West Point Latest Battleground in Race-Conscious Admissions
When the Supreme Court banned race-conscious admissions in June, one type of institution was exempted from the decision: military academies. In September, the group that served as the catalyst for the Court’s decision, Students for Fair Admissions, issued a challenge to West Point’s admissions policies, contending that the institution’s policies discriminate against white applicants. The Biden Administration has stepped in this past week, urging a federal judge to reject this challenge on the grounds that diversity in the Army is “integral to ensuring national security.”
The Army has a diversity problem. Black and Hispanic people make up 20.2 percent and 18 percent of the Army’s active duty enlisted personnel, respectively, but represent only 11 percent and 9 percent of officers. Comparatively, 57 percent of active duty enlisted personnel are White, while 68 percent of officers are White. If West Point and other such institutions are forced to abide by federal restrictions, these divides will most certainly widen. According to military leaders, this issue goes beyond a question of representation: “a more diverse officer corps makes a more effective force: more lethal, more likely to attract and retain top talent, and more legitimate in the eyes of the nation and the world.”
Biden administration defends West Point’s race-conscious admissions policy (Reuters) – 10/24/23
Last Paper-and-Pencil SAT Administration on the Horizon
The last paper-and-pencil SAT test will be administered this weekend. After Saturday, December 2nd, the SAT will only be offered digitally through the College Board’s proprietary Bluebook App. The new digital test is “adaptive:” for each section, depending on a student’s performance on a diagnostic module of questions, they will be presented with either an easier or more difficult module of questions. Thanks to this adaptive format, the test will be able to evaluate students with significantly less questions, leading to an assessment that is approximately one hour shorter than its predecessor. Students will test in an official testing center, using their personal devices. Alternatively, The College Board will provide devices to students based on need or request.
The SAT’s seismic shift to a digital adaptive format is likely on your radar already, but, if not, this is a good time for a reminder. Outside the U.S, the SAT has been administered digitally since January 2023, and the rollout has been smooth overall, with mostly positive student feedback. Scalability is a concern for the initial U.S. administration in March 2024, but, with hope, technological disruptions will be minimal. The rollout of the new test coincides with a widespread adoption of test-optional policies by U.S. colleges and universities, with 90 percent of schools not requiring SAT or ACT scores for admittance. That being said, 1.9 million students took the SAT in the 2021-2022 school year.
“Wordle” for the new digital SAT? Download our free SAT practice app
Historically Low Acceptance Rates at Ivies, but are Numbers Representative?
Ivy League acceptance rates have consistently dropped over the last five years, reaching historic lows. The causes for this trend go beyond simple competitiveness and have much to do with increased enrollment. One key motivation is the shift to test-optional admissions, which has spurred a broader cohort of applicants compared to the era prior to the removal of standardized testing requirements. Test-optional policies have led to the largest ever applicant pool for universities such as NYU (120,000), Yale (59,000), and UPenn (52,000). These numbers include more under-qualified candidates than ever before, leading to augmented selectivity numbers that don’t tell the full story.
Drops in Ivy League acceptance rates cannot be viewed simply as a mirage, however; other factors are in play. Political and social changes have affected the college landscape: disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the U.S. Supreme Court ban of affirmative action has led Ivy League colleges and universities to scramble to assess their admissions criteria. Furthermore, digitization of college research has made Ivy-League institutions significantly more accessible. Virtual college tours and ability to connect with alumni virtual has greatly increased ease of access for would-be applicants; additionally, institutions have put in place outreach initiatives to connect with students from diverse economic backgrounds, who may not have applied without these efforts.
Ivy League Acceptance Rates Are Plummeting—But Not For The Reason You May Think (Forbes) – 10/22/23
Online Students: a Growing Population at Public Two-Year Universities
According to a data analysis conducted by marketing analysis firm Phil Hill & Associates, in the 2021-22 academic year, 40 percent of students at public two-year universities were enrolled entirely online – an additional 30 percent were taking some online courses. A separate study found 38 community colleges with 10,000 currently enrolled online students, with five more schools found to be on the cusp. Many experts believe that this growth is here to stay.
With the pandemic presenting new difficulties for students, including complications with child and elder care, two-year public universities saw an uptick in online enrollments, which provide flexibility and convenience. Online enrollments have grown annually since, and the trend appears as though it will continue. With that trend in mind, community colleges are looking to increase much needed online support for students, including advisors, tutoring, and mental health services, but these institutions are struggling with tight budgets and limited resources.
Online Enrollments Spike at Community Colleges (Inside Higher Ed) – 10/20/23
AP: Cash Cow for The College Board, but How Beneficial for Students?
The College Board has, for decades, “aggressively” pushed to expand its Advanced Placement program, especially to schools that serve low income students. The rationale for this push has been the claim – based on the College Board’s own research – that the AP program helps all students, regardless of scores, have greater success in college. However, emerging research suggests inconsistencies with the College Board’s claims; some critics have called the company’s research briefs “junk science.” Moreover, AP failure rates – especially among low-income students from historically underserved communities – are alarmingly high: this year, 38 percent of all test scores were either 1 or 2 (in failure range). Consequently, some are questioning the efficacy and, especially, value of AP programs.
During the College Board’s Open Plenary Session earlier this month, company officials actively advocated for the AP, with CEO David Coleman going as far as relating AP offerings to academic liberty: “We stand for the right of parents and students to choose which courses to take, while we stand against robbing parents and students of their right to take the courses they want.” It is, of course, in the College Board’s best interest to expand the reach of the AP. While revenue from the SAT is dropping precipitously, the AP remains a financial boon – at the expense of the taxpayer. While the College Board receives only $5-6 million in annual funding from the federal government, through programs with state and local governments, in 2022, the AP yielded roughly $100 million in public money for the College Board.
Why Is the College Board Pushing to Expand Advanced Placement? (NY Times) – 11/18/23
Common App Sees a Substantial Rise in Early Applications
According to early data from the Common App, the number of early applications submitted prior to November this year are substantially higher than expected – 41 percent higher than the 2019-20 application cycle. Much of this increase is due to historically underserved students: applications from minority students increased 67 percent and those from students who attend high schools at lower income zip codes increased 52 percent (versus 32 percent from wealthier zip codes). In addition to these trends, the individual number of students using the common app rose 12 percent year-over-year, with those from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups rising 21 percent.
Further breaking down the data, early applications showed a greater increase since 2019, to public institutions (82 percent) compared to private (47 percent). According to the Common App, the overall growth is quite considerable, both “large in absolute terms and large given our history,” per vice president of data analytics Mark Freeman. Whether this surge in pre-November 1st early applications will extend to the rest of the admissions cycle – or just signals the growing popularity of early action and early decision – remains to be seen.
Early Application Data Are Rosy, if Complex (Inside Higher Ed) – 11/16/23
The Muddled Data Surrounding Legacy Admissions
Amid growing scrutiny of legacy preference in college admissions, not only public opposition to the practice but also proposed bans in some states, researchers are finding a lack of coherent data on legacy admissions, in addition to institutional secrecy. For example, Boston University reported that it “never had” a legacy policy, and then later told the student newspaper that it had not weighed legacy status “in several years.” Furthermore, the University has reported in two public-facing datasets that it does, in fact, consider alumni connections. Whether this discrepancy is the product of intentional subterfuge or just institutional confusion does not change the difficulty presented in comprehending legacy data. And BU is far from the only institution to be less-than-forthright, with many publicly disclosing their legacy preferences and later backtracking.
With the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against affirmative action in June, colleges and universities have been scrambling to adjust their admissions processes to avoid an extreme decline in diversity among enrolling students. Many stakeholders have proposed eliminating legacy preference in admissions to help counterbalance the loss of diversity brought about by the affirmative action ban. With an overwhelming number of Americans opposing legacy admissions and a bi-partisan cohort of U.S. supreme court justices attacking the practice, it is not unreasonable to think we might soon see a federal ban on legacy preferences in admissions. Nevertheless, a lack of consistent, comprehensive, and trustworthy data could confound the process.
Legacy admissions remains in the spotlight. But accurate data on the subject is elusive. (Inside Higher Ed) – 11/14/23
International Student Influx Helps Raise Overall Enrollment Numbers
According to a recently released report by Open Doors, a division of the Institute of International Education (IIE), the number of international students studying at U.S. higher education institutions increased by 12 percent – or by more than 100,000 students – in 2022-23. The total number of international students at U.S. colleges and universities now stands at 1,057,188. This figure is higher than pre-pandemic levels and represents the fastest growth rate in over 40 years; international students now represent 5.6 percent of the total student population. The biggest increase came among graduate students, with a 21 percent increase (80,000 more students than in 2021-22), whereas undergraduate enrollment increased at a much slower, but still considerable, rate of 9 percent.
This influx of international students represents a positive trend to admissions officers, who are struggling to sustain enrollment levels in light of various difficulties for colleges and universities. College enrollment is projected to see its first year-over-year increase since the beginning of the pandemic (2 percent) and international student numbers certainly helped to bolster this figure. China (289,526 students; down 2 percent YOY), India (268,923 students ; up – a massive – 35 percent YOY), and South Korea (43,847 students; up 7.6 percent) are the three countries with the highest number of international students in the U.S. The top three U.S. institutions for international students are New York University (24,496 students), Northeastern University (20,637 students), and Columbia University (19,001 students).
International College Student Enrollment Roars Back In U.S. (Forbes) – 11/13/23
New AI Tool Used in Review of Personal Statements
New Artificial Intelligence tools, created by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Pennsylvania, help college admissions officers in screening students’ application essays. The AI tools analyze the personal statements for seven key traits including teamwork, perseverance, and willingness to help others. The content of students’ writing will be judged on the level of its “prosocial purpose.” The goal of this technology is to further standardize the process, addressing potential burnout and implicit bias of admissions officers.
This technology certainly presents a timesaving tool for researchers, but it is not without its potential downsides; in fact, the published study includes cautionary notes about the technology. Other than looming concerns about displacing people from admissions jobs, the tech is not without its capacity for error. For example, mention of an act with a high assigned “prosocial purpose” score will merit the paper that score, regardless of any deeper context on what the student writes about the act – i.e. whether or not it is truly prosocial. With this in mind, the researchers fear that students – particularly those with the resources to do so – could construct their essays in a way to – successfully or unsuccessfully – try to game the AI system.
Study Uses AI to Review Admissions Essays (Inside Higher Ed) – 11/9/23
New Bi-Partisan Senate Bill Targets Legacy Admissions
A bipartisan committee led by Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) introduced a bill last week that would effectively end legacy preference in college admissions. By changing requirements for school accreditation, the MERIT Act intends to remove all non-merit based factors in the college admissions process. The bill would amend the Higher Educations Act by adding a requirement that bans “preferential treatment” in the admissions process. According to Senator Young, “America is a land of opportunity, not a land of aristocracy…Our bill promote upward mobility for Americans of all backgrounds.”
With affirmative action gone, many are looking for a way to find a counterbalance to what some consider a sizable inequity in higher education admissions. Legacy admissions, which overwhelmingly give preferential treatment to wealthier students, have been the subject of great scrutiny in recent months, especially as the majority of Americans oppose the process. Over a hundred colleges and universities have ended legacy admissions since 2015, and, recently, certain high profile institutions, such as Wesleyan University, have followed suit.
Bipartisan Senate bill aimed at ending legacy admissions at college (The Hill) – 11/7/23
Report: Ruling on Affirmative Action will not Affect Admissions at Most Colleges
A recent report from non-partisan non-profit research group Brookings Institution draws the conclusion that, regardless of its cultural reverberation, the U.S. Supreme Court decision to ban affirmative action is unlikely to have a “significant effect on college enrollment of historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups overall.” These conclusions are drawn from the facts that, in the wake of the decision, highly-selective colleges will need to revise their admissions practices and that community colleges and less selective institutions, where the majority of marginalized students enroll, have – for the most part – not been using affirmative action standards, even before the court’s decision.
The report goes on to state that enrollment of Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Native American students will likely decline at hyper-selective institutions; however, whether this is truly the case “will depend on how institutions interpret the decision and guidance issued by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice.” The ruling, however, may affect other factors connected to the admissions process, such as scholarships, outreach and support programs.
Meanwhile, less selective colleges may see an uptick in enrollment of Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Native students “as more-selective colleges admit fewer of those students.” This is, of course, much of the source of the outcry against the Supreme Court’s decision, with many drawing admission to selective colleges with future opportunities for wealth-creation.
The Common App Expands Direct Admissions Program
This month, the Common Application has expanded its efforts for proactive recruitment of students by partnering with 70 institutions in 28 states to use direct admissions to reach out to over 200,000 prospective college students. Thus, approximately one-eighth of all students who complete a profile on the Common App site will receive an offer of direct admission from at least one institution in their state. This offer will be sent regardless of whether a student applies directly. This push is an expansion upon the 2021 pilot program, which saw 30,000 students receiving offers via direct admissions. Results show that the pilot was of particular benefit to underrepresented students, including minority, low-income, and first-generation students.
The extension of direct admissions seems to be a boon for parties; not only will this initiative be a means for partnership institutions to boost diversity in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, the Common App’s efforts can serve to release some of the tension from a process that has become a pressure-cooker. Regardless of the adherence to reality, many students have a looming fear that they will be rejected from every college they apply to; this initiative will remove that anxiety entirely from any student that qualifies.
Common App Expands Direct Admissions (Inside Higher Ed) – 11/6/23
Rolling Admissions ExplainedU.S. News and World Report offered a helpful breakdown of rolling admissions, an admissions policy empoloyed by some insititutions that provide potential advantage for students and families. Some key things to note:
- Rolling admissions means that institutions review applications as they are sent in; there are no hard and fast deadlines for submissions, but the sooner a student applies, the better chance they have to get in
- Currently, 143 U.S. colleges and universities participate in rolling admissions
- 86 of these 143 schools have what are called “priorty dates,” of which students should be aware and try to use as personal submission deadlines; priority dates are also important for other considerations such as financial aid, scholarships, housing, and certain academic programs
- Many schools do not have specific cutoff dates and continue accepting applications, and enrolling students, throughout the year – and well past the priority date.
Rolling admissions provides several key advantages for students and families. Primarily, rolling admissions can help alleviate the pressure of the admissions process: students who apply toward the beginning of the application cycle tend to hear back quickly and can, potentially, have the piece of mind of being accepted to a school before the standard application season. Unlike the binding choice of early decision applications, acceptance via rolling admissions is non-binding. Additionally, for students who decide last-minute that they are going to college or who find themselves denied or waitlisted by another school, rolling admissions can be their pathway to avoid deferment. The only clear disadvantage to rolling admissions is for students who use the open admissions cycle as reasoning to delay completing and submitting their applications. Among the top National Universities that employ rolling admissions are Rutgers University, Purdue Univeristy, University of Minnesota, Pennsylvania State University, and State University of New York at Binghamton.
Everything You Need to Know About College Rolling Admissions (U.S. News and World Report) – 10/31/23
Analysis of Enrolling Students at Top Universities Who Submitted Test Scores
College admissions counseling company Top Tier Admissions looked at SAT and ACT score submission rates across some of the most popular institutions among its students. Using information from the Common Data set for students who enrolled in fall 2022 and combining SAT and ACT numbers, Top Tier Admissions found a significant disparity in score submission by institution. A visual representation of the data is shared below:
This analysis separated this list of schools into three categories: those that required test scores (Georgetown, MIT, and UFlorida), “test-preferred” schools (institutions where 70-99 percent of applicants submitted scores) and “test-aware” schools (institutions where 50-69 percent of applicants submitted scores). In “test-preferred” and “test-aware” schools, the analysis found that “the relative importance of test scores in the review process is not applied evenly across all sectors of an applicant pool.” This means that students from certain underrepresented demographic groups – as well as recruited athletes and some international students – will be most likely to benefit from test-optional policies. Regardless, the analysis concluded that, while “tests are never determinative,” a student who chooses to not submit test scores will have a better change of admittance at an institution where the majority of enrolling students did not submit scores.
Should I Submit My SAT Score? (Top Tier Admissions) – 10/24/23
“No Decision Yet” on Yale Legacy Admissions But Door is Open for Discussion
Yale University President, Peter Salvoney, speaking at a panel at a recent Yale Family Weekend, addressed the issue of legacy preference in admissions. He posed the issue as whether the practice is “getting in the way of diversifying our applicant pool.” According to President Salovey, “(Yale) will make the decision on the basis of (diversity)…Everything is up for discussion this year, in this new era of admissions. But no decision yet.” President Salvoney did mention that the current population of children of alumni is “far more diverse” than past cohorts. However, according to a February analysis by the Yale Daily News, legacy applicants will be primarily White until at least 2034.
Although the president’s comments leave the door open for change, there, as he says, is nothing concrete on the table. He did mention that Yale will not cave to “political pressure,” but immediately thereafter clarified that “the political pressure is not completely irrelevant.” This panel was the first time Salvoney – or any Yale administrator – spoke publicly on the issue of legacy preferences in admissions since the end of affirmative action. Worth noting: eleven percent of Yale’s class of 2027 are legacies.
Yale to review its legacy admissions preference: ‘Everything is up for discussion’ (Yale Daily News) – 10/27/23
Undergrad Enrollment Increases; More Students Look to Short-Term Programs
For the first time since the pandemic, undergraduate enrollment has increased year-over-year from 2023 to 2022. Overall undergraduate enrollment increased 2.1 percent compared to 2022 and is 1.2 percent greater than 2021 numbers. Community College enrollment increased 4.4 percent compared to 2022. Enrollment for graduate certificate programs, which has been seeing rising enrollment in recent years, saw a greater increase: 5.7 percent compared to 2022 and 9.9 percent greater than 2021. According to Douglas Shapiro, the executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which conducted the study, “This is good news for community colleges and for the growing numbers of continuing and returning students who had lost momentum from the start of the pandemic.”
Although these results are encouraging, it is worth noting that freshman enrollment declined by 3.6 percent, reversing last year’s gains. Bachelor’s programs at public and private four-year colleges saw the majority of declines, while freshman enrollment stabilized at institutions that offer associate degrees. This data supports a growing trend for students to gravitate toward short-term higher education programs.
Some additional noteworthy data from the study (2023 compared to 2022):
- Enrollment changes were split across gender lines (1.2 percent increase for females vs. 2.2 percent increase for males)* as well as those for race/ethnicity identification (4.2 percent increase for Latinx students, 4.0 percent increase for Asian students, 3.8 percent increase for Multiracial students, 2.1 percent increase for Black students, and 0.9 percent decrease for White students)
- 3.6 percent increase in students pursuing associate degrees
- 6.1 percent increase in undergraduate enrollment at historically Black colleges and universities
- 9.9 percent increase in students seeking community college undergraduate certificates
*No data was presented for students who identified as neither male nor female
Undergraduate enrollment increases after years of decline (Axios) – 10/26/23
Wealth Imbalance in SAT Scores Points to Greater Educational Inequity
A New York Times report, released last week, presents data that supports a strong correlation between students’ standardized score increases and their parents’ income. Testers from families in the top 20 percent of earners were 7 times as likely as those in the bottom 20 percent to score at least 1300 on the SAT. For students whose families are in the richest 1 percent, the divide was even more extreme: they were 13 times as likely as the bottom 20 percent to reach a score of 1300 or above. Furthermore, relatively few students in the poorest families took the test: only one in five.
The data here is noteworthy, and leads many to, understandably, dismiss the SAT as a “wealth test.” However, this wealth-based imbalance, as blatant and pernicious as it is, is separate from the efficacy of the SAT as a measure for college readiness. Further data supports that students with higher SAT scores are “less likely to encounter academic difficulty” at selective colleges and are more likely to see higher earnings and job prestige in their adult lives. The opportunity gap surrounding the SAT is a symptom, rather than the cause, of a greater inequity. A student who has access to preschool, a well-funded secondary institution, academic tutoring, extra curricular activities, summer enrichment programs, and directed test prep will be better poised for higher education success than one without these advantages.
New SAT Data Highlights the Deep Inequality at the Heart of American Education (NY Times) 10/23/23
Disastrous Rollout of Online Admission Tests for Oxford University
Last week, Oxford University announced that, due to significant issues during administration, it will not use the results from its latest admissions tests to determine placement into next year’s English courses. In their inaugural year, the online tests presented numerous problems: displaying incorrect answers, failing to record answers, and repeatedly crashing. Moreover, test administrators seem to have been inadequately trained by the university – some report never being given a trial run of the software – and were not able to adjust to the unexpected difficulties; exam helpline call centers, meanwhile, were so backed up that some administrators report wait times of up to an hour. Some schools had to give up and switch to paper-based tests instead.
Although the English literature admissions test (Elat) seems to have been most affected by this technological breakdown, the difficulties were widespread, with some mathematical admissions testers also reporting major issues. Oxford University contends that they will be able to conduct a fair admissions process even in light of these issues: “Tests are only one part of the admissions process and we will use a range of information, including candidates’ individual circumstances, to help us assess their potential and ensure no one is disadvantaged by these events.” That being said, this experience should serve as a warning light for other institutions poised to conduct widespread online testing.
Oxford University says it will not base admissions on botched online tests (The Guardian) – 10/20/23
LSAT Removes Logic Games Section
The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) announced that they will be phasing out the Logic Games section of the LSAT. This move is spurred by a lawsuit that the section puts sight-impaired people at a significant disadvantage. The LSAC settled the suit, but the terms of the settlement included a reevaluation of the Logic Games section. According to the LSAC, the elimination of the section will have “virtually no impact” on scores.
Eliminating the Logic Games section is the most significant change to the LSAT in decades, and response to the move has been mostly positive. Beyond the accessibility concerns, many consider the section to be the most difficult on the test, and some question the correlation between the content on the section and the test takers’ future work as lawyers. Some, however, bemoan the loss of “the fun” section and others believe that a tester’s logic games score is indicative of greater potential: “(Logic games are) super learnable but you have to be determined enough to fail through dozens of games before you see a glimmer of success… (The) section allows people to prove to schools they are willing to put in work.”
No More ‘Logic Games’ on the LSAT (Inside Higher Ed) – 10/19/23
Calls for Greater Transparency After Rejection of “Overqualified” Student
Stanley Zhong, a Bay Area teenager, was rejected by 16 of the 18 colleges he applied to despite his impressive qualifications: he earned a 4.42 GPA (3.97 unweighted), a 1590 SAT score, and founded a startup sophomore year. Zhong has since been hired by Google and is choosing the workforce over higher education for now. His father, Nan Zhong, has been outspoken about his son’s experience, building a coalition that has called for greater transparency and oversight in the college admissions process.
While admission to hyper-selective institutions is never a given, it is surprising that Stanley Zhong was rejected from less discerning institutions such as Cal Poly San Luis Opisbo. On paper, Stanley Zhong is overqualified for admittance to the college, which has a 50 percent acceptance rate. Nan Zhong is not drawing any conclusions about the reasoning behind these colleges’ decisions; instead, he is asking for a third-party audit of a subset of student applications to help assure parents of the integrity of the process: “We’d like to find out if college admissions offices do have a practice of rejecting overqualified students. And what is the definition of overqualified? And why do they do that?”
Dad of Bay Area teen rejected by colleges but hired by Google calls for admissions transparency (ABC 7 News) – 10/17/23
Cornell Looks to Rework Admissions with a Focus on Diversity
Recently, an internal task force at Cornell University released a detailed document with recommendations on how the institution can modify its admissions process to increase diversity among its undergraduate population. The key recommendations are as follows:
- Broaden outreach in communities that are historically populated with marginalized students
- Inject resources into Cornell’s financial aid and student employment offices to simplify and expedite aid offers
- Work with non-feeder schools whose students typically do not apply to Cornell, starting with New York City and extending geographically over time
- Establish more visibility among middle and early high school students in order to widen the K-12 pipeline
The taskforce was made up of professors and administrators who studied enrollment data and conducted staff, faculty, and student interviews and surveys over their six-month review period. It was directly established by the university, which, in a statement released with the task force’s findings, reiterated its strong commitment to diversity: “To succeed in our academic mission, we need to be thoughtful and deliberate in ensuring that we are always a place where ‘any person’ is welcome.” It will be interesting to see the findings – and what is implemented – from similar initiatives at other universities.How Cornell could revamp admissions after the Supreme Court decision (Higher Ed Dive) – 10/16/23