Major Shifts in US College Admissions

Global Ed

Since the University College admissions scandal in 2019, seismic shifts in higher education admissions are predicted. Most notably, the standardised testing procedures (like SAT or ACT) that US universities use have been under scrutiny. There have been questions about the effectiveness and fairness of these test scores in determining college success.

Higher education admissions expert, Dr Aviva Legatt, has tracked and traced four major trends in college admissions going forward into 2020. Her work has helped her identify the impact of the admissions scandal on the admissions process. With all eyes on the US college entry procedures across the world, those holding the reigns are under more pressure than ever before to effect change and truly develop a system based upon meritocracy.

Inherent Bias

Admissions scandal aside, without deliberate rigging, it seems that the system is still geared towards elite entry. In any case, this is the cynical (yet well-founded) stance taken by Paul Tough at The New York Times.

Standardised testing is supposed to equalise the playing field. However, studies have shown that they are inherently stacked in favour of those with an elite schooling background (even without the doctoring of scores that dominated the press during the admissions scandal this past year). One trend predicted by Dr Legatt, in light of the publicity brought to this inadequacy in admissions testing, is a revolution in standardised testing.

Economists and higher education specialists, way before the admissions scandal came to light, have been investigating the inequalities in US higher education admissions. How is it, they queried, that hard working, high achieving, low income, students are still not making the cut, when ivy league schools are pushing towards diversifying the student body in their admissions process? Three years ago, Harvard published a document, Turning the Tide of Change, which looked to address the very problems recently relaunched into the spotlight: the diversification of the college admissions process.

Surprisingly, studies have shown, even where Ivy league schools like Harvard were offering full scholarships and huge fee waivers for students from low income backgrounds, these students were still not applying, or else were applying but were losing their place to students from more historically conventional channels.

Elite admissions

The answer is money. The justification is SAT scores. Admissions boards are under pressure to diversify the student body, promote accessibility and scholarships yet, for the majority of schools, revenue is what continues to drive the admissions decision. Given the pressure to diversify the demographic of the student body, it would be difficult for any admissions panel to justify a decision based solely upon revenue according to experts. The regular justification behind a decision to admit a paying student over a non-paying student from a lower income background, is SATS scores.

It has been found that even students at the bottom of their class in private schools (those with poor grades) are still outperforming their counterparts in public schools or from low income areas in terms of SATS scores. This is because of access to training apps, preparatory work and “knowing how to play the SATS games.” This means that the emphasis on standardised test scores over other measures of academic performance is severely undermining the potentially equalising effects of admissions initiatives.

Dr Legatt feels this trend will soon change. She predicts that SATs will be under fire in the coming months, highlighting a lawsuit in California that would render the SATs unconstitutional in the state of California if the judgement rules in favour of the plaintiff. The lawsuit claims that the SAT and ACT should be illegal because they are biased and do not accurately assess student potential. Meanwhile, 370 top tier institutions are laying less emphasis on standardised testing, which certainly points towards a huge change in standardised testing.

The admissions scandal may have a silver lining; drawing international attention to major and minor discriminatory policies within the US admissions process.

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Global Ed


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