My posts this fall have all been pretty weighty (not to mention very preachy), and given that I’m drowning in a pile of college recommendations due November 1, this post will be a change of pace, providing news and updates on four issues I’ve addressed previously.

1)      In Indianapolis, the NACAC Assembly approved a number of changes to the Statement of Principles of Good Practice (SPGP), adding language having to do with the use of international agents, the fact that a high-school transcript should include all courses attempted (rather than being edited when a student retakes a course and earns a higher grade—a possible future topic for this blog), and how the May 1 Candidates’ Reply Date applies to institutionally-affiliated financial aid and scholarships.  I applaud the NACAC Admissions Practices committee under the leadership of Todd Rinehart for their work in updating the document.


One of the issues related to the May 1 deadline involves housing (for those of you who have memorized the SPGP chapter and verse, it can be found in section II.B.5.a).  Last spring I wrote about the practice of institutions requiring a housing deposit and making it non-refundable, and I have reason to believe that post may have helped move action on that issue.   


2)      Duke has become the first Common Application member to add a question on its application about sexual orientation/gender identity since the Common app’s 2011 decision not to include that topic among the questions asked as part of the application.  Duke’s question differs from other colleges such as Elmhurst College in Illinois and the University of Iowa that have previously asked similar application questions in that it invites students to write a short, optional essay rather than check a box.


I wrote about this issue back in December, 2012 after the University of Iowa announced that it was adding a question about sexual orientation/identity to its application.  At the time I applauded Iowa for being inclusive and welcoming to the LBGT community, but thought there were better ways to communicate that stance than through the application.  I continue to believe that the application should be used only to gather information that is relevant to making an admissions decision (which did not seem to be the case at Iowa), but by asking through an optional essay rather than an optional checkbox, Duke is giving students an opportunity to communicate something that is central to who they are and how they view the world, and that would seem relevant for admissions purposes.


The problem is that the prompt is vague enough that Duke is few students will know what the essay is designed to elicit.  Here is the prompt:  “Duke University seeks a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger.  If you’d like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you’ve had to help us understand you better—perhaps related to a community you belong to, your sexual orientation or gender identity, or your family or cultural background—we encourage you to do so.  Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke.”


The essay prompt is deliberately vague and open-ended, and my wonder-about is how many essays Duke will get from students other than the target group.  Just this morning, one of my students who is applying Early Decision to Duke was talking about possible answers to that question, none of which are what the question is designed to elicit.  How many Duke applicants will write about their upper class cultural background, or their suburban New Jersey community?  Will Duke welcome an essay from a straight male who writes about his gender identity or sexual orientation?


3)      Bennington College has joined Goucher in making a high school transcript optional for applicants.  Bennington has introduced the “Dimensional Application” (the term has its origins in a quote about Bennington students by poet e.e. cummings) that gives Bennington applicants the opportunity to “curate” their applications by deciding what relevant information to include—portfolios, research or experiments designed and conducted by the student, writing (reflective and/or analytical), letters of recommendation, and even transcripts.  As I wrote about several weeks ago, I’m not sold on the idea that a transcript should be optional in evaluating a student’s readiness for college, but I like the concept that a student should have some control over what their “self-portrait” looks like and what media best communicates their essence.


4)      U.S. News has announced that two colleges have submitted incorrect data for the 2015 rankings.  What is different from previous cases is that there is no intent to manipulate data for the institution’s benefit.  Rollins College underreported the number of acceptances by 550 students, changing its acceptance rate from 47.2% to 58.8%.  That change did not impact Rollins ranking.  Lindenwood College in Missouri has been moved to the “Unranked” category because it reported 12,411 alumni donors when the actual figure was 2411.  Because alumni giving rate counts 5% of the ranking, that clerical error inflated Lindenwood’s ranking.  U.S. News rankings guru Bob Morse reported both cases in his Morse Code blog, but in Lindenwood’s case doesn’t provide any insight into how much the error would have impacted its ranking (I’m sure the formula is considered proprietary or top secret, but it would be fascinating to see how a mistake like in one category changes the overall ranking—on second thought, U.S. News probably doesn’t want anyone to realize how fluid the rankings are).  I have previous posted suggesting that U.S. News would best serve the public by putting all colleges in the “Unranked” category. Two other questions, one pragmatic and one philosophical:  Didn’t U.S. News find it odd that the number of alumni donors was off by 10000, and does that suggest that there is very little analysis of the data it receives?  And who thinks that alumni giving rate shows alumni loyalty and satisfaction rather than a successful annual giving operation?


That’s all for this edition.  I’ll be back after November 1.