College Access & the Admissions Office

As a higher education professional who works with low-income, first-generation college students at a large, top-tier research university, I believe the admissions office plays the role of the “gatekeeper” in terms of providing access to prospective college students. Their practices and policies definitely lean in favor of those from higher income families who are more versed in the admissions process.

A recent article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Why the Admissions Office May Be Part of the Problem of College Access” discusses this issue.

“The admissions office, especially at highly selective institutions, is the agent that keeps these students out of college in the first place, by creating a game that is heavily skewed in favor of students from high-income, well-educated families.”

Like the author, who is also a higher education professional, I too believe that it is time to change the requirements and means of evaluating students for college admissions. Admissions requirements still weigh test scores as an indicator of college admissions by using scores to assess the success they believe students will have at their institutions. However, research should have taught us long ago, that low-income and/or minority students are are more likely to have lower standardized test scores (SAT, ACT, etc.), than their counterparts.

Additionally, other factors such as class rank (which can be heavily based on the amount of AP (Advanced Placement), IB (International Baccalaureate) or honors courses students take, depending on the schools and their methods of calculating grade point averages and ratios), letters of recommendation, legacy status, and extracurricular activities are also weighted heavily. But what if a student from a lower socioeconomic status (SES) background had to work after school to provide for himself and contribute to the family income, and was unable to be involved in extracurricular activities? what if that same student was first-generation and no one ever talked to him about the importance of networking, building relationships with college officials, high school counselors, admissions reps, teachers etc. in order to get a great letter of recommendation or proofread his admissions essays? And what if that student made all A’s in all of his classes, but did not have the chance to graduate in the top 10% of his high school class because he was not in AP or IB classes? Finally, what if he did not have the money or additional resources needed for ACT or SAT prep classes, so he did not make high scores on his exams? Does he not deserve to be admitted into a selective university? Does his lack of money and social capital automatically mean that he will not succeed in college? After all, he did maintain high grades while being employed and taking on family responsibilities at home, which can sometimes make it more difficult to manage time effectively than students who are involved in clubs and organizations.

According to the article, if institutions want to continue to increase the enrollment of first-generation, low-income, or minority students, there should be an expectation that the admissions offices do more. I agree, but I also add, that additional measures and services must be implemented to support students before they set foot on campus, while they are learning how to navigate the college environment during their first-year, and beyond. These students come with a unique set of challenges that begin once they accept admission, and these challenges must be addressed not underscored or dumped into student affairs or students services offices. Academic affairs must also assist. It should be the interest of everyone entity on campus that has a connection with the students to understand and accommodate their unique needs, if the mission of the institution truly endeavors to provide them with the best education and opportunity for development possible.

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education http://chronicle.com/article/Why-the-Admissions-Office-May/150883/ 

 

 

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