Court upholds race in university admissions

From the New York Times: “In a long-running affirmative-action case, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Tuesday upheld the University of Texas at Austin’s consideration of race as one of many factors in admissions.images

“We are persuaded that to deny U.T. Austin its limited use of race in its search for holistic diversity would hobble the richness of the educational experience in contradiction of the plain teachings of Bakke and Grutter,” Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham wrote, referring to two previous affirmative-action rulings by the Supreme Court.William C. Powers Jr., the president of the University of Texas at Austin, said he was pleased with the decision upholding the admissions policy.

“This ruling ensures that our campus, our state and the entire nation will benefit from the exchange of ideas and thoughts that happens when students who are diverse in all regards come together in the classroom, at campus events and in all aspects of campus life,” he said.Texas’ “Top Ten Percent Plan” guarantees the top graduates of every high school in the state a place at the flagship Austin campus or other universities in the state system, and because many Texas high schools are largely segregated, many black and Latino students are admitted to the university under the plan.

“While the Top Ten Percent Plan boosts minority enrollment by skimming from the tops of Texas high schools, it does so against this backdrop of increasing resegregation in Texas public schools, where over half of Hispanic students and 40 percent of black students attend a school with 90 percent-100 percent minority enrollment,” said the majority opinion, in which Judge Higginbotham was joined by Judge Carolyn Dineen King.While the University of Texas does get some diversity from the plan, the majority opinion said, it can constitutionally make further efforts to increase diversity.

“U.T. Austin has demonstrated a permissible goal of achieving the educational benefits of diversity within that university’s distinct mission, not seeking a percentage of minority students that reaches some arbitrary size,” the opinion said.Judge Emilio M. Garza wrote a lengthy dissent, arguing that while the university claims that its use of race was narrowly tailored to meet its diversity goal, it never defined that goal, making it impossible to say whether the use of race actually was tailored to meet it. Continue reading “Court upholds race in university admissions”

College Enrollment bottoming out

imgres-1The decline in overall college enrollment has slowed this spring, according to new data the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released today. And some details are emerging about the groups of students who are less likely to attend college in declining sectors.InsideHigher Ed reports that ‘Overall enrollment this spring is down 0.8 percent compared to a year ago. That slide follows two years of previous declines the clearinghouse identified. The loss of students peaked last spring with a 2.3 percent decrease.

“The clearinghouse data cover 96 percent of all enrollments in the United States. The nonprofit group conducts student verification and research services for colleges, which turn over their data voluntarily. The clearinghouse publishes national enrollment estimates every six months, breaking out numbers by sectors and states, as well as on students’ age groups, gender and part- or full-time status.

“With estimates from the current term, the clearinghouse gives a more timely view of enrollments than the U.S. Department of Education can with its data. However, the clearinghouse does not publicly release figures about individual institutions.
The overall trends in the latest report aren’t surprising. More students attend college during a recession, and an enrollment boom typically tapers off as the economy begins to rebound. Eventually enrollments stabilize and begin to climb again at a steadier rate.
This spring private, nonprofit colleges saw the biggest increase, with a 2 percent gain. At a time when some enrollment-driven private colleges have been struggling and many others fretting, those numbers may come as welcome news. Continue reading “College Enrollment bottoming out”

How you do matters more than where you go

The bad news for students applying to selective colleges is that getting accepted to any one of them really is harder than it used to be.images

As the New York times reports, “Many colleges have reduced the number of American teenagers they accept (in order to globalize their student bodies) at the same time that the American teenage population is growing, as I wrote last week.

“But there is some good news, too, and it’s worth spending a few minutes on it. It sheds some light on the right way for high school students to think about the application process.

“First, amid all the anxiety over this subject, students should remember that the college you attend matters less than many people think it does. Research has shown that students with similar SAT scores who attended different colleges — say, Stanford and the University of California, Davis — have statistically identical incomes. (Low-income students are the exception; the college they attend does seem to matter.) Yes, Harvard graduates make high salaries on average, but it doesn’t seem to be because they went to Harvard.I recognize that this research will not convince many teenagers and their parents. They’ll still care enormously about the admissions process. So another bit of encouraging news is also worth considering: Even if an individual college is harder to get into, there seem to be more total spots at excellent colleges.Over the same period that colleges like Harvard and Stanford have been admitting more foreign students, several other changes in higher education have also been occurring. Continue reading “How you do matters more than where you go”

It’s rejection season

Enrollment at American colleges is sliding, but competition for spots at top universities is more cutthroat and


anxiety-inducing than ever.In the just-completed admissions season, Stanford University accepted only 5 percent of applicants, a new low among the most prestigious schools, with the odds nearly as bad at its elite rivals.

As the New york Times reports, “Deluged by more applications than ever, the most selective colleges are, inevitably, rejecting a vast majority, including legions of students they once would have accepted. Admissions directors at these institutions say that most of the students they turn down are such strong candidates that many are indistinguishable from those who get in.Isaac Madrid applied to 11 colleges, a scattershot approach that he said is fairly typical at his private high school, Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, Calif. Students there are all too aware of the long odds against getting into any particular elite university. “It was a crazy amount of work and stress doing all those essays by the deadline and keeping up my schoolwork, and waiting on the responses, and we had more than $800 in application fees,” he said.Mr. Madrid, 18, got a taste of how random the results can seem. He was among the 95 percent turned away by Stanford, but he got into Yale, which he plans to attend, and he admitted having no real insight into the reasons for either decision.Bruce Poch, a former admissions dean at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., said he saw “the opposite of a virtuous cycle at work” in admissions. “Kids see that the admit rates are brutal and dropping, and it looks more like a crapshoot,” he said. “So they send more apps, which forces the colleges to lower their admit rates, which spurs the kids next year to send even more apps.” Continue reading “It’s rejection season”

Raised by robots?

A growing number of select colleges have turned to off-kilter questions like this one, from Brandeis University: “You are required to spend the next year of your life in either the past or the future. What year would you travel to and why?”  As the New York times today reports, “this year’s most-discussed question, from Tufts University, was about the meaning of “YOLO,” an acronym for “you only live once,” popularized by the rapper Drake.images

“And even those are tame compared with some choices from the last few years, like “If you could choose to be raised by robots, dinosaurs or aliens, who would you pick?” (Brandeis), or “What does Play-Doh have to do with Plato?” (Chicago).

“For the colleges, such questions set them apart, though the applications invariably give a choice of subjects, including some that are closer to traditional. And at a time when some elite colleges worry that high school students are more likely to be high achievers than independent thinkers, oddball essay questions offer a way to determine which of the A-student, high-test-score, multi-extracurricular applicants can also show a spark of originality. Most elite colleges use the Common Application, which contains fairly standard essay questions, and require their own supplemental applications, with more writing exercises.

“In the day of the Common App, there’s such a sense of sameness in applying to the different schools, so we’re trying to communicate what’s distinctive about us and determine what’s distinctive about our applicants,” said Andrew Flagel, the senior vice president for students and enrollment at Brandeis. A quirky essay subject can seem like a burden to students who, already stressed out by the application process, find that being diligent and brilliant is not enough — that colleges also want them to be whimsical and creative. Teenagers pepper social media with complaints about the questions, though they do not want to be interviewed, for fear of alienating their colleges of choice. But others embrace the chance to express themselves, seeing it as a welcome relief from the ordinary applications. Continue reading “Raised by robots?”

Lurking anti-Asian bias

White Californians seem to favor meritocratic university admissions – but not for everyoneimages-2

“Critics of affirmative action generally argue that the country would be better off with a meritocracy, typically defined as an admissions system where high school grades and standardized test scores are the key factors, applied in the same way to applicants of all races and ethnicities, reports InsideHigherEd.

“But what if they think they favor meritocracy but at some level actually have a flexible definition, depending on which groups would be helped by certain policies? Frank L. Samson, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Miami, thinks his new research findings suggest that the definition of meritocracy used by white people is far more fluid than many would admit, and that this fluidity results in white people favoring certain policies (and groups) over others.

“Specifically, he found, in a survey of white California adults, they generally favor admissions policies that place a high priority on high school grade-point averages and standardized test scores. But when these white people are focused on the success of Asian-American students, their views change. The white adults in the survey were also divided into two groups. Half were simply asked to assign the importance they thought various criteria should have in the admissions system of the University of California. The other half received a different prompt, one that noted that Asian Americans make up more than twice as many undergraduates proportionally in the UC system as they do in the population of the state. When informed of that fact, the white adults favor a reduced role for grade and test scores in admissions — apparently based on high achievement levels by Asian-American applicants. (Nationally, Asian average total scores on the three parts of the SAT best white average scores by 1,641 to 1,578 this year.) When asked about leadership as an admissions criterion, white ranking of the measure went up in importance when respondents were informed of the Asian success in University of California admissions.

“Sociologists have found that whites refer to ‘qualifications’ and a meritocratic distribution of opportunities and rewards, and the purported failure of blacks to live up to this meritocratic standard, to bolster the belief that racial inequality in the United States has some legitimacy,” Samson writes in the paper. “However, the results here suggest that the importance of meritocratic criteria for whites varies depending upon certain circumstances. To wit, white Californians do not hold a principled commitment to a fixed standard of merit.”Samson raises the idea that white perception of “group threat” from Asians influences ideas about admissions criteria — suggesting that they are something other than pure in their embrace of meritocratic approaches.”


Read more:
Inside Higher Ed

Private colleges offer deep discounts

“In recent years, tuition has significantly increased at public universities, driven by state budget cuts and prompting student protests around the country,” reports Huffington Post: “ Yet almost the opposite has happened at private colleges.”

Private college tuition grew at its lowest rate in decades this year and at a slower pace than public university tuition.“Tony Pals, director of communications at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said he can’t remember another time in which so many private schools have held down tuition as he’s seen in the past two years. By the association’s Continue reading “Private colleges offer deep discounts”

Do college admissions overlook brilliant artists?

“The truth is that many future poets, novelists, and screenwriters are not likely to be straight-A students, either in high school or in college.” Helen Vendler writes in the current Harvard Magazine about the pitfalls of by-the-numbers admissions practices that can overlook creative brilliance. “The arts through which they will discover themselves prize creativity, originality, and intensity above academic performance; they value introspection above extroversion, insight above rote learning. Continue reading “Do college admissions overlook brilliant artists?”

Facebook habits could keep you out of college

Celebrity internet affairs and embarassed government officials may be all the news is talking about, but what if your Facebook habits could keep you out of college? In a story today from CNN called “Does Facebook hurt your college chances?”

“This fall, a Kaplan Test Prep survey showed that an increasing number of college admissions officers were discovering information on Facebook and Google that hurt a student’s acceptance chances.

“According to the Kaplan survey, 27% of admissions officers checked Google and 26% looked on Facebook as part of their applicant-review process. Thirty-five percent of those doing so — compared with 12% in 2011 — found material that negatively impacted their view of a student.

“The results of the survey would, I thought, cause college-bound students and their parents to lash out in anger. Students are under so much stress. College costs are up, and winning the admissions race seems harder than ever.”