The admissions system should be overhauled to make it fairer, especially for students of color, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

According to the report, one of the main reasons colleges have developed the current system, with its tests, essays, grades and letters of recommendation, is to promote selectivity. The report adds: “Selectivity exerts a fundamentally inequitable influence on the path to post-secondary education. This is not because the system is designed on a comprehensive definition of “merit”, which remains elusive and ill-defined, but because in many cases it is designed to exclude even highly qualified students and because its configuration current situation is based on an unfair system. of entries.

In addition, colleges should “redesign the financial aid application process into one that is less burdensome for students and families, and no longer requires them to continue to ‘prove they are poor,'” the new report says. .

The reason for proposing such changes? Racial equity depends on them, the report says, and especially equity for black students.

“In this report, admissions recommendations focus primarily on Black students, and financial aid recommendations focus more broadly on all underserved populations,” the report states. “Certainly, racism has destructive effects on many populations in American society. This report’s focus on black students stems directly from the need for a historical record related to the treatment of black Americans which has reached a crescendo in 2020. This exclusive focus is not intended to minimize or diminish the effects racism on Indigenous, Asian American students, Latinx students, or other marginalized student populations.

The report adds: “You cannot paint all black students, or to a greater extent, students of color, with the same brush. Differences in personality, skills, interests, traits, etc. are as numerous within racial/ethnic populations as they are in the general population. In this project, following broader societal trends, there are commonalities between, for example, low-income students, students who are the first in their families to attend college, and black students. But we want to clarify that this project was designed specifically to fight against race and racism without taking into account the socio-economic background of the student.

As for how admissions play a role in racial disparities, the report states that “while many Americans view higher education as a means of upward mobility, American public policy has failed to correct calcified social stratification and has increasingly treated post-secondary education as a private good.Additionally, the diminished state/federal role in funding higher education and the corresponding reliance on student tuition publicly assisted institutions place additional demands on the ability of many colleges to support students with financial aid in a system that increasingly depends on private wealth for access and institutional survival , students with the fewest resources to contribute are most at risk of being excluded.

Further, the report states, “Much of the inequity results from advantaged students’ access to the resources needed to increase their high school record, including (but not limited to) multiple standardized testing sessions, test preparation, writing assistance and consultation at a private college. Black students, on the whole, have less access to college preparatory courses and fewer school counselors, as well as fewer financial resources to take or retake admissions tests, thus not having access to the same levers that students must draw to enter selective post-secondary education.

Rethink the app

The report focuses more on the questions colleges should ask than the answers.

To advance black students, the report says, the admissions system needs to be redesigned to focus on what really matters. The report particularly criticizes parts of the admissions process that promote selectivity, rather than the value of finding a place for everyone who wants to go to college.

“The ‘reputation model’ of higher education is based on a fundamental concern with exclusivity,” the report says. “The roots of selective college admission run deep and go back to the very origins of the modern institution. For many transforming institutions in the early 20th century, “selective admissions would present the discovery of the best material among all applicants and the university would prepare them for positions of responsibility.” This view was rooted in a time when eugenics and racism were openly accepted as facts of life. Since that time, our understanding of human capabilities, social influences – most important to this project: racism, systemic inequalities, and education – has advanced to a point where those old assumptions about “best material” no longer apply. apply more. »

The report adds that “institutions make the choice to be exclusive” and “by adhering to a selective process that favors variables that only certain students can achieve, these highly selective institutions validate an admissions model designed to admit able students. to access these extracurricular variables and exclude those that cannot. Regardless of intent, the design of this type of system prioritizes students with access over those without.

How to deal with these problems? “Rethink the meaning of selectivity in the institutional context,” the report says. “Examine whether the goals of selective admissions policies can be equally well served by student selection methods that minimize the ways in which racial bias enters the process of selecting qualified students for enrollment.” Although it may seem easier said than done, some experiments have already begun (more on that later).

Also, colleges should redesign the app. “One thing has become clear: the current application process evokes anxiety and hardship, especially for students of color.”

To alleviate some of that anxiety, the report suggests a more “student-centric” application system, in which a student could simply select the colleges they wish to apply to and their records would be digitally shared between high school and college. without any further action from the student.

How to get there

NACAC and NASFAA have created a panel to study these questions.

Justin Draeger, NASFAA President and CEO, said, “I think the most important thing from a financial aid perspective is to internalize that complexity has costs for all students, but especially for historically disadvantaged students. The challenge is how to simplify what is often an inherently complex process? The report targets the more complex aspects of admissions and financial aid that can be overlooked because they have become so ingrained in our processes.

Angel B. Pérez, CEO of NACAC, said, “The college admissions profession is rooted in a history and in systems that have disadvantaged the most marginalized students in our society. We need to take this history into account and start tackling the bigger issues that affect who has access.

Specifically, he cited rankings and test scores as areas where NACAC has already been quite critical. He cited letters of recommendation from teachers as another topic to consider, as those who attend private schools benefit from small class sizes and close relationships with teachers that may be impossible for a low-income student to forge in a public school. understaffed.

Pérez acknowledged that some colleges will remain competitive. But he raised questions about why everyone should look to them as the role model.

Jenny Rickard, president and CEO of Common App, said she supports the ideas in the report. And while the common app is a traditional app, it’s evolving. She noted that he recently dropped questions about school disciplinary records and military dismissals because the questions discriminate against disadvantaged people.

“One example is our Direct Admissions pilot project,” Rickard said. “We partnered with three HBCU member institutions last year to offer automatic admission to students who met admissions criteria. Direct admissions flips the script by increasing transparency and instead giving students the agency to choose a college that’s best for them. We are excited to continue this pilot project this year with the participation of six institutions and targeted outreach to 18,000 students.

Rickard added: “It is no secret that there needs to be a major overhaul of the college admissions process. It’s great to see other organizations in the field of higher education like NACAC and NASFAA who are also dedicated to breaking down barriers for students to apply and afford college education, and Common App looks forward to it. to work with them as we continue to bring more students to the university. ”