College Degrees & Life Expectancy, AI in Admissions Offices, Rising Dropout Rates, Guaranteed Admissions

Oct 20, 2023

Average ACT Scores Decline For Sixth Consecutive Year

According to a press release by the ACT company, ACT test scores have declined for the sixth consecutive year. Glaringly, 43 percent of students did not meet any of the subject-matter benchmarks, a figure that is up seven percent from last year’s number of 36 percent. Of the 1.4 million test takers in the class of 2023, the average composite score was 19.5 (out of a potential score of 36), which is the lowest such score since 1991. This marks a 0.3-point composite point decline year-over-year from 2022.


The immediate conclusion that many are drawing from this disheartening trend is that disruptions from the Covid-19 pandemic are still causing ripple effects for current high school students. According to ACT CEO Janet Goodwin, “These systemic problems require sustained action and support at the policy level. This is not up to teachers and principals alone – it is a shared national priority and imperative.” Although the need for further support for students is undeniable, there are some extenuating factors that could have affected this year’s data: due to test-optional policies, only 43 percent of college applicants submitted SAT or ACT scores last year; furthermore, the ACT significantly grew its business with state education systems last year, with nearly 27 percent more students taking the school-day administration of the exam than in 2021.

ACT Reports Record Low Scores as Admissions Landscape Shifts (NY Times) – 10/11/23

Guaranteed Admissions at Sonoma State University & Beyond

Sonoma State University in California is one of a number of higher education institutions offering “guaranteed admissions” to students in partner high schools. According to SSU’s guaranteed admissions guidelines, students with a 2.5 GPA who are on track to graduate earn guaranteed acceptance at the University. In the two weeks since the October 1st rollout of this program, the SSU applicant pool has increased five percent since last year. Virginia Commonwealth University and the State University of New York are two other higher education institutions that have seen recent success with similar programs.


Guaranteed admissions programs can be a boon for all stakeholders. For students, guaranteed admission can greatly simplify a complex process; for colleges and universities, this approach can help make up for nationwide losses in enrollment. Guaranteed admissions programs can also be designed to meet the institutions’ needs and levels of competitiveness.  For example, the aforementioned Virginia Commonwealth University sets a more aggressive threshold than SSU: in order for students to gain guaranteed admission to VCU, they must have a GPA of 3.5 or higher and be in the top ten percent of their class. 

As more colleges are promising high schoolers guaranteed admission, ‘everybody wins,’ expert says (CNBC) – 10/10/23

Artificial Intelligence: a Tool for College Admissions Offices

According to a new survey, fifty percent of college and university education admissions offices are leveraging AI as part of their application review process. An additional seven percent reported that they would start using this tech by the end of the year. 82 percent said that they planned to use AI in the admissions process sometime in 2024. Additionally, the majority of schools reported that they will allow AI to have the final say on applicants.


Currently, AI is most commonly used in college admissions to review transcripts and letters of recommendation. 61 percent of respondents also said that it uses AI to communicate with applicants. The majority of schools who currently use AI responded that technology is either “sometimes” (43 percent) or “always” (44 percent) responsible for making final admissions decisions on applicants; furthermore, the majority of schools who plan to use AI responded that it is “somewhat” (45 percent) or “very” (29 percent) likely to make final decisions on applicants. For all of the bullish predictions on increased AI usage among admissions officers, the survey also revealed that the majority of respondents are either “somewhat” (35 percent) or “very” (31 percent) concerned about the ethical implications of the use of AI in admissions, citing the need for human insight in the decision-making process.

Admissions Offices Deploy AI (Inside Higher Ed) – 10/9/23

FAFSA’s Delayed Rollout Complicates Admissions Process

The annual launch of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid has been significantly delayed due to a major overhaul of the form. Usually opening on October 1st, the platform will be delayed at least two months, becoming available sometime in December. Federal law requires that the FAFSA be open to applicants by January 1st, but some stakeholders fear that the launch date for the simplified form could be as late as January 5th, 2024.


The simplified FAFSA form is designed, in part, to increase the number of students eligible for the Pell Grant and thus make college more accessible for low-income students. However, institutions foresee that the new calculations could prove costly to them. More pressing is the immediate strain the delayed rollout will put on admissions departments and other stakeholders: the later the rollout date, the larger the application backlog will be.

Waiting for FAFSA (Inside Higher Ed) – 10/6/23

Direct Admission Rollout Planned for the State of Georgia

The state of Georgia is piloting “Georgia Match,” a direct admissions program for this year’s high school seniors. Beginning this upcoming week, over 120,000 students will be notified that Georgia public colleges will be reserving a spot for them among next fall’s incoming class of freshmen. These offers are contingent upon students completing their application and providing further information including their high school transcript. 22 schools in the Technical College system of Georgia and most of the 26 Colleges in the University System of Georgia will be participating. 


Direct Admissions programs are designed to boost enrollment, most specifically among a broader group of potential students. These programs could help stem the loss of diversity in higher education students in the wake of the cessation of affirmative action. According to Georgia governor Brian Kemp, Georgia Match “will ensure that every high school student in our state knows they have options to learn and succeed here.” It is important to note that Georgia’s most selective public institutions, Georgia College & State University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Georgia, are not participating in Georgia Match, in part because all three schools require SAT or ACT scores as part of their admissions criteria. Previous direct admissions campaigns have been enacted by the state of Idaho (since 2015) and the Common App (since 2021).

Georgia is the latest state to try out direct admissions (Higher Ed Dive) 10/5/2023

The Impact of a College Degree on Life Expectancy

This piece argues that there is not only a clear economic divide between Americans with and without four-year college degrees, but that those without college degrees actually tend to have shorter lifespans. According to a recent Brookings report, in 2021, the adult life expectancy of those with four-year college degrees was 83 years, compared to 75 among those without a four-year degree. Moreover, average adult life expectancy among those without a college degree has been dropping steadily since it reached its peak (just under 79) in 2010. During the pandemic, adult life expectancy for this group dropped by 3.3 years, compared to a 1 year drop among those with college degrees.


The author of this piece cites many potential root causes for this widening “mortality gap” spanning from decline of good jobs for less educated Americans to being targeted by the pharmaceutical industry during the opioid crisis. The question remains: what can be done to reverse this trend? The main conclusion of this piece is multifold: a need for removing B.A. requirements for certain state jobs, lowering healthcare costs, and expanding affordable housing. The need to act here remains vital.

Without a College Degree, Life in America Is Staggeringly Shorter (NY Times) 10/3/23

Stanford Graduate School of Business: a Lodestar in Diversity

In recent years, the Stanford Graduate School of Business has consistently been among the most diverse business schools in the world. SGSB’s class of 2024 is the most diverse class yet, with 30 percent international students, 46 percent women, and 50 percent U.S. Minority students. More than one-third of these students hail from 55 countries outside the U.S., and more than half of the student cohort identifies as people of color. 


Stanford Graduate School of Business owes much of its success in building a diverse cohort of students to its dean, Jonathan Levin, who contends that multiple perspectives help make up the bedrock of a world-class education. According to Levin, “part of the value of the campus is that education is fundamentally about encountering different ideas, cultures and people.” Owing, in part, to this approach, Stanford has been able to weather an industry-wide downturn in B-School applications, growing slightly in applicants year-over-year. Additionally, the institution has recently seen a record-high average GMAT score of 738, outpacing other top schools such as Wharton.

Stanford’s MBA Class Of 2025 Is (Once Again) Among The Most Diverse In The World (Poets & Quants) – 10/2/23

More Students are Taking the SAT

The College Board has reported that 1.9 million class of 2023 students took the SAT at least once, up from 1.7 million among the class of 2022. Additionally, the biggest ever share of test takers (67 percent, or 1.3 million students) took the test through the SAT School Day program in 2023, which provides testing opportunities for a broad swath of students, including low-income and underrepresented students. This figure of 1.3 million students marks an increase of over 17 percent from 2022. Additionally, approximately 3.7 million students took the PSAT in the 2022-23 school year, which remains consistent with the prior year’s level of participation.


The College Board interprets these results as very positive for the future outlook of the SAT and an indication that students still prefer the choice to send their scores to prospective colleges and universities. A recent survey conducted on behalf of the company concluded that more than 80% of students of the class of 2022 want test scores to be a part of their college applications, whether required or optional. According to College Board Senior Vice President of College Readiness Assessments, Priscilla Rodriguez, “The continued growth of the SAT post-pandemic shows that students value and take the SAT to show what they’ve learned, to connect with scholarships and colleges, and to open doors to their post-high-school futures.”

SAT Program Results for the Class of 2023 Show Continued Growth in SAT Participation (CollegeBoard Newsroom) – 9/26/23

British University Dropout Rate at New High

According to data from the national Student Loans Company (SLC), the number of British students not completing a university course is up to its highest level. Over a five year period in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, there has been a 28-percent rise in course-dropping among students who signed up for a loan. This accounts for an increase of 9,139 students. These figures also indicate that the majority of eligible students seek financial assistance for tuition fees and/or living costs. Note: statistics on students from Scotland were not included in this study as Scottish students do not pay a tuition fee for attending university in Scotland.


The release of this data coincides with a study from the Policy Institute at King’s College London that mental health concerns are students’ top inducement for leaving university early, with students 25 percent more likely to cite this reason. This year, 8 percent of students cited “Financial Distress” as their main reason for dropping out of university, which has increased from 3.5 percent in 2022. A spokesperson for the Department of Education claims that the body is taking “firm action to crack down” on dropout rates that exceed the small expected number of annual withdrawals.

University dropout rates reach new high, figures suggest (BBC News) – 9/29/23 

U.S. Dept of Ed. Report on Diversity & Opportunity in Higher Education

The U.S. Department of Education released a report this week that “provides leaders with a comprehensive look at the most promising strategies for promoting college diversity in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s recent decision.” 

Some strategies detailed in the report are as follows:

  • Invest in targeted outreach programs to K-12 schools that “serve diverse student bodies”
  • Invest in institutions that expand access to students of diverse racial and economic backgrounds such as community colleges, HBCUs, and Tribal Colleges and Universities
  • Evaluate applicants holistically “in context of opportunities available to their family”
  • End legacy admissions
  • Explore “alternative admissions practices” including “guarantees of admissions for qualified students”
  • Increase affordability for students by providing need-based aid and ensuring “transparency and simplicity” in student aid application
  • Create “supportive environments” by developing support programs aimed to increase retention and completion and by ensuring campuses are welcoming and supportive


Although this released guidance has no binding authority and does not break much new ground, it provides institutions with direct advice on how to handle post-affirmative action admissions, which could be vital for institutions navigating this new paradigm. It also provides more-than-tacit support to work to “consider students’ experiences overcoming adversity, as well as their sources of personal inspiration” in the admissions process.

New Report: Strategies for Increasing Diversity and Opportunity in Higher Education (US Department of Education) – 9/28/23

New Rule Puts For-Profit Higher Ed. Programs Under Greater Scrutiny

The Biden Administration is in the process of finalizing a new rule that will strip some federal funding from higher education institutions that consistently leave graduates with low pay or unaffordable loans. To confirm that these programs are indeed helping students enough to receive funding, institutions will be put to two tests: whether a program’s graduates carry heavy debt in comparison to their earnings and whether at least 50 percent of the program’s graduates earn more than working adults in their state with only a high school diploma. The rule is set to be published on October 10, but would not take effect in July 2024 and would not affect funding toward any program until 2026.


Certain members of the for-profit education industry have engaged in predatory tactics that have helped exacerbate the U.S. student loan crisis; cracking down on this unethical behavior has been a key – and understandable – priority for the Biden administration. That being said, there is some grounded pushback on this pending legislation: an association of for-profit colleges argue that such scrutiny should apply to all bachelor’s degree programs at traditional four-year (not just for-profit) institutions. Others argue that graduates of certain programs, such as Cosmetology and Massage Therapy, face wage discrimination in the workforce or, in some cases, underreport their earnings to the IRS, thus leading to an unfair punishment for schools that are operating in good faith.

New rule will cut federal money to college programs that leave grads with high debt, low pay (AP) – 9/27/23

Teachers Most Accurate Predictors of Student Math Success

According to a study conducted by research organization Education Equity Solutions (EES), high school GPA and socioeconomic status are not the most accurate predictors of learning outcomes in higher education. The study aggregated data on students’ background and academic performance from 22,827 students in 704 gateway math classes at four California community colleges – and conducted a faculty survey and course syllabi review. Controlling for variables such as race, socioeconomic status, and high school attended, researchers concluded that instructors and their teaching methods are “more than twice as influential in predicting learning outcomes” than the second most important factor: prior academic preparation.


Although the EES study is not the only one of its kind that has been recently conducted, it represents the largest sample size to date. Advocates at EES hope that this empirical evidence will lead to new policy changes at community college math departments and to improvements that augment the significant reforms that have been made over the past decade.

College Completion Most Influenced by Who’s Teaching and How (Inside Higher Ed) – 9/26/23

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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