As colleges are struggling with issues of equity and balancing student protections with admissions competition, a number of changes to the college admissions process are coming.
UCs consider going test-optional
There are multiple factors impacting whether the University of California system joins more than 1,000 U.S. colleges and universities in going to test-optional decisions. The UC Regents board is currently discussing the future of the SAT and ACT in admissions decisions; the UC Academic Senate Board is conducting a study; there is a lawsuit pending demanding the end of standardized testing in the admissions decisions; and the chancellors of UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz have publicly come out in support of going test-optional.
One of the most significant issues is the recognition that SAT and ACT scores correlate to family income, rather than academic performance alone. This unfairly impacts low-income and first-generation students, who do not have support and access to classes, tutors and funds to take the tests multiple times. Lower-income students then get lower test scores, and are rejected from colleges even when, once these students are on campus, there is virtually no discernible difference in their success and graduation rates.
It is anticipated that the UC Regents will reach a decision this spring, but it is uncertain as to when and how any new policies would be implemented.
There also is uncertainty surrounding how SAT subject tests, which are optional for most but required for engineering and computer science majors, will be impacted.
Because the UC system has the highest number of applications of any university system in the world, its impact on the testing requirements across the U.S. cannot be overestimated. For now, students should continue to prepare for standardized tests while monitoring the outcome.
Implementation of test-optional policies also will likely impact the UC’s admissions rates, so to create a balanced college list, it is critical to add schools outside the UC system.
DOJ agreement alters admissions rules
The National Association for College Admissions Counseling recently agreed to delete key provisions of the Code of Ethics and Professional Practice to reach an agreement with the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice over allegations that the provisions constitute restraint of trade for colleges seeking to recruit students. Deletion of these provisions are already having far-reaching impacts. The provisions are:
• Deletion of the section prohibiting offering exclusive incentives for early-decision applicants. In the past, no special incentives were allowed for students applying early decision, which has fewer applicants and significantly higher acceptance rates. Those who apply early decision are disproportionately from wealthy families who can afford to pay the full tuition without considering merit and financial aid. Since this provision was eliminated, less-selective colleges have started offering incentives such as assigned freshman parking spaces, special dorm housing, priority time slots for class scheduling, small incentive scholarships and other perks for those willing and able to pay full tuition and housing. This will make these schools, already largely white and wealthy, less diverse going forward.
• Deletion of the section prohibiting recruiting first-year undergraduates who have committed elsewhere. Prior to this application cycle, once the May 1 commitment date had passed, further recruitment of a committed student was prohibited, unless a student was waitlisted for admission at that university. Now, colleges can decide that rather than going to their waitlist, they are interested in students they already admitted but who had committed elsewhere and market to them with incentives such as scholarships, special programs and other enticements. This means the certainty and resolve that comes from finally committing is gone. Round after round of college musical chairs can now continue all the way until the first day of school, as students who were qualified and put on waitlists are ignored.
• Deletion of the section prohibiting recruiting transfer students who have committed and/or matriculated elsewhere. Because it was forbidden to recruit students after May 1, students would move on to their college experience and colleges would work to fill the next class. Now, as students drop out or transfer of their own volition (over 36% of all college students transfer from their original, first-year college), and colleges need to fill seats, students and families will face a barrage of marketing material enticing them to transfer.
Because the changes are still being implemented, college-bound students and their families should be prepared for an already fraught and uncertain process to be even more so in the future.