While the college admissions process seems more convoluted and competitive every year, changes currently being discussed and implemented will add unpredictability and complexity for years to come.
This column, the first in a two-part series, addresses changes the California Legislature and university systems are facing, but will likely impact all U.S. universities. Part 2 will address process and procedure changes impacting admissions in this cycle and beyond.
New laws in response to admissions scandal
Three new laws recently passed and signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom curb the blatant abuses found in the “Varsity Blues” admissions scandal, in which the FBI charged parents who participated in illicit schemes to get their children into elite colleges.
- Assembly Bill 697: Legacy admissions preference reporting. This bill requires colleges and universities to disclose whether they give preferential admissions treatment to applicants related to donors or alumni, and detail how many students were admitted under such practices. Failure to report can mean withholding of Cal Grant funds to underserved students. This mostly applies to California private institutions because the UC and CSU systems do not use alumni legacy relationships as a factor in their admissions evaluation process. It is unclear how they are impacted regarding the donor-privileged admissions. This will give greater transparency as to how many students are admitted and attend under these circumstances.
- AB 1383: Admissions by exception oversight. This law requires all admissions that are granted and do not meet the admissions standards, also known as “admissions by exception,” to be signed off on by a minimum of three senior administrators and to provide documentation to the state.
- AB 136: No tax credit for illegal charitable contributions. This law prevents those found guilty in the “Varsity Blues” scandal from taking tax deductions for donations made to the charities involved.
The first two laws will likely result in further tightening the admission of students through “side doors.” In the future, students should expect to be fully competitive academically to be admitted, rather than relying on legacy status or athletic ability to enhance their admissions probability, as pressure continues to mount on universities to look at academic performance as the main admissions qualifier.
NCAA rules regarding athlete compensation
California passed the Fair Pay to Play Act last September, a law allowing college athletes to seek out agents and opportunities to be paid for the use of their name, likeness or image without the risk of losing their athletic scholarship or eligibility to play. Currently, there is either no compensation or the money goes to the university instead of the individual. The law is scheduled to take effect in 2023.
Rather than fighting it, the NCAA decided, after objecting vehemently, to permit the same across all of its member schools. Each of the NCAA divisions (I, II and III) have until January 2021 to determine handling and processes.
One of the NCAA’s major objections was treating all athletes equally, as only a few scholar-athletes will actually be scouted for use of their name, likeness or image. Another objection was how the potential for taxing all athletic scholarships would impact scholar-athletes negatively. The NCAA is also positing that the law may be unconstitutional and is continuing to monitor whether to take any legal action.
One impact may be that top athletes delay their entry into professional sports because they have the opportunity to be compensated while still in school. It is also hoped that the law will provide an opportunity to decrease food insecurity within the student-athlete population. It is unknown what other unintended consequences the law might have.
Impact of AB 5 on adjunct faculty
Until Jan. 1, most adjunct faculty, who are usually part-time or specialty instructors, were paid as contractors. With the passage of AB 5, such faculty members must now be classified and paid as employees.
A number of universities were unable to complete the transition quickly enough for January interterms (one-month, one-class semesters) and spring quarters and semesters. Many students are now scrambling to fill their class requirements, as fewer classes are being offered due to shortages of employee instructors.
While this is currently a problem in California schools, there are numerous other states predicted to implement similar legislation over the next few years. Students should be prepared to be creative and flexible in scheduling their classes to ensure on-time graduation.