August News: Challenges to ED & Legacy Admissions, Florida cedes to College Board, Personal Statement Adapts to Race-Blind Admissions

Aug 24, 2023

Little Rock Continues AP African American Studies, Defying Arkansas’s DOE


Last week, the Arkansas Department of Education abruptly removed course credit for AP African American Studies, the course that has been an ongoing subject of controversy in Florida. According to Arkansas Secretary of Education Jacob Oliva (who is notably a former Florida DOE official), the AP African Studies course may now “not articulate to college credit.” The State Education Department further clarified that, although Arkansas teachers may offer the course, “the AP class might not carry state credit toward high school graduation and that students would not receive state assistance with test fees.” The School District of Little Rock – Arkansas’ state capital and largest city – has since stated that it will continue to offer the course and ensure that students are not burdened by test fees. Little Rock Central High School, which was a major battleground during the Civil Rights Movement, is one of the schools leading the pushback against the ruling. The school views the course as vital: “AP African American Studies will allow students to explore the complexities, contributions and narratives that have shaped the African American experience throughout history, including Central High School’s integral connection.”


Schools in the districts of North Little Rock and Jacksonville North Pulaski, as well as eStem Charter Schools, have joined Little Rock in opposition and confirmed that they will not only offer the course but also calculate grades on the same elevated 5-point AP scale. Additionally, more than 200 colleges and universities, including the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, have already committed to give credit to students who meet the threshold on the AP African American Studies exam. Educators offering the course face uncertainty, however, and some fear for their jobs amid growing rhetoric. The Arkansas DOE said that it would take no further action “until it’s determined whether (the course) violates state law and teaches or trains teachers in Critical Race Theory and indoctrination,” and on Thursday, Arkansas Governor – and Little Rock Central High alumnus – Sarah Huckabee Sanders publicly denounced the course as “leftist propaganda…that teaches kids to hate America.” 

Little Rock Will Offer A.P. African American Studies Despite State Objections (NY Times) 8/17/23

Significant Issues With LSAT Administration Shake Confidence in Online Format


Widespread problems with this past week’s online administration of the LSAT has led to many law school hopefuls opting for the in-person version of the exam. Due to “a mix of staffing and systems issues,” at least 5,000 LSAT takers faced significant delays in starting their exam, with some unable to complete the test at all. Nearly 2,700 of those affected will be retaking the exam on August 19 or 20 – and 30 percent of those testers have switched to an in-person format. To accommodate the surge of additional testers, the LSAC – the company that develops and administers the exam – is increasing capacity at test centers for popular September dates.


This was a disastrous weekend for the LSAC. Past platform issues with the LSAC’s previous online proctoring partner, ProctorU (now Meazure Learning), did not deter students from online testing, with 61 percent of the 19,463 who tested this past weekend choosing the remote option. However, with at least two-fifths of test takers affected by significant delays, confidence in the LSAC ability to successfully administer an online exam has been shaken. Although the LSAC’s new partner, Prometric, seemed better equipped to handle the tester load, the “many months…(of)…large scale tests” were not enough to deliver a successful user experience.

Demand for in-person LSAT swells after remote exam misfires (Reuters) – 8/17/23

UChicago Settles in Price-Fixing Lawsuit


The University of Chicago will be paying out $13.5 million in a settlement of a class-action suit that claims the university conspired with other wealthy higher education institutions to price-fix its financial aid packages. The case against UChicago and the other institutions was brought by students and graduates – and their family members. It accuses that the colleges and universities sidestepped need-blind admissions practices by using a shared financial aid methodology, thereby illegally lowering the amount of financial assistance they offered and driving up the costs to attend.


This settlement comes after nineteen months of litigation, and requires UChicago to share data and information on its financial aid practices for the plaintiffs’ further case against the other sixteen colleges and universities. UChicago has not admitted any wrongdoing, and university officials contend that “the plaintiffs’ claims are without merit.” The other schools named in the lawsuit are all schools with significant cachet: Brown, CalTech, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Emory, Georgeton, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Notre Dame, Northwestern, UPenn, Rice, Vanderbilt, and Yale. It remains to be seen if the other defendants choose to settle.

University of Chicago to pay $13.5M to settle allegations of financial aid price-fixing (HigherEd Dive) – 8/14/23

The Personal Statement: Identity and Life-Experience in Race-Blind Admissions


In response to the US Supreme Court’s landmark decision banning race-conscious admissions, many selective colleges and universities have adjusted their personal statement topics to encourage students to discuss, as a Johns Hopkins essay question puts it, “any part of (their) background, including but not limited to (their) race.” A New York Times review of the essay prompts of over two dozen highly selective schools found that these institutions are now using words such as “identity” and “life experience” – and asking how a student’s background and upbringing have “shaped who (they) are.” Institutions such as Harvard, Duke, Dartmouth, Sarah Lawrence, and University of Virginia have tweaked what they ask applicants to write about, in order to obtain qualitative data on prospective students while adhering to the letter of the law of the Supreme Court’s ruling.


A ban on affirmative action is here, but how it will be enforced and interpreted remains uncertain. Those from across the political spectrum have put forward their interpretations of the decision. According to directives released by the Biden administration, higher education institutions are allowed to “consider the ways that a student’s background, including experiences linked to their race, have shaped their lives and the unique contributions they can make to campus.” Meanwhile, in a letter that has since been removed from his website, Republican Senator J.D. Vance accused a group of selective colleges of an “openly defiant and potentially unlawful reaction” to the Supreme Court decision: “within hours of the decision’s pronouncement, you and your institutions expressed open hostility to the decision and seemed to announce an intention to circumvent it.” Students for Fair Admissions, the organization that first brought the lawsuit against Harvard, vowed to “remain vigilant and intend to initiate litigation should universities defiantly flout this clear ruling and the dictates of Title VI and the Equal Protection Clause.” In this period of uncertainty, colleges and universities will be by turns treading lightly and pushing the limits against what is enforceable.

Colleges Want to Know More About You and Your ‘Identity’ (NY Times) – 8/14/23

Remote Testing Remains Most Popular Option for LSAT


Since May 2020, the LSAT has been offered exclusively as a remote test; the upcoming August administration, however, is the first to allow students to choose between a remote or in-person format. The majority of test takers chose to eschew the trip to a test center, with 61 percent of the 19,463 students signed up for the remote option.


Despite ongoing issues with the digital administration of the LSAT test, including reports of platform crashes and remote proctors disrupting students, the at-home option is still the larger draw for test takers. The clear majority of students siding for the convenience of using their own devices remotely speaks to the direction testing is moving, in general. As of now, the LSAT will continue to offer both formats to law school hopefuls.

As in-person LSAT returns, most test-takers go remote (Reuters) – 8/10/23

College Professors Gear Up For a New Semester in the AI Era


After the proliferation of AI-written essays on college campuses last year, professors are rethinking how to structure assignments and assessments leading into the new semester. Some professors are reverting back to paper-based exams after years of digital tests. Others are requiring students to show editing histories in their papers, present various stages of drafts, and/or build in an explanation of thought process as part of the assignment. Others still, are less concerned; they believe that chatbots are just the latest in a long string of platforms through which students can cheat.


Professors have a tough job of navigating this new technological paradigm. Although many want to embrace this new tech as a helpful teaching and learning tool, they still have a responsibility to make sure students not only give in an acceptable assignment, but understand how to do the work. As of now, there is no way to “ChatGPT-Proof” assignments. AI detectors are decidedly unreliable and risk falsely accusing students of plagiarism. Furthermore, the ethics and best practices around the use of AI is murky at best. By setting clear – and realistic – rules and expectations on the use of AI in college assignments, school administrators can protect both students and professors and help ensure that AI is not misused.

Paper exams, chatbot bans: Colleges seek to ‘ChatGPT-proof’ assignments (AP) – 8/10/23

Florida Backs Down From AP Psychology Fight With College Board


Following a period of uncertainty, the Florida Board of Education announced that it will allow schools to offer AP Psychology. Although the AP Psychology course has long been in its current form, recent Florida laws restricting lessons on gender and sexual orientation to K-12 students have created uncertainty over whether the course, which discusses human sexuality, can be taught in a way that is consistent with state standards. This matter appears to be resolved. According to Florida Education Commissioner, Manny Diaz Jr., “It is the Department of Education’s stance that the learning target … ‘Describe how sex and gender influence socialization and other aspects of development,’ … can be taught consistent with Florida law.”


The Florida Education department appeared to be testing its sphere of influence, and when the College Board unequivocally denied Florida’s proposed changes to their AP Psychology course, the DOE had to quickly backtrack. Unfortunately, the timing of this gambit – just days before the start of the new semester – has left a wake of uncertainty for some Florida students. Many high schools scrambled to find replacement courses at the eleventh hour, some confirming student enrollment after already communicating with parents that AP Psychology had been removed from the course catalog. Some schools are still not offering the course this year, while others planned to offer the course prior to Diaz’s latest clarification. According to Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna, “I have communicated to our staff to respect the law and follow the law, but not to fear the law and do more than it requires.”

Florida clarifies AP psychology can be taught after confusion (Politico) – 8/9/23

New Survey Reveals Americans’ Differing Views on Higher Education’s Value


According to a new survey by policy institute New America, Americans perceive higher education as valuable but unaffordable. The study found that 70 percent of Americans think that people with a bachelor’s or associate’s degree will see higher earnings and have access to jobs that pay a livable wage compared to those without one. However, a markedly lower 53 percent believe that accessing high quality education is affordable, with only 48 percent viewing education beyond high school as affordable for everyone who wants to pursue it.


Despite the fact that the net price of college has actually been falling in recent years, higher education is – or at least seems – out of reach for many Americans. The cost of attendance (COA) for Columbia University, for example, is estimated to be $86,097 for students living on campus. WIth the U.S. median household income at $65,000 in 2021, this is a devastating figure. Most students, however, will not pay the sticker price. According to Columbia’s website, they offer free tuition for students from families with annual incomes less than $150,000 and pledge that families with annual incomes less than $66,000 will have a financial contribution of $0. Regardless of what aid options are available (very robust ones in Columbia’s case), astronomical on-paper costs, student-loan debt horror stories, and tangible financial concerns reinforce the belief, for some, that a college education may not be a viable option.

Other interesting data points form the survey:

  • 92 percent of those surveyed believe that it is important for colleges and universities to provide publicly available data on return on investment, including graduation rates and earnings, with 74 percent believing that those institutions should lose tax dollars if graduates don’t earn a living wage.
  • 61 percent believed that the government should be more responsible for funding higher education, “because it is good for society,” vs. 38 percent who think the onus should lie more on students, “because they personally benefit.”
  • 78 percent reported they believe that “all students, regardless of race and ethnicity, benefit from colleges or universities that reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the U.S. population.

Americans See College’s Value but Question Its Price (Inside Higher Ed) – 8/9/23

It’s Not Necessarily “Where You Go”


Among the six most powerful U.S. political leaders, only one – Chuck Schumer (Harvard) – received their undergraduate degree from a highly selective college or university. All others attended colleges at universities that have considerably higher acceptance rates – and do not appear within the top 50 ranked schools on the annual U.S. News & World Report list of “Best Colleges”. Similarly, only two CEOs among those running the top ten Fortune 500 companies received their bachelor’s degrees at hyperselective universities. In short: “highly selective colleges are hardly a prerequisite for, and have no monopoly on, lofty careers.”


The most selective colleges come with undeniable advantages: powerful alumni networks, as well as outsized resources and reputations. These advantages, however, do not have a direct correlation with success. Although attending a highly selective college can provide students leverage in securing a great job out of college, doing so will far from guarantee long-term career success – or fulfillment. How a student approaches their college experience – whether they seize every opportunity they can, or let those opportunities pass them by – is a better determinant of future achievements – and, certainly, more important than where they go. 

The Real, Hidden Truth About College Admissions (NY Times) – 8/3/23

College Board Takes a Hard Line Stance Against the State of Florida


After the fiasco surrounding the AP African American Studies course, in which the College Board was (fairly, for the most part) criticized for capitulating to the fringe policies of the Florida Department of Education, the education company is now refusing to give up ground in its latest skirmish with the state body. DeSantis’ Department of Education demanded that The College Board remove a long-established section about gender and sexual orientation from its AP Psychology curriculum, as this section would be incongruous with Florida’s recently expanded laws prohibiting lessons on gender and sexual orientation through 12th grade. The College Board responded by announcing that Florida school districts should no longer offer Advanced Placement Psychology.


The College Board has gone on record as saying that “The Florida Department of Education has effectively banned A.P. Psychology in the state.” Although this is not the unvarnished truth, Governor DeSantis’ Department of Education’s accusations that the College Board is “playing games with Florida students” is even more difficult to take seriously. The College Board’s position that studying gender and sexual orientation is integral to an AP Psychology curriculum is supported by the American Psychological Association. According to the CEO of the APA, Arthur C. Evans Jr., “An advanced placement course that ignores the decades of science studying sexual orientation and gender identity would deprive students of knowledge they will need to succeed in their studies, in high school and beyond.”

The College Board Says A.P. Psychology Is ‘Effectively Banned’ in Florida (NY Times) – 8/3/23

Virginia Tech Changes its Admissions Policy: No Legacy, No Early Decision


On Monday, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University announced that it will be ending legacy preferences in admissions – the fourth school (along with Wesleyan, Occidental, and University of Minnesota–Twin Cities) to make such an announcement this year. With 47,000 applicants in 2022, Virginia Tech is the most popular of the four to do so. The decision to end legacy preference in admissions was made, at least in part, in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against affirmative action. According to Virginia Tech president Tim Sands, “much of (their) recent success in attracting and graduating students from underrepresented minority and underserved backgrounds … has been achieved by lowering barriers to admissions.”


We will likely see the movement to end legacy admissions gain further traction as the year goes on. Although it is notable for a school with as high a cachet as Virginia Tech to make such an announcement, even more noteworthy is that the university is also ending early decision admissions, a practice that is seen by some as a hurdle to diversity on campus. According to the university statement, “The previous expectation in the early decision plan that students lock in their commitment to Virginia Tech well before the regular decision deadline was not a good option for all of our applicants, particularly those needing financial aid, and created unneeded pressure on students.” Virginia Tech will still offer the non-binding Early Action choice for hopeful students.

Virginia Tech Ends Legacy Admissions, Early Decision (Inside Higher Ed) – 8/1/23

Classical Learning Test Possible Admissions Option for Florida Students


In a meeting later this month, the Florida Board of Governors is expected to vote on whether to accept the Classical Learning Test (CLT) as an alternative to the SAT and ACT for admission into its public universities. If the proposal is approved by the board, Florida’s university system would become the first in the country to accept the test. The College Board has criticized the CLT for releasing concordance data using a relatively small sample size of students: 5,925 students, compared to 589,753 students in a recent study done between SAT and ACT concordance. Furthermore, the SAT data reported by the CLT was not verified, with students self-reporting scores. CLT’s CEO, Jeremy Tate, brushed off these potentially serious criticisms by claiming that the College Board is trying to “keep competitors out of the market,” but CLT’s general lack of transparency is, to some, quite worrying.


Earlier this year, The CLT was accepted as an alternative to the SAT/ACT at the controversial New College, but it is worth noting that outspoken New College trustee, Christopher Rufo, also serves on the board of academic advisors to the CLT. If the test ends up being accepted as an alternative on a statewide level, however, CLT the test, CLT the company, and the Classical Education movement, in general, would be granted a greater level of legitimacy.

Florida may become first state to accept a ‘classical’ alternative to the SAT and ACT

(NBC News) – 7/31/23

Financial Obstacles Exist in Ending Legacy Admissions at Elite Institutions


There is uncertainty over how much of a negative financial impact would be placed on elite colleges and universities if relatives of alumni and donors were no longer given preference in admissions. Officials at Harvard University have gone on record to claim that “there would be substantial costs” if legacy admissions were ended. Some considerable benefits do exist for institutions in keeping legacy admissions, including the following:

  • Legacy students tend to donate more than other students who earn similar incomes after graduation – in part, perhaps, because of greater generational wealth. That being said, less than 25 percent of donations come directly from alumni.
  • Legacy students are nearly half as likely to apply for financial aid as other students; thus, institutions can be confident that legacy students will likely pay full tuition, allowing schools to subvert need-blind policies.
  • Giving preference to legacy students helps colleges and universities protect their prestige by increasing their yield rates: legacy students are much more likely to enroll after being given an offer.


An overwhelming number of Americans oppose legacy admissions. a practice that has been attacked by political leaders on both sides of the aisle (including President Biden and Justice Gorsuch ) and, in some cases, owes its origin to anti-semitic discrimination. That all said, there still hasn’t been movement among the most elite institutions towards ending it. One complication in the discussion is that some schools see much greater financial upside from donations. Whereas Wesleyan University, an institution that recently ended legacy preference, reported that it received just over 7 thousand dollars in donations in 2021/2022, Yale University received 187 million dollars in the same period. In both cases, however, these donations make up for the same percentage of each school’s total operating revenue – just 3 percent in both cases. It is also worth noting that Yale’s 2022 surplus was 166 million dollars, so, theoretically, the University could lose 88 percent of revenue from donations and still be operating with a surplus.

After Affirmative Action Ruling, Legacy Admissions Take Center Stage (NY Times) – 7/29/23

London Business School Open to AI as a Tool For Admissions Essays


MBA admissions offices are at various stages of thinking about the use of chatbots, and some are accepting the fact that application essays don’t live in a vacuum outside of a world where candidates use predictive text software. While some institutions, like Harvard and Stanford, are tightening their honor codes to crack down on AI usage, Imperial College Business School in London is embracing what they consider an inevitable change. “We are forward looking and see AI as a change that we should work with, champion, and embrace, rather than push back or put defences up against, ” according to their Executive Director of Marketing, Recruitment and Admissions, Aram Karakashian. Karakashian goes on to speak pointedly about the admissions essay: “I’m interested to see how an individual puts that across throughout the application and brings it to life. If generative AI can help them do that, then they should, much how they might use spellcheck or a second reviewer.”


AI is inevitable, but embracing it does take a shift in cultural mindset and, potentially, a redefinition of the cornerstone concept of plagiarism. To some, a personal essay and generative technology have no common ground. To that end, some institutions, such as Cambridge Judge Business School of the University of Cambridge, are adjusting their essay questions to ensure their applicants are “answering using specific, personal examples, such as telling us about a time they made a professional mistake and what they learnt from it.” That being said, no MBA program to date has announced that they will use AI-detection software to disqualify an application.

ChatGPT Can Make Or Break Your MBA Application (Forbes) – 7/27/23

Historically Black Colleges Face Singular Challenges Post-Affirmative Action


With affirmative action gone, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are beginning to adjust some of their admissions policies. As with most elite schools, admissions teams at HBCUs are refining essay topics to the enrollment process to foster meaningful discussions on race. However, HBCU leaders are also anticipating a surge in enrollment in the wake of the affirmative action ban, which will lead to their schools becoming more selective, putting more strain on admissions teams. Additionally, in order to avoid litigation, the admissions process will become complicated, and teams will need greater resources to ensure they are able to rise to the new challenges.


Much has been made about how elite colleges and universities will have to adjust their policies based on the Supreme Court decisions, but HBCUs face unique complications under this new paradigm. These schools have been pivotal in educating black graduates and promoting racial diversity. According to Howard University President, Wayne A.I. Frederick, HBCUs have been “carrying an outsized burden to diversify so many industries in America.” In the new admissions landscape, this burden may likely continue to grow. 

HBCUs revamping admissions policies amid Affirmative Action decision (Louisiana Weekly) – 7/24/23

Advanced Placement Annual Conference Contextualizes College Board Decisions


On July 20, as part of the Advanced Placement annual conference, College Board’s head of the AP program, Treveor Packer, discussed pandemic-era decision making, the controversy surrounding the AP African American Studies curriculum, and insights into the future of the AP. 

Some key points:

  • Packer traced the timeline of events surrounding the rollout of the AP African American Studies curriculum. He claimed that although the timing of Florida officials’ communications gave the impression that the College Board may have changed curriculum on their behalf, this was never the case. Packer conceded that, during this controversy, The College Board was “not especially effective” in explaining themselves. Packer went on to contend that any changes made to the curriculum were done so with a holistic view of the overall political climate in the country.
  • Packer called out Florida Governor Ron deSantis’ ban of the course as counter to the idea of parental choice.
  • The College Board will continue to require students to register for AP exams in the fall, as the move to do so has led to a boost in exam performance and an increase in the number of underrepresented students taking the exams.
  • Digital testing will continue to be an option for students.


Since this conference, the College Board has faced renewed controversy over its AP African American Studies course. As Florida’s new academic standards have come under substantial criticism for language that suggests slavery provided some benefit for enslaved African Americans, the deSantis administration has tried to deflect scrutiny by comparing it to language used in the College Board framework. Although the College Board excerpt used by the deSantis team is taken out of context (and is likely in bad faith), this still presents yet another optics problem for the company. College Board Revisits Contentious Decisions, Edits to AP African American Studies Course (Education Week) – 7/24/23

Written by

Zachary Adler
Author Image Since 2010, Zach has been helping students achieve their college readiness goals, specializing in all sections of the SAT, ACT, PSAT, and SHSAT. Prior to joining Onsen, Zach worked for a global investment firm, as well as in various roles in the education space. He has served as a youth mentor and has run college readiness information sessions for students in under-resourced communities. Additionally, Zach is a writer and filmmaker. He is an International Baccalaureate scholar and a graduate of Boston University.

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