Educators across the U.S. are calling for major changes to the admissions process in higher education.
The National Center for Educational Statistics (or NCES) reported that U.S. colleges and universities received more than 9 million applications between 2013 and 2014. The schools admitted more than 5 million students in that time.
But the problem is not in the number of students that the schools admitted, a new report says. The report is called “Turning the Tide – Making Caring Common.” The Harvard School of Graduate Education released the report, with 80 other schools and organizations, in January.
Current admission process causes major problems
The report argues that the process schools use to choose students causes major problems.
David Hawkins is the Executive Director for Educational Content and Policy at the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (or NACAC). Hawkins says that most colleges and universities require many things from students when they apply.
Schools usually require an essay describing a student’s interests or why they want to study at that school. The schools also ask for letters from teachers or other adults describing why a student is a good candidate.
But, Hawkins says, schools are most concerned with a student’s high school grades and standardized test results.
"Your academic record is the most important factor that a university will consider when they review your application."
The report suggests that giving the most attention to academic success works for some students but hurts others. Also, academic success is not the most important quality a student should have, the report says. More attention should go to evidence of whether or not a student wants to do good in the world.
Hawkins says that academic records are still the best indicator for how students will perform in college.
But academic resources are not as available in poorer communities, the report argues. Also, too much attention on academic success puts pressure on young people. This pressure can be bad for their health.
College rankings add to the problem
The Education Conservancy is an organization that fights to make higher education equal and available for everyone.
Lloyd Thacker is the Executive Director of the Education Conservancy. He also helped write the Harvard report. Thacker says the college admissions process has changed a lot over the years.
"Over the past 30 years, college admissions has become more complex... more consequential… And it’s become more costly because people are applying to more colleges, which costs more money..."
Thacker says that ranking systems for colleges and universities are a big part of the problem.
U.S. News and World Report is a media company that creates a list of what it calls “America’s Best Colleges.” The company bases the list on information collected from colleges and universities across the country.
This information includes results of standardized tests like the SAT from all of a school’s students. Higher average test results help put schools higher on U.S. News and World Report’s list.
Thacker says that higher rankings on those kinds of lists makes the schools more popular. More popularity means the schools become more selective.
Bob Schaeffer is the Public Education Director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (or NCFOT). The NCFOT is an organization that works to show the problems in standardized testing.
Schaeffer argues that tests like the SAT do not truly show how students will perform in college.
"Independent research shows the SAT is a very weak predictor of how someone will do in college. They under predict for females, for students whose home language is not English. And they’re simply not needed."
Thacker claims when schools become more selective, they cause students to worry less about being good people.
"Too many students are learning to do whatever it takes in order to get ahead, even if that means sacrificing their own individuality, their health, their happiness, their ethical principles and behavior..."
Harvard University only accepted 5.3 percent of students who applied in 2015. This a record low for the school.
That is why Thacker says it is important that students look past rank to find the right school.
"The impact on students and on parents is that college is all about where you go. The rank has nothing to do with the quality of education that goes on at the college."
Report calls for change in admission process
The Harvard report states that the best way to change the admissions process is by changing college applications. The report suggests that schools should ask for evidence that students care about other people.
Admissions officers should look for examples of students working in their communities for long periods of time, the reports says. Applications should also include questions about why students feel diversity and community service are important.
Moving attention away from academic ability will make the process less about competition, the report says. Students will feel less stress about meeting higher and higher expectations.
Also, poorer students will have the same chances as students who can pay for test preparation classes. The report also says students whose schools do not offer high-level classes need the chance to show their abilities.
Thacker says it is important to show students that caring about others is just as important as personal success.
"As adults we need to do a better job of making sure kids are hearing better signals about what really matters."
But the report does have its critics.
Schaeffer says that every few years, someone makes the same argument for change. He says that no real change has happened yet.
Hawkins says that many of the schools that agree with the report still make no changes.
"Many of the institutions that have supported the findings in the report are the very institutions that have the most competitive admissions processes in the country."
Thacker argues it is very difficult for one or even a small number of schools to make changes themselves. Until a majority of schools agree to these changes there will still be problems.
But, he says, the admissions process was better in the past. If bad changes can affect the process, so can good ones.
I’m Pete Musto.
Words in This Story
admissions – n. the act or process of accepting someone as a student at a school
application(s) – n. a formal and usually written request for something, such as a job or admission to a school
apply – v. to ask formally for something such as a job or admission to a school, usually in writing
grade(s) – n. a number or letter that indicates how a student performed in a class or on a test
standardized test – n. any form of test that requires all test takers to answer the same questions, or a selection of questions from common bank of questions, in the same way, and that is scored in a consistent manner
academic – adj. of or relating to schools and education
factor – n. something that helps produce or influence a result
consequential – adj. having serious meaning or worth
ranking – n. a list of people or things that are ordered according to their quality, ability, size
selective – adj. careful to choose only the best people or things
principle(s) – n. a moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions
diversity – n. the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization
stress – n. a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life or work
institution(s) – n. an established organization