the test have now been released, ACT announced Friday. A major delay in score releases has had many students worried that they would not be able to have ACT scores reported to colleges in time for Nov. 1 deadlines for some early admissions programs. ACT's announcement said that it would be sending requested score reports to colleges over the weekend to meet the deadlines.

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We need a simplified, two-tiered admissions process (essay)

It has been clear for some time that the American college admissions system is fundamentally flawed. Between the Common App’s monopoly over the admissions process and U.S. News & World Report's rankings -- which give institutions points for selectivity and higher test scores -- it has been nearly impossible for individual colleges to change the way they recruit and admit students who are a good fit for their specific programs.

The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success -- a group of more than 80 higher education institutions that includes the Ivies, Stanford University, top liberal arts colleges and major state universities -- represents bold steps in a new direction. One hopes that the range of colleges and universities included in the coalition will allow each of its members to keep up pressure in three key ways: shifting from tests and transcripts to a more robust, portfolio-based admissions process; ensuring financial-aid transparency; and providing not only admissions advice about the institution itself but also helping the widest group of students in its community to navigate, as they say at the KIPP network of charter schools, “to and through college.”

The shift from a college admissions system that serves colleges to one that serves students and families is a national imperative if we wish to train young people for the jobs they will discover and the lives they will lead in the 21st century -- most of which do not even exist today.

To cut through the current logjam, however, we need structural changes across thousands of colleges, not just the good intentions of and coordination among the most privileged few. Individual colleges can’t make systemic change. And the coalition has received considerable resistance, as New York Times columnist Frank Bruni has described, since it presented its plan at the annual conference of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling.

If we want to change fundamentally the things that are broken with the current system, we need to go further, instituting a new framework that improves outcomes for colleges, parents and, most of all, students. We must tackle the tough questions: How can we steer the most students to colleges where they will thrive? How can we make the admissions process both challenging and a level playing field? How can we make financial aid fair and transparent?

I recommend a two-step process similar to medical school admissions. It requires colleges and universities to:

1. Establish a simple and consistent across-the-board threshold. It includes the student’s transcript, standardized test scores, activities résumé, school writing sample and a short personal essay. Students can apply to a limited number of schools -- say, 15 -- for one price. Students who receive free or reduced lunch receive 100 percent fee waivers. Colleges read the folders and decide who is academically qualified. They rank all students likely, possible or no. And they provide information about how much financial aid the student will receive if admitted later.

All financial aid is based on need (in relation to that institution’s ability to provide aid). If a college is “gapping” (admitting a student but not providing sufficient aid), the amount of debt the student will be required to assume is clear to the student and parent. There are no early admissions and no exceptions, not even for athletes.

This step provides a sanity check for students: they must apply to colleges where they are academically qualified, or they’ll end up with nothing. It also makes the first step more helpful for parents, who can see how likely their children are to get admitted and to receive financial aid at different colleges. This first, fact-based round enables colleges to select a smaller group of students to review more intensively and explore who the best candidates are for their particular programs and priorities.

2. Explore in some depth the fit between each student and the institution. Colleges identify those students who have the intellectual, personal and moral characteristics to be good citizens in their communities. And students determine which colleges will nurture their particular intellectual and personal ambitions, their sense of who they want to become in college and in life. Colleges can be innovative here: they might consider assessment centers, as suggested by Adam Grant, professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. (Such activities can be done online or in person, with the assumption that every aspect of this second phase will be paid by the college for all students.) Colleges can also try different types of writing assignments (as at Bard College), videos (like Goucher College), inventions, op-eds, interviews -- whatever they like, and in whatever combination they like, in order to get to know each student better. This should be fun and empowering for students, who should be encouraged to reveal who they think they would become at each college that they are considering.

At the end of this second round, students and colleges rank their preferences, and a computer optimizes the outcomes -- like the internship match in medicine.

This is actually how the core admissions work is done now for many state universities’ selective honors programs: a computer accepts the top tier and rejects the bottom. In a second round, students submit additional essays, videos and other projects, and the college then decides who is admitted to premier programs -- which include financial aid packages as well as smaller, more selective classes.

You could argue that transforming the tangled and misaligned assumptions of the current jury-rigged system into something this clean and simple will be extremely difficult. Indeed, it will take significant collective will to achieve something equitable and empowering for students of all backgrounds. But this two-step process is fair, transparent and fun -- three things that the current system is not and that the coalition’s ambitious opening gambit, by itself, cannot ensure.

Carol Barash is the founder and CEO of Story2, the company that expands writing fluency and self-advocacy through storytelling.

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Some SAT Score Reports Are Delayed

First, ACT asked colleges to be flexible as the testing organization was not meeting deadlines to deliver score reports. Now the College Board is asking colleges to be flexible as it is behind schedule on delivering SAT reports. The College Board has responded to numerous comments on Twitter by saying that it is working to deliver scores as soon as possible. However, with Nov. 1 deadlines looming for some early admissions programs, students are posting angry comments -- especially those who paid for rush delivery. On its official Twitter account, the College Board said rush fees would be refunded when it was unable to deliver the reports on time.

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Study: Law Schools Admit Those Unlikely to Pass Bar

The number of law schools admitting students at serious risk of never passing bar exams is up significantly, according to a new report from Law School Transparency, a group that has been pushing law schools to reveal more about their students' debt and job placement outcomes. The study is built on the relationship between scores on the Law School Admission Test and eventual likelihood that students will pass the bar. While some law schools admit (reasonably, the report says) students with low LSAT scores and high college grades, this is not what is generally happening.

In 2010, the study found, 30 law schools admitted classes consisting of at least 25 percent of students at risk of not passing the bar. In 2014, 74 law schools had such a class profile, and 37 law schools admitted classes where half of the students were at risk of not passing the bar. The report notes that many of these law schools are also institutions where students have substantial student loans, leaving students at risk of high debt while unable to practice law.

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Study finds race is growing explanatory factor for SAT scores in California

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Study finds that for applicants to U of California, race and ethnicity now influence scores more than family income and parental education levels. Could findings change debate over affirmative action?

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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