January News: Will Connecticut Ban Legacy Admissions? “Better” FAFSA, Direct Admissions in NY, Test Optional’s Future Uncertain

Jan 25, 2024

Connecticut Could Be First State to End Legacy Admissions

A bill will be proposed in the next Connecticut legislative session to ban legacy admissions at both public and private universities in the state. This bill seems to have support from members of both parties. In 2022, a similar proposal failed to pass the Connecticut legislature. It remains to be seen whether this new bill gains more traction in light of stronger public opposition to legacy admission practices. The Connecticut General Assembly convenes February 7th, 2024 and adjourns May 8th, 2024.


Last summer, weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court decision on race-conscious admissions, Wesleyan University became the most high-profile private liberal university in Connecticut to institute a legacy admissions ban. Additionally, CT public colleges and universities have, in recent years, moved away from the practice. Seven of the state’s private colleges and universities, however, still consider legacy status. Yale University, unquestionably the highest-profile Connecticut school, admitted 14 percent of the class of 2025 based – at least in part – on legacy status. Although a Yale spokesperson declined to comment here, the argument against a legacy admissions ban has been that it could be a “slippery slope” to government overreach.

CT could become first state to ban legacy admissions in higher education: ‘A practice of the past’ (NY Times) – 1/22/24

Standardized State Tests Need Reevaluation

This piece argues for modifying standardized state tests to make them “more useful and effective.” As it stands now, there is much push-back against these tests; in New York State, nearly 200,000 students (1 of 5) opted out of the grade 3-8 reading and math exams. Opponents of state standardized testing argue that “one-size-fits-all tests punish and discourage students who are already vulnerable.” However, students refusing to sit for these exams lead to another problem: a loss of data that could be used to evaluate learning loss and help at-risk students. This piece argues for a revamp of these tests, including shortening their administration time, moving away from multiple choice questions, evaluating questions for bias, and working to more closely mirror classroom instruction.


One aspect that this piece doesn’t not fully address is that, in the current system, there is funding dependent on “high-stakes” standardized test scores. Achievement gaps are widened if schools are financially rewarded for high test scores, with struggling schools not necessarily getting the funding they need. Furthermore, if there is a racial bias inherent in certain questions, this gap becomes even more problematic. In addition to the points raised in this piece, the self-perpetual cycle of achievement gaps make a “fix” to high school standardized testing vital and pressing.

Don’t Ditch Standardized Tests. Fix Them. (NY Times) – 1/17/24

Last Hurrah For The Old GMAT Test

January 31st is the last day for candidates to take the traditional GMAT exam before it is fully replaced by the GMAT Focus Edition. With this seismic shift on the minds of B-School hopefuls, there has been a significant uptick in test takers, with “some students opting to take both versions to see which one they perform better on,“ according to GMAC CEO Joy Jones. While both tests are purported to be equally rigorous, the change in scoring could be a “mental adjustment” for some candidates.


No news has been good news for the GMAC as the rollout for the Focus Edition has been as smooth as one could hope for with an adjustment of this magnitude. According to Jones, “it’s going well and pretty much as we planned and expected it to go.” She added that the early response from students has been “very positive.” Since the Focus Edition’s debut in November 2023, the GMAC has not yet had to make any tweaks to the new test.

GMAT Test Takers Rush To Take The Old Exam That Sunsets On Jan. 31 (Poets & Quants) – 1/16/24

AI’s Role in The Future of Standardized Tests

Michelle Froah, the Global Chief Marketing Officer for ETS, the company that develops and administers the GRE and the TOEFL spoke in an interview about how AI will impact the future of standardized assessments. Some key highlights are below:

  • ETS sees AI as a “key driver” for the future of standardized tests, boasting the ability to make assessments “more personalized, responsive, and capable of providing deeper insights”
  • R&D at ETS is focused on the “ethical use of AI in education”
  • Faster scoring, concrete and personalized insights, and overall efficiency are cited as reasons for embracing AI
  • ETS is already using AI in the TOEFL Go app, which provides AI-powered feedback and coaching
  • “ETS firmly believe that AI is a tool that supports humans”


Stakeholders throughout the educational sector have been grappling with how to navigate the rapid proliferation of AI technologies. This week, Arizona State University became the first higher education institution to partner with OpenAI. This decision will allow the school full use of ChatGPT “to enhance teaching and learning,” based – in part – on feedback from professors. Meanwhile, testing companies have been relatively mum until now, other than AI guidelines the College Board provided for the AP Capstone project. Whether ETS’ AI-friendly position will be a lodestar for other testing services will remain to be seen. In the meantime, we can hope that ETS successfully balances the obvious benefits and substantial pitfalls of this emerging technology.

AI – A key driver in shaping the future of assessments (Digital Learning Network) – 1/16/24

Financial Worries Linked to Falling College Enrollment and Rising Dropouts

Due to the high costs associated with four-year colleges and universities, a growing number of high school students are considering delaying or opting out of college. Similarly, there is a rise in current college students dropping out to avoid potentially long-term student debt. According to data gathered by educational non-profit National Student Clearinghouse, freshmen enrollment dropped by 3.6 percent in 2023, and the number of students who left college without a degree was at a high of 40.4 million as of July 2021. Even with some institutions waiving tuition fees for low-income students, costs associated with college can amount to thousands to tens of thousands per year – figures that are untenable for some applicants.


Attending a four-year college or university has undeniable upside. Degree holders typically earn 75 percent higher than workers without a degree, and jobs that require a degree tend to come with marked benefits, such as sick leave, vacation time, and pro-rated health insurance. That being said, the path to these higher-end jobs may seem insurmountable for many college hopefuls. Certain economic trends, such as unemployment rates being higher for college graduates than for people without bachelors degrees, are disheartening, and current high school students who are concerned about college may have a parent with an undergraduate or graduate degree who may be under- or unemployed. Furthermore, they may have parents who may have just recently finished – or perhaps are still in the process of – paying off their own college debts. Some, thus, are choosing an option that will put less of a burden on them and their families: “they understand that this route will still leave them living with fewer means, but they prefer it to the one that comes with the financial and mental weight of enormous student loan debt.”

For Some Young People, a College Degree Is Not Worth the Debt (NY Times) – 1/13/24

Direct Admissions Coming to New York State

New York State is rolling out a program to offer direct admission offers from public universities to the top 10 percent of high school graduates. The well-regarded State University of New York (SUNY) and the City University of New York (CUNY) systems will be participating in this program, with CUNY schools planning to expand their existing direct admission program. According to Governor Kathy Hochul, who has been championing direct admissions, “through these bold initiatives, we are taking critical steps toward ensuring every New York student can continue their education, build their professional career and pursue their dreams.”


As predicted by Common App president and CEO Jenny Rickard back in January of 2023, the movement toward direct admission has gained significant traction this past year. These programs can be a boon for institutions looking to boost enrollment for diverse candidates in the wake of June’s affirmative action ban. New York State’s announcement comes on the tail of other such initiatives, such as  the Common App’s expansion of direct admission in November and a similar initiative in state of Georgia in October.

New York State Launches Direct Admission Plan (Inside HigherEd) – 1/11/24

“Better” FAFSA Form Now Available 24/7 (With Additional Caveats)

As of January 8th, and after several months of a contentious process, the redesigned version of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form is now available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The U.S. Department of Education had “soft-launched” the new form on December 30th, 2023, one day before the federal deadline and nearly three months after its usual annual launch date. While many denounced a chaotic and frustrating rollout, a fully available new form promises to expand federal financial aid, leading to 610,000 new students receiving Pell Grant support. The Department of Education was bullish in its announcement; according to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cordona, “the fact that over a million students were able to complete the Better FAFSA during its brief soft launch period underscores our commitment to making applying for college financial aid simpler and easier than ever before.”


Although the U.S. Department of Education remains hopeful about the process, other stakeholders are less so. On top of a compounded backlog of students that have been locked out of or unable to complete the form during the soft launch, NPR has reported this week that due to errors in the process, the government has not adjusted families’ “income protection allowance” for inflation. This oversight will directly lead to fewer students qualifying for less aid unless it is remedied, the process of which will likely cause more delays to an already beleaguered process.

U.S. Department of Education Announces Over 1 Million 2024-2025 FAFSA Forms Successfully Submitted and Form Now Available 24/7 for Students and Families (U.S. Department of Education Press Release) – 1/8/24

The Future of Standardized Test-Optional Policies is Uncertain

During the highly disruptive COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of highly-selective colleges have gone test-optional and have extended their policies, with some pledging to keep the optional policies indefinitely. However, many of these extensions are set to expire at the end of the 2023/2024 academic year unless institutions make an active effort to renew them. Consequently, some stakeholders are recommending that students re-prioritize standardized tests as a part of their application.


In addition to the looming deadlines for policy extension at highly-selective institutions, the tide of public opinion may be turning back toward the importance of the SAT and the ACT. Last week the New York Times published an article calling the movement to abolish standardized tests misguided. It argued that not only are these tests a successful predictor for success at college, more so than even GPA, but also that by deprioritizing them, colleges have lost a means to identify high-performing low-income students. Whether data-based arguments for the importance of standardized testing gain traction is yet to be seen; in the meantime, a high standardized test score can be a strong supplement to a student’s college application in this hyper-selective admissions environment.

The SAT Is Making A Comeback—Are You Prepared? (Forbes) – 1/8/24

Rethinking The Pushback Against Standardized Testing

The majority of selective colleges and universities dropped their standardized testing requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic and, generally, this policy has stuck. After years of growing data showed a privilege gap inherent in the SAT and ACT – specifically along racial lines – this move was celebrated by many.

However, new data suggests that the situation could be more complicated. Not only do the SAT and ACT help admissions officers differentiate between students who will likely do well at elite colleges and those who may struggle (“a much better predictor of academic success than high school grades,” according to Brown University President Christina Paxson), these scores can even help predict success post college. Furthermore, this piece argues that limiting the influence of standardized tests could, counterintuitively, be somewhat harmful for vulnerable people: SAT and ACT scores can be useful in identifying high-potential students from underserved communities, and if those students are not required to submit scores, they could be overlooked.


Without SAT/ACT scores, which, despite their shortcomings, are intended to be fully objective measures, more subjective metrics have been heavily favored, which, in some cases, can be even more influenced by privilege: personal statements, extracurricular activities, and even GPAs. Critics of standardized tests raise valid concerns that reinstating test requirements will reduce diversity; however, if harnessed correctly, SAT and ACT scores can help bolster a diverse student body. According to MIT Admissions Dean Stuart Schmill “once we brought the test requirement back, we admitted the most diverse class that we ever had in our history.”

The Misguided War on the SAT (NY Times) – 1/7/24

Race-Conscious Admissions Upheld at West Point for Now

For now, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point can continue to consider race in evaluating candidates for admissions. The request for preliminary injunction was denied by U.S. District Judge Philp Halpern in White Plains, NY, who cited a lack of full factual record of whether the use of race in West Point admissions furthers governmental interests. Additionally, the judge noted potential disruptions to the admissions cycle – namely the subsequent withdrawal of offers to some students who have already been accepted – as a reason for the denial.


This is the second such injunction request in the past 30 days from Students for Fair Admissions, the group that, for all intents and purposes, successfully ended affirmative action. On December 14th, the group filed a similar request about the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis; that request was also rejected. In the initial June decision by the Supreme Court, U.S. military academies were – somewhat controversially – exempt from the ban on race-conscious admissions. Edward Blum, the founder of Students for Fair Admissions vowed to fight the decision, stating that his group “will be taking the next steps to stop the unfair and unconstitutional racial preferences at West Point.” According to the U.S. Justice Department however, West Point is a “vital pipeline to the officer corps” and diversity among officer corps is “mission critical.” As of this writing, Black people constitute 20.2% of active duty enlisted Army personnel, while 11% of officers are Black; conversely, White people constitute 51.7% of active duty enlisted corps, and 68% of its officers are White.

US Military Academy at West Point can continue to consider race in admissions, judge rules (Reuters) – 1/3/24

Details About the Streamlined FAFSA Process

The redesigned version of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid has, after months of delays, has been released – albeit in a “soft launch” format. Some key changes are detailed below:

  • The form is significantly shorter: some students will have to answer as few as 18 questions, versus as many as 103 questions for the 2022-23 form.
  • The “Expected Family Contribution” metric used in previous forms will be replaced by the “Student Aid Index” (SAI), the latter of which can yield a negative number
  • More of a student’s and family’s income will be protracted when calculating their contributions: an increase of 20 percent for families, 35 percent for dependent students, and nearly 60 percent for students with their own children.
  • The number of children currently enrolled in college will no longer be a consideration for applying families, which will prove a disadvantage to those with multiple college-age children.
  • Families must now report the value of small businesses or family farms.
  • 2.1 million more students will now qualify for the federal Pell Grant; students below the poverty threshold will now automatically qualify for the maximum Grant.


The Department of Education has been recently working to make eligibility easier for historically underserved students. In the 2021-22 application year, the FAFSA removed selective service and drug conviction requirements, and in 2022-23 it lifted further restrictions, easing the process for homeless and foster youth and ending the ban on Pell Grants for incarcerated applicants. If the new, simplified FAFSA launch goes as planned, students from low and middle-income families will have even more opportunities to qualify for financial assistance.

The new FAFSA form for college aid is out. Five things to know. (Washington Post) – 12/31/23

Push to Reduce Scope of Annual FAFSA Audit

As part of the annual college admissions process, millions of students who submit the Free Application For Federal Student Aid undergo a lengthy and complex audit. Research shows that this “verification process” sometimes dissuades students from attending college. In light of the continued delays with the rollout of this year’s FAFSA form, the National Association of Financial Aid Administrators has requested that the Department of Education reduce the number of students selected for the audit process this year. Additionally, the NASFAA has asked that the Department of Education accepts electronic signatures on documents for students who are chosen for verification – in order to streamline the process.


In most years, 18 percent of students who submit the FAFSA are chosen to be audited, a markedly high percentage; as a counterpoint, the IRS audits less than 1 percent of tax filers. Of those audited as part of the FAFSA verification process, the vast majority (84 percent) saw negligible – or no – change in their overall financial aid package. Therefore, despite the important safeguards to taxpayers built in to the verification process, the request to limit the scope of verification in light of the delayed rollout of the simplified FAFSA form is a reasonable one. 

Why Do Colleges Want To Give Students A Break From FAFSA Verification? (Forbes) – 12/30/23

Affirmative Action Ban Slows Law School Admissions Process

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling against affirmative action has led to widespread disruptions in the admissions process for higher education institutions. Law schools are not immune from this shake-up, with post-affirmative action admissions being “unusually slow and methodical as officials try to both retain the diversity of their student bodies and comply with the law.” While it is not prohibited for institutions to know an applicant’s race, it is unlawful for admissions officers to use that information in decision-making, leading to a more holistic process. According to Law School admissions consultant Mike Spivey, “This is the slowest admit cycle in 25 years.”


As the ability to drive minority enrollment at law schools is crucial in maintaining and/or increasing diversity in the legal profession (21 percent of lawyers are people of color compared to 41 percent of the U.S. population), some institutions are employing creative strategies to maintain an inclusive admissions process. Harvard Law School, for example, requires from applicants both a “statement of purpose” and a “statement of experience” wherein a candidate has a platform to explain how their experience and backgrounds have shaped them. Meanwhile, other institutions are increasing the number of admissions interviews they conduct for their incoming classes. Admissions officers, thus, have a more complex and involved assignment at many law schools.

Affirmative action ban shook up law school admissions in 2023 (Reuters) – 12/26/23

Top 5-10 Percent Income Bracket at a Disadvantage for College Admissions

Students whose parents’ annual income is too much to be considered low or middle-income but not enough to classify them as potential donors are, according to data, at a disadvantage when it comes to college admissions. In fact, the chances for admission were lowest for the children in the top 5-10 percent of income: those who earn $158,200 to $222,400 per year. The reasons for the disadvantage for this demographic of student lies mostly with what is advantageous for the institution. One of the most important metrics for hyper-selective colleges and universities is yield rate: the percent of applying students who end up enrolling. Students in the 5-10 percent demographic tend to “comparison shop” financial aid packages; thus, an institution can jeopardize its yield rate by admitting too many students whose families may be able to negotiate a better package at competing schools. Additionally, certain institutions can especially prioritize students who can raise their cachet – legacy candidates or student athletes for specialized sports, who can tend to fall above the top 5 percent in terms of income.


All of the above needs to be tempered with the fact that students whose family earnings are in the top 10 percent have an inherent advantage when it comes to both college preparedness and financial safety net. Students in this demographic are much more likely to have access to preparatory programs, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, supplemental tutoring, and impressive extracurricular activities than students with less means. That being said, this income-centered disadvantage is an understandable source of disappointment and frustration for families who want the best for their children and students who have been diligently working – sometimes the majority of their lives – toward an ideal of future success. Working with a college counselor, making shrewd application decisions (i.e. where to apply early), and — perhaps most importantly — expanding the search for right-fit schools beyond a narrow list of hyper-selective institutions preoccupied with yield rate will benefit families that fear their high (but not high enough) annual income will be a hindrance to their children’s’ admission chances.

How Rich (or Not) Do You Have to Be to Get Into the Ivy League? (NY Magazine) – 12/22/23


Law School Enrollment Remains Relatively Stable for 2023

Total enrollment in ABA-approved law schools remained stable in 2023 compared to the previous year, according to the latest data from the American Bar Association. Enrollment in Juris Doctor programs at the 196 ABA-approved institutions was 116,897 in Fall 2023 vs. 116,727 in Fall 2022 (+.15 percent). For non-J.D. law school programs such as masters and certificate programs, however, enrollment over the same time period declined by 1,102 students (-4.6 percent). Total enrollment law school enrollment, thus, remained nearly steady year-over-year, with an overall decrease of .66 percent. 


Further data from the American Bar Association showed that there was a decrease of 174 students (.46 percent) of students beginning their J.D. studies in 2023. More institutions, however, reported equal or larger first-year classes than smaller classes in 2023 vs. 2022. Looking ahead, Law school applications are up for 2024. So far, 28,982 students have applied to ABA-approved law schools (+4 percent). That being said, the total number of applications is down by 3 percent, signaling that although more students are applying they are doing so to fewer law schools.

Law School Enrollment Steady In 2023; Applications Up For 2024 (Forbes) – 12/21/23

Over a Dozen Nonprofit Four-Year Colleges Announced Closure in 2023

In 2023, fourteen nonprofit four-year colleges announced they will be closing, with a fifteenth shutting down without statement. Ten of these fifteen were religiously affiliated, with four being Catholic; three institutions were located in New York state. Among the schools that closed were Iowa Wesleyan University, Alliance University, and University of Wisconsin–Platteville Richland. These closures have affected over 20,000 students.


In addition to these school closures, several other institutions announced mergers with other colleges, including Pennsylvania’s Salus University (merged with Drexel University) and Valley College (purchased by New York-based Hilbert College), which had sites in Ohio and West Virginia. This spate of closures and mergers shows the precarious position that many smaller-name private colleges find themselves in. With more modest endowments than larger-name colleges and universities, these schools’ financial solvency is tuition-dependent. With declining enrollment in the wake of the pandemic and growing skepticism of higher education, more institutions are in danger of having to close their doors.

A Look Back at College Closures and Mergers (Inside HigherEd) – 12/21/23

“Concrete and Accessible” AI Tools for the Classroom

“Artificial Intelligence Exploration for Educators” is an initiative conducted by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and funded by General Motors that aims to provide educators with practical uses for AI in school settings. Designed to present “concrete and accessible” tools and knowledge to integrate AI into classroom settings, this program boasts a “human-centric” approach to Artificial Intelligence, presenting this technology as a means to “enhance and augment the human experience.” Three K-12 educators who participated in the AI Explorations program were interviewed for this article, and some of their key takeaways are detailed below.


  • Dr. Stacy George taught machine learning in a class of second graders, basing the lesson on understanding the characteristics of animals. The activity was based around the following prompt: “Two tasks AI does well and two tasks AI does not do as well.”
  • For a pollination lesson, Dr. George used Google’s Teachable Machine to identify the flowers that could be pollinated and had students develop a pollination device using robotics.
  • Dr. Brandon Taylor partnered with the head basketball coach at his school to leverage the basketball coaching tool Homecourt as part of the PE curriculum. Student-Athletes used the metrics provided by the app on the basketball court in real-time to address aspects of their dribbling, agility, and free throw shooting. According to Dr. Taylor, through “AI lesson(s) and the use of an integrated augmented reality tool, students develop self-reflection and critical thinking skills.”
  • Using Teachable Machine, Dr. Jackie Gerstien introduced her students to machine-learning, having them leverage the platform to train the machine to recognize hand motions for rock-paper-scissors hand motions and conduct basic coding – allowing them to eventually play the game with the machine.
  • Dr. Gerstein also had her students leverage ChatGPT to expand their prompts into full stories – then use Dall-E to generate an associated image. For her bilingual classes, Gerstein has students complete a similar activity in both English and Spanish. 
  • Dr. Gerstein has also advised students to interact with Code Breakers; according to Gerstein, the use of AI technology, partnered with critical conversations, can help push students (and educators) to be “lifelong learners.”

Can AI in Education Foster Human-Centric Learning? (EdSurge) – 12/20/23

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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