The previous post commented on the rollout of the Coalition Application. Here are some other news stories and developments from the summer:
ITEM: Reuters reports breach of SAT test questions.
In early August Reuters reported that it had been leaked questions and answers developed for the new SAT, including 21 reading passages and 160 math problems. That is roughly enough material for four versions of the test. Test security has been a concern for the College Board, especially in Asia, but previous concerns have revolved around the re-use of test questions. The material leaked to Reuters involves test questions in development.
Who is responsible? A disgruntled employee? Julian Assange and Wikileaks? Vladimir Putin? It’s one thing to hack and make public e-mails from Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee, the Department of State, or the National Security Agency, but when you target the College Board and SAT, you’re hitting too close to home. You might as well be releasing secret documents showing that apple pie doesn’t contain apples or that major league baseball players use Performance Enhancing Drugs.
ITEM: Haverford announces shift to need-aware admission.
In late June Haverford College became the latest prominent liberal-arts college to announce that it will be need-aware in filling the final few places in its freshman class. Schools like Wesleyan and Macalester have previously made the move, and a number of other schools, including Grinnell, have considered it as an option.
This is a complicated issue with no good answer, as demonstrated by an Inside Higher Ed article in July. I have written about this issue several times previously, so here are a few observations arising out of the Haverford announcement.
Following the announcement, Haverford student Hannah Krohn wrote an article for the student newspaper arguing that “Upholding the need-blind admissions policy is upholding a moral principle.” But is need-blind admission a moral principle or a moral dilemma? Need-blind admission is a worthy ideal but a challenge to maintain in today’s economic climate. Admitting students without regard to ability to pay is certainly a moral principle, but so is stewardship of financial resources and long-term sustainability.
Ms. Krohn also argues that “Haverford will inevitably become less diverse” as a result of the move away from need-blind purity. That is a legitimate worry, but hardly inevitable if need-aware admission operates only on the margins. Haverford’s decision is not necessarily a move down the slippery slope. (The slippery-slope argument is sometimes called the “Camel’s Nose in the Tent.” Apparently if you are out camping and encounter a stray camel you shouldn’t let its nose inside your tent, or before you know it you will have a permanent tent-guest.)
What are the optics of becoming need-aware? Several years ago George Washington University got negative publicity after claiming to be need-blind when it wasn’t. Does moving away from need-blind send a negative message about a school’s openness or commitment to socioeconomic diversity? Does being need-aware turn full-pay students into a type of diversity or special talent? Higher education is certainly a business, but do we want the public to see that the man behind the curtain is not the Wizard of Oz?
The real dilemma for all but a few wealthy institutions is whether to admit without regard to need or whether to provide full funding for admitted students. That isn’t an either/or question, of course. I have previously argued that providing an admissions decision based on the student’s qualifications is the ethical imperative, with providing financial aid virtuous or supererogatory rather than obligatory. At the same time, while financial aid may not be an entitlement, there seems something wrong with admitting students with high need and then gapping them thousands of dollars.
ITEM: NYU will ignore the Common App “checkbox” on criminal, discipline history
I predict that the role of criminal and disciplinary history in the admissions process will be a major issue in the coming year. Last spring ECA discussed the issue in light of an Obama administration request for colleges and universities to rethink how they look at discipline issues as part of the White House’s Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge. It’s popped up this summer in a couple of different instances.
New York University has been in the forefront on this issue. Back in 2015 it announced that it would evaluate applicants for admission without looking at whether students had checked the box on the Common Application asking about student criminal or disciplinary history. Earlier this year it asked the Common Application to conduct research to assess the predictive value of the check box on disciplinary history. And recently it announced that it will ignore the Common App question altogether, substituting narrower questions on its section of the Common App.
This is an issue where the pendulum is swinging. A decade ago colleges and universities were under public pressure to gather information on applicants’ criminal and discipline backgrounds and mental health issues as a means of keeping campuses safer in the wake of campus incidents such as the Virginia Tech shootings. Campus safety continues to be an important consideration on a residential campus, but there is now an increasing awareness that asking about criminal/discipline history on the application may be prejudicial, especially given that evidence suggests that school suspensions are disproportionately handed out, both by race and by region.
Asking about discipline is not only an issue for the Common Application. The new Coalition Application asks more detailed questions about discipline (or did—they have disappeared from the sample student profile I filled out), and it appears that concern about how those questions are asked is one reason that a number of Coalition member schools are choosing not to use the application this year.
Should questions about criminal/discipline history be asked in the main part of the application, or asked within the questions posed by each school, as NYU is doing? Is disciplinary history relevant when a student has been accused, or only when convicted? There is currently a discrepancy between what the two major application platforms ask, such that being put on probation is reportable in one but not in the other. For schools accepting both the Common and Coalition applications, do we want students deciding which application to file based on what they have or don’t have to report regarding discipline?
Stay tuned—I think we’ll hear more on this issue.
ITEM: UNC responds to NCAA.
ECA covered the scandal involving academic fraud at the University of North Carolina two years ago, and the case is back in the news. UNC has adopted an interesting defense strategy in its response to the NCAA over five alleged major rules violations. UNC is arguing that the infractions are none of the NCAA’s business, that it lacks jurisdiction to punish the University for the academic fraud involving paper classes in the African and Afro-American Studies department (AFAM) over an 18-year span. Students in those classes, many of them student-athletes, never attended class but wrote a paper to earn credit, with many of the papers graded by the AFAM departmental secretary rather than a faculty member.
The essence of the UNC argument is that the academic fraud was not confined to student-athletes but was equal opportunity fraud. Because the fraud involved the academic program rather than the athletic program, the NCAA does not have jurisdiction. That argument may be technically defensible, but it doesn’t inspire confidence that the University feels remorse or has learned from its mistakes.
There are a couple of other issues coming out of the summer that deserve their own post, and I get to them eventually.