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The State of College Admissions

This is a transcription of a recent podcast episode where we sit down with Chief Education and Policy Officer of NACAC, David Hawkins, to discuss the challenges posed to the college admission process by the coronavirus pandemic.Our conversation stretches over topics such as: NACAC’s role, college rankings, finding your best-fit college, financing college, and much more. 

Listen to the podcast "The State of College Admissions with David Hawkins of NACAC" Here

 

 

PETER: For our listeners, could you provide a thumbnail sketch of what the National Association of College Admission Counseling is?

 

DAVID: Certainly, we're a nonprofit membership association and our two big groups of people that belong to NACAC, as we call ourselves, are on the one hand professionals who work with students on the high school side, so you know you have your school counselors, your college access advisors, your independent educational consultants, the other big group is the college admission officers. So we really are dedicated to that transition between high school and college and originally were organized around a set of ethical principles which we still maintain to this day so that's one of the big ties that binds all of our members together but we've of course grown over the years to include things like more traditional associations offer such as education and training networking and professional advancement opportunities so we become sort of a we become a full service Association and grown to now that the point at which we have more than more than 15,000 members today so so

 

PETER: NACAC is a group of which I've been apart for 40 plus years as well so a big part of my life but again from the perspective of just understanding better what this group does is this sort of a regulatory agencies is to set rules and guidelines does it penalize members for stepping out of bounds or or is it providing more guidance AND general direction?

 

DAVID: Yeah, you know that's a great question, and the answer is the latter. For a long time, we did enforce our ethical code and I suspect we may talk a little bit more about this later, but we've had to change that orientation lately and so we have moved from a more of an enforcement posture to a best practices posture and that's something that is a relatively recent change and I suspect a lot of our members will it will take our members some time to get used to that new role.

 

PETER: Why wait why don't we just dive in. The Department of Justice had some things to say about that ethical posture. How would you kind of summarize that discussion and the outcome?

 

DAVID: Yeah, well, the Department of Justice a couple of years ago opened an investigation into next ethical principles on restraint of trade grounds, and specifically they identified a few provisions in our ethical code that appeared to them to be sort of protecting colleges from competing against each other. In essence, they felt like the colleges had come together and created rules that essentially helped minimize competition for them. Some of those rules of course included things like recruiting students who had already committed to other institutions, going out and soliciting transfers from other institutions when the student hadn't necessarily initiated the contact, so there were ways in which the Department felt that our ethical code essentially inoculated colleges and universities from the kinds of competition that that they felt was important to our economy you know to our restraint of trade laws, etc.

So, the short-term effect of that was that we took the three provisions out that they were concerned about, so there was the two of them pertain to what we call poaching you know the recruiting students that were already committed to or enrolled in another institution, the third one was about the restriction we had on offering incentives to early decision applicants – that we felt that if you were offering incentives to students who needed to make them available to students who are applying no matter what the decision type – they felt that was also a restraint of trade, so we dropped those three provisions ...but the longer term effect was that we looked at our exposure overtime, the fact that perhaps there were more provisions on the books that could be subject to those rules, the restraint of trade rules that is, and then we just were unsure about how a future might play out where, you know, where we were constantly having to do extensive legal work to figure out what can we enforce, what can't we enforce, what might we get in trouble with. The opportunity cost and the actual cost seemed to snowball pretty quickly once we started envisioning the future that looked like that, so our board and our leadership decided to move away from enforcement and move towards having these ethical principles still in place but having them as best practices so that's where we stand now and all of that came about because of the Department of Justice took an interest in in our humble association.

 

PETER: Well, and it gets complicated obviously and then you think that the ethical guidance that NACAC had developed over the years was really designed to help college and universities play nicely, if you will, in the recruitment of students and now for the government to step in...it was a little unseemly I think for many people. Now, on the other hand I think the whole industry if you will of the college going process has been very unregulated in history so this is perhaps first attempted at that type of regulation.

 

DAVID: I absolutely agree, and you know, I I do think that as we as we stated in our recent ad hoc committee on leadership in college admission report you know the Department of Justice took sort of took an angle on our profession, on this practice that we certainly had never really considered. I mean we, as you said, we felt like our rules were designed really to protect students first and foremost that certainly the design was not to protect institutions from each other although that was that was a side effect of a number of them and I have over the years been fond of saying that you know that NACAC played a self-regulatory role so that in the unbridled competition that that could develop in any market consumers and students could be the ones that end up getting hurt the worst. So, I suppose that that that that angle has always been there but from our perspective it's always been about protecting the students so you know we're just going to have to find new ways to do that in this in this new non-enforcement or post-enforcement future.

 

PETER: Well, OK so let's follow up on that. If we're imagining the protection of students how do you – in the first year of this new ruling – how do you see the changes as affecting students in this process and clearly colleges and universities have had to redefine the way they accept and enroll students but do you see from 30,000 feet do you see any benefits inherent to this for the students?

 

DAVID: You know, the benefit that certainly that the Department of Justice articulated and one that you know that we can only hope will play out is that students will end up getting better offers, more authors of financial aid, you know...that competition among colleges will serve to ultimately benefit students in the end now you know. Again, when you think about two things the first of all the fact that we are at the 30,000 foot level so it normally takes some time for us to sort of hear about what's happening out in the field and the fact that we've had a pandemic that just came in and wrecked everything right now you know we are we're still in probably in the wait and see area. I think the one thing that I certainly have noted and that the organization has noted throughout this whole process was that our biggest concern was with the students who are already sort of on the short end of the equity stick it's possible that some students may get larger financial aid offers and larger institutional aid packages and things like that, but our concern is that those students may not be the ones who need it the most and so that's that's where we kind of have our eye long term we want to see how this whole thing plays out and right now it's maybe at this time if we hadn't had a pandemic we would know a lot more about what students were experiencing but as it has happened that the freight train of COVID-19 came through and it's put this what I consider very important question on the back burner for a little while.

 

PETER: Well indeed, and I'd like to kind of take a stab at the long term implications here as well. There's been discussion in our circles in recent months about the the demographic cliff that seems to be approaching and you and I will recall probably 30 to 40 years ago there was another demographic decline that would dwarf what we're looking at now I think but still the notion that the DOJ has stepped in to kind of loosen things up and and created more of a competitive environment for colleges...we're perhaps moving into a demographic scenario that will resemble a buyer’s market if you will so there's going to be a lot more competition for a limited number of students what do you see happening? Is this going to be a free for all do you think, or do you think we can contain ourselves and continue to play nicely?

 

DAVID: That’s a great question and one of the things that I always think of right up front is that as we as our institutions compete as as our institutions venture out into the market and try and try new ideas one thing that's always going to be very important to be a very important factor to consider is reputational impact and I you know as I'd really try to step back and look at the whole marketplace I do think the answer the short answer to your question is yes we could be in for some real hardscrabble tactics and an and sort of cutting edge tactics that institutions resort to to try to appeal to a larger number of students perhaps certainly as we've seen the market mature over the years you know they're they're targeting metrics and they were the practices that they used to really focus in on the markets that they want it will become more important but will also change but as I step back and look at the whole the whole picture one really important consideration is that with our rules sort of off the table now there's two there's two other players that have kind of lurked in the background that our colleges have had the luxury of not having to worry about too much one is state and federal regulators you know if colleges step too far out of line you can bet that state and federal legislators are going to end up to draw lines for them and I think that as we you know as we counsel our members as we as we talk about why it's important to stick to good ethical practice I mean one reason is that kind of you know you want the keratin the stick that's definitely the stick and it's an you know the fact that the state and federal governments have been looking very closely at recruitment practices particularly in the for profit sector means that that it's not a great leap to move over to the nonprofit sector in fact we have seen movement as nonprofits start to work more with these four profit partners to provide things like adult and continuing education those same regulatory concerns are starting to move over into the nonprofit sector so that's that's one thing. The other thing of course is the reputational issue and that is you know look what can happen in the media if your institution steps too far out of the pale. I think about the varsity Blues scandal which at this point seems positively quaint given the fact that we had you know seditious sort of event in Washington and we had a pandemic and we've had just about everything else one could think of since varsity Blues happened but the fact of the matter is the public eye is more or less always on college admission and it and it can get more critical as we go forward so those are a couple of really important things that I that I sort of try to keep in mind

PETER: Let’s tease that out just a little bit more one of the things that that has struck me over my years of involvement here is that there seem to be different rules for different players on the college and University side and so often the spotlight falls on the most highly selective schools the high profile institutions in it seems that they're the ones that set the rules the guidelines so they're the ones that get all the media attention but they represent about 3% of all higher education. Is it really fair to make assumptions about the 97% based on what we're constantly seeing daily of the top 3%

 

DAVID: absolutely not fair in fact you know if I've learned one thing in my two decades plus here at Mac is that the selective colleges that get get all the ink in the news really as bill Fitzsimmons at Harvard himself has described it constitute the “lunatic fringe” this those are his words and not mine. Perhaps in more diplomatic terms you know they they really are an outlier in this whole equation and they really do they really do represent at least as they are presented in the media distortion, I should say the media and the public consciousness 'cause the media really is just an extension of our public consciousness often. The fact of the matter is, the 97% of institutions that are that are out there educating the probably 99.59% of students really go sort of unheralded in the 1st place, and secondly, the fact that they educate so many people and that you get so much out of them you know we all see the list of famous people that that went to the Ivy League schools but the list that went to the other 97% it probably 100 times longer than that Ivy League list, and I think we just one of the things we try to do at NACAC is to make sure that we are rightsizing that conversation and making sure that it's not the actions in fact not just the actions of a handful of colleges whether they're Ivy leagues or not that that you know they can compose it the risk of painting the entire population

 

PETER: Well this is an opportunity for us I think to kind of extract from this conversation perhaps some guidance for families because as families get started in this process they're immediate thought is well where do we want to go and it's to the places that everybody hears about the top 3% schools and it's very difficult to kind of redirect that thought process. One of the things that that you and I have both seen over the last 30 plus years is the impact of rankings on the way people think about schools, and I know there's been a lot of efforts to try to diminish the importance of rankings but I think implicit in the rankings is the notion that that there's a number one and #2 and #3 etc, that there's an absolute qualitative dichotomy here. I think that because we've been able to kind of change some of that conversation a lot of institutions and a lot of families though have found that there is a new proxy for quality and it is selectivity, and so the notion is it's really hard to get into must be really good; everybody goes there can't be that good. Do you see evidence of that or is that something that just kind of in my imagination

 

DAVID: Oh no that is absolutely out there it's not just your imagination it is something we fight against all the time at Mac and it's something that that I know that it seemed it feels about as entrenched as anything can be in our society that we see scarcity as something that is indicative of quality and I think that when it comes to college admission the idea that somehow the number of students that an institution excludes says something about the way in which that institution operates or or what effect it can have on the students that go there is profoundly misaligned with reality and I think that when I talk about the rankings I often go back to the fact that prior to the rankings there was this same sort of sense that selectivity equals quality and in fact as you look at the rankings I almost see that there almost a codification of that that that sort of nebulous sense that oh selective must mean high quality and they've dressed up a whole bunch of stuff around it but ultimately they're just simply regurgitating what are existing prejudices are. You know, I don't know how many people will be familiar with Monty Python sketches but there's this one sketch I always think about when it comes to the rankings and that is “the society for putting things on top of other things” and I always think about rankings that way because really that's what it boils down to we're just finding new and more creative ways to put things on top of other things to indicate some sort of hierarchy and some of the work that we've done at NACAC over the years and included a committee that we convened about Russia spent about a decade now but we looked at a lot of the research out there and there's there's been scholars who have looked at the US news rankings in particular tweak the methodology ever so slightly and you end up getting a completely different list out of it and what that sort of should tell anyone who's interested is that you can create any list you want to you can put any new numerical factors in into the equation you can weight them however you want to and you'll get a unique and independent list of colleges so the fact of the matter is there's really no there's no real secret to this this is this is completely objective is I'm sorry subjective as opposed to objective

 

PETER: Well didn't Robert Morse himself who is the curator of the US news rankings admit that you know every year there's going to be some tweak if you will to the formula to make it better well it not only makes it better but it changes the outcome so there's a different ranking every year. I want to move into the conversation now about inclusion because there's there's real concern in our country that higher education is important but it's not working for everyone and heaven knows for decades there have been initiatives mostly local here and there to try to increase participation rates..what do you see from where you said you see this as a sort of a stalled effort backward moving effort forward what's happening.

 

DAVID: Yeah you know I think it's I think an accurate way to describe this is that it has some of the momentum that is necessary to sustain what we need to bring about true equity in higher education had started to stall prior to the pandemic. I think you know when we look at the pandemic it is going to cause real harm in our in our equity sort of goals we were very clear eyed about the fact that the pandemic is not going to help things, but if there is a silver lining and an I tend to be an optimist at heart, one thing I've noticed is that the issue of equity has moved front and center even if we're even if we're not going to make any progress during this pandemic or if it's slow in coming between the pandemic in the racial justice strife that we had last year people are thinking about these questions now front and center, and there are a lot of people in policy circles and I'll say their bipartisan in nature, that know something has to change we have to do things differently. So what I what my hope is in what we were going to try to do at NACAC at least is to is to start thinking about the college access the equity picture with regard to college access is starting in high school you know the in equities in high school are already you know they're already well manifested they're really entrenched. Students have a hard time getting access to the classes they need what we're really looking at is something that's systemic in nature and NACAC recently received a grant from the Lumina Foundation to take a look at that at that continuum starting in high school moving through the process and even going in extending into adult education to figure out if we were going to redesign a system for college access that had as its sole focus racial equity, how would we do it. So our goal is not necessarily to say this is how the future should look or will look. The goal is to say if that were our goal if racial equity was our goal this is how you'd really have to design the system and then you compare that with the system we have and see what needs to be fixed. So what I what I hope is that coming out of this pandemic we will in fact gain some momentum, we will have had our eyes peeled wide open to this equity problem and that we will be able to move on on many fronts to try to address the lingering challenges and plus those that have been exacerbated by the pandemic itself

 

PETER: Within the context of the conversation we just had regarding rankings in the codified listing of schools do use do you see that there's a potential for that kind of mentality societally to harm our efforts at inclusion in other words that how often do you hear families or people saying you know that student is under matched you know that student is achieved at a certain level in high school he needs to be going to one of those top 3% schools whereas there's a willingness to completely overlook any of the other 97%

 

DAVID: Right yeah that you know there are so many different crosscurrents when you start talking about equity and you start thinking about the attitudes that preserve the existing order you know you think about on the one hand you have people spending millions of dollars to sustain lawsuits against selective institutions that are trying to preserve some semblance of racial equity by considering students race and ethnicity as a factor of a factor effect I mean you could go down that rabbit hole for years and we've been down that rabbit hole for years and are going to continue to go through it for years so there is this question about on the one hand is equity truly a goal for some people like is it is it really the case that you know that that at that very scarce selective institutional level that that we can even agree that equity is a good thing there because some people don't even seem to think that the equity equates with academic merit whatever that means right..but then on the other side what you mentioned is a really important issue which is that we have to we have to back away from this situation enough to be able to see that postsecondary education comes in all different shapes and sizes it comes in two year and four year varieties it comes in in large sort of research universities and small private institutions and you know, one of the reasons why we always try to articulate that the transition to postsecondary education is about is it should be student-centered is because the best institution for any given student is is defined as the best fit for that student as defined by their students as defined by that student correct thank you as as a parent of a college junior and a high school junior I am right in the thick of that whole process and yeah thank you but no that is that is the way we need to be thinking about higher education the more we think about it as grouping them into you know have have nots you know better best not so great you know we have to get away from that value judgment and and try to figure out what's best for the student

 

PETER: labels can be incredibly limited in that regard but you have talked about the different types of educational opportunities that exist in this country and would like to kind of segue into that discussion the recent political climate that campaign climate included a lot of discussion about creating free opportunities for students at community colleges and even some articulated students attending state universities that know where our little costs how feasible is that from where you sit

 

DAVID: you know I'm gonna give you a two part answer. The first is the is the conventional political wisdom which is that it's going to be very difficult to implement a free college plan 2 reasons for that or number one you know you've got this environment here where the talk of new spending is just feels like it you might as well be trying to you know talaga plan it up the Hill, forget about a Boulder, so there's there's a political disconnect that we have that prevents us from really having a serious discussion about those but might not be realistic right right I mean that's that's sort of the conventional wisdom that. The other the other piece of that argument is of course that when you talk about free college you're talking about 50 different state systems of higher education and the federal government so you got 51 let's say, just including the states for now, a different approaches to funding higher education so it is a it is a logistical challenge right but then I'm going to put it so that's what makes it less feasible. But then, I'm going to put my optimist hat on and I'm going to say that we are we're coming up, as a student of political science in fact, we were coming up on some pretty critical issues you know number one we have our economy is straining at it's at it seems and from what I've what I've learned at NACAC like what we've talked about for many years, you know the more the more you can educate your citizenry the better your economy is going to be, the better your civic engagement is going to be, the better your tax returns are going to be, the less you're going to need expensive public expense or expensive public services like prisons and you know welfare programs and the like, so there's a real economic incentive for us to invest in higher education and to make it free for those who need it particularly if not for everyone. The other piece of this is that you've seen in our political discourse that we're at a where, almost at a breaking point it feels like, and certainly from studying revolutions and studying social movements around the world you know when you have a lot of people who have who have a lot of potential but have very limited opportunity that's when you're in for political trouble and I think the more we can get people from from wherever they come from in the country into a postsecondary educational program that can help prepare them for life for a career just help them move up one step on the ladder if necessary the better off we're going to be politically so there's those economic and political arguments that that in my mind if I'm a policy maker, I'm thinking that that's a good investment, but I know that the demands on their time and on the on the on the state and federal budgets are pretty significant so well we'll have to see how that optimism collides with the realism

 

PETER: Well you make an important observation there too when you talk about that creating an educated electorate and quite often when families think about college and University they don't think about the education itself being an end in itself they see it as a means to an end is it's the way I'm going to get from point A to point B in life and in terms of medicine or law or engineering, and I guess this the liberal artists in us that are coming out and saying you know there's the way you think about things is important too and that can have a real impact then on how we function as a society. On the matter of money - this this all flows so well - there have been some recent hints that the way the way families are expected to support a child financially in college might be changing, and I guess one of the recent omnibus bills coming out of the federal government has indicated that the expected family contribution concept at least may need to be revisited. What are you understanding about that whole direction conversation

 

DAVID: Yeah you know, the omnibus bill that got passed by Congress at the end of last year had it had a fairly long list of I would say tweaks because in the grand scheme of things they did sort of pull levers here and there but they may create a pretty significant change in the long run and then I should say, one of the first things that people should know about this bill is most of the provisions won't go into effect for another two years, that's important, and rather than get down too far into the details I mean one of the changes about that that pertain to the expected family contribution RFC were really more cosmetic than anything the idea that they renamed it to the student aid index. I say cosmetic you know cosmetics can matter I don't want to own a slight any of the cosmetics industry as I as I speak, but the idea that the family might think that all they're going to have to pay is what this EFC is you know was an actual challenge considering the fact that most schools have a difficult time meeting full need of students so EFC might have been a bit of a misnomer so they went in and changed that. I think the more substantive issues that we have to watch for is they made up they made a whole different sort of array of tweaks to different elements of the formula for student at eligibility. You know the one that we've heard about the most so far is the fact that you're no longer going to count the number of students you have currently in college as part of your equation that determines your aid eligibility and you know I've heard some concerns from the NACAC membership because a number of families do have multiple children in college. There are some corresponding changes that could serve to offset that for instance the Congress did tweak the income protection allowance which would have the net effect of increasing the amount of your income that you can protect so that I guess the idea and this is a pretty simplistic reduction because there are a lot of other changes in there the idea is that perhaps one change might offset the other in some way I don't know if it will completely offset the fact that you can't count the number of students you have in college, but I use that as an example those are two examples of many of the tweaks that they made to sort of say that one of the goals that Congress had going into this was to make sure that the students who are truly in need got more money out of the equation they're intently at least was to was to help the lowest income students the most so where you might start to feel a little bit of a pinch of course is in the middle class students and then we have to sort of as we think about federal policy we do have to keep in mind that this is our first triage level is low income students next we have to figure out what happens to everyone above that that level…and of course it's one of the reasons one of the reasons that NACAC has suggested that we need a free college system is because this this formula this whole student aid process is so Byzantine and in the end it still only pays for a fraction of what it cost to go to a public college or University so we're tinkering around the margins in some way when what we really need is, in our view is at least, a complete overhaul

 

PETER: Well and I think further complicating and understanding of this is the fact that there's more than the facts of the free application for federal student aid which was addressed in this omnibus bill what that with that form is doing with the information is collected is is helping to determine the students eligibility for federal support., and many institutions will adapt that as their own methodology for determining student need but then there's this other thing called the college scholarship service profile which is much less transparent and much greater in this enormity in terms of the data that draws on how do we how does NACAC help families to make that distinction and understand that, OK you finished the FAFSA, but for many institutions maybe 370 or so institutions you're not done you've got another one to do here and you won't get it you won't know what that student or student aid index is going to be at the end

 

DAVID: Right. Well you know our best hope of course is to provide education and you know we don't we often don't have as much reach into students and families directly as we do with professionals who help students and families so our goal of course is to try to help our professionals know how to talk to students and families in a way that's clear and concise and understandable or as understandable as this can be from an advocacy perspective you know we we spent a long time trying to trying to help does primarily the federal government look at ways to simplify the FAFSA but again as we see in this omnibus bill they're just this is just Byzantine. I mean this is a very difficult thing for students and families to navigate particularly if you're from a family who doesn't have a lot of college going experience who may not have a professional to work with you know this can be very confusing and going back to your original question I think our best guidance to students and families which is coming through our professionals is to pay very close attention to what institutions are asking you for. you know first fill out the fast absolutely that's the mantra fill out the FAFSA you don't do that the rest is you might as well forget it when it when it comes to the CSS the best you know the best we can do at least in terms of information is to let students and families know that you may have additional steps and if you need help with those there's places you can go to get it. you can talk to the school counselors college advisors independent counselors and last but not least financial aid offices in the admission office that's a critical point that we try to emphasize

 

PETER: I guess the thing that disturbed me in that that whole conversation is that the two methodology is when used in parallel at private institutions provide different answers I mean they're both supposed to help the family understand what they're going to pay and there can be a differential of 10 to $15,000 between the methodologies problem is one of them the facet is very transparent you get a number you might not like it but you get used to it; you complete that profile and you never get a number and so there's a lot of surprised that comes later on and I'm just wondering if there's any discussion about how we can create greater transparency on that side of the analysis that need analysis

 

DAVID: that's a good question you know right now we're in a bit of a middle ground where are at the ad hoc committee that I mentioned earlier in their report to the Association one of the really important elements of our post enforcement area here at NACAC is is going to be a focus on transparency so while we don't have anything this right now to sort of share I do think that that's part of the future where we look at ways in which the lack of transparency is hindering students and maybe running counter to students interests. I'll say briefly that over the years one of the issues we've been most involved in here at the federal level has been the financial aid award letter so a different sort of facet of the same issue you know and we're still talking about that with policy makers who can't understand why students aren't getting the same letter from every institution so it's a continual struggle and it's one that we will continue to work on

 

PETER: It's a heavy lift though so good luck with that thanks for getting heavy lifts I recent days have revealed that the College Board is started to rethink some of the requirements that were over some of the testing that it provides to students particular there's the announcement recently that subject test will be discontinued that the writing section of the SAT will be discontinued and of course over the last year the response to covid on the part of many institutions is to say OK let's take a step back from testing altogether, young people aren't able to take the test we shouldn't hold them accountable for that. 60% more test optional schools in the last 12 months - do you see again a pattern emerging here that will reach into the future or do you think there's going to be a retrenchment once things settle down with covid

 

DAVID: I do think that we have elevated ourselves to a different plateau and I'm not going to draw any value judgments there, but since the numbers are going up we might as well talk about upwards right I do think there is likely to be a significant increase in the number of institutions that state test optional after the pandemic we've seen some data from surveys around the industry to that suggest that institutions often times the hardest part about going test optional is just getting to the mission of going test optional right so a lot of institutions were forced to that position last year and I think a number of them will remain in there what. What is less clear to me is I think probably will breakdown along the lines that we've talked about earlier in this conversation about the highly selective institutions, the flagship state institutions, you know I see some of the same dynamic when people are saying selectivity equals good I'm seeing that I am seeing the same dynamic with test requirements equals good or better right has said something about quality and in fact of the matter it has nothing to do with quality at all it's just whether the institution derives any benefit from the tests hypothetically in predicting student success at their institutions so I do think I do think there may be some cases where institutions go back but my gut says that given the fact that test optional policy's do at least at some level address equity issues now that they're not the only answer there's not there's a lot more that we have to consider when we think about equity but at a very basic level I think institutions will have seen that the fact that tests do constitute sort of a derivative measure for students they cost a lot for the students they cost a lot for the schools that have to for them and we put out a task force report a separate task force report on standardized testing last fall and we didn't we didn't necessarily say one way or another colleges should or should not be test optional but we basically posed a set of questions that said look we know a lot more about the costs of standardized testing right now and we know that this imposes significant burden on schools on students and families I think it's time again for colleges to ask themselves are we getting out of this enterprise what we're asking all these other people to put into it and that question I think for a lot of colleges is going to end up being no particularly after the pandemic

 

PETER: Well and add to that I think the long held notion that decision making can be made at any level of selectivity without tests I mean the factors that are involved in fact I think that there is there's a lot of curiosity this year to see how some of those Uber selective institutions that went test optional are going to be able to plow through the you know the applications that they're looking at where they're going to admit maybe one out of 15 one out of 20 without test how's it working for you there might be some retrenchment order from that group but the future of testing I think is an interesting one it's been suggested that College Board might be making this decision also to allow itself to maybe replace emphasis onto or enhance emphasis want to advance placements did you see that is an emerging possibility

 

DAVID: you know I could certainly see that I mean Advanced Placement seems to be operating in a different realm than the S80 suite of products and I'll also say just to address your original question about the subject test in the essay these were these were Parts of the College Board suite of services that really had withered on the vine to some degree and so perhaps the pandemic and the ensuing test optional discussion is has caused them to want to prune the prune the tree a little bit but yeah I it would make sense that the College Board would want to sort of focus on its flagship product's you know whether it's the SAT itself or the AP which you know again AP has a certain grounding in the curriculum that it is based on an colleges look at the SAT I mean sorry yes the AP exam scores not in any sort of unified way of course but you know each institution looks at those scores to look at possible credit transfer or awarding credit for classes so you know in a way that the AP program has a credibility has a I don't know a certain soundness that right now seems to escape the SAT,

 

PETER: It’s interesting it appears to me also that the AP is kind of gravitating in some ways toward the model of the International Baccalaureate I don't even want to get into that thought process but the IB is very highly regarded but it's trying to replicate that across the country would be nigh impossible at least in the short term but it isn't true though that if there's a movement toward AP that infers another cost expectation on high schools there's a training there's a certification of instruction, etc there's a testing rubric that needs to be associated with the school people need to administer the test so we might be easing the financial strain in one way but creating another strain for high schools that way as well

 

DAVID: yeah and that's something that we actually address now we didn't address it in in terms of the AP program but 111 thing that I'll one point that I'll make in response to that Peter is that you know we ask the question in our task force report about the colleges role in all of this and what you know what is that if colleges are requiring XY or Z what is their responsibility to help shoulder some of that burden and I think when you when you look at high school curriculum you could make the case that high schools are going to invest in their curriculum in some way shape or form so it makes a little sense for them to invest some money and time into it but then you have to ask the question like if you're if you're bringing a program in an I'll say off the shelf I'm not meaning to be derogative derogatory or are slight the AP exam but it is a it is a standard curriculum let's put it that way if you're going to pay extra money for a standard curriculum how much of that is down to the school district how much of that is down to the colleges that are recognizing that program you know what is the role and I'll say this that for the past I'd say 20 plus years that the state and federal governments have made money available to help particularly low income schools afford these programs but the fact of the matter is there are still serious, serious equity problems in just hiring the teachers getting the teachers trained and then getting the students prepared for those classes so we it is it is folded back into that larger discussion of how are we going to create equity at every level I'll

 

PETER: Stay tuned I would be remiss if we made it through this conversation without reflecting on where we have gone in the last 12 months with covid I've been impressed by the degree to which at least superficially higher education's been able to pivot if you will off of news of this pandemic back in the last winter and spring and of course secondary education is doing the pivot as well what are you sensing what are you sensing coming out of this from from the college going processes it obviously it's affected in some way but what are the great effects on family so at this point that you can see

 

DAVID: well it certainly has thrown a lot of lot of existing say students an perspective students into a whole different way of operating that's the first most obvious thing that's what is what is interesting to me Anne and having lived in and work here in Washington for the last 20 years - politicians particularly love to paint higher education as being a backward slow to move ivory tower you know stodgy professor, but based on what I've seen higher education as you said has pivoted remarkably quickly on this and in in the long arc of history you know it had this pandemic happened in the 1990s we might have been in a very different place economically as colleges and universities but one thing that that happened really since the 90s is the proliferation of online education and this is one thing I've always I'm one of the for profit sector's biggest critics here in DC and people know it they know if I'm showing up to the table they are going to get an earful but I've always maintained that what for profits really contributed to our higher education experience was not that they somehow revolutionized curriculum because you still have to teach calculus the same way you taught calculus 20 years ago or at least same principles - what they introduced was technology they showed that you could in fact deploy technology now whether you do it well or not that's a whole different question and they certainly did not do it very well - but then it's there for the taking and I think in response to your question the biggest potential opportunity for colleges and universities and for students as well is that they've now proven that they can do education online both the colleges and the students and so I think you're still going to have a healthy market for students who want to have the full residential experience at colleges and universities but there's really no reason why colleges traditional colleges now can't consider the fact that we could enroll a lot of students in an online program to have a largely personalized experience we don't have to have this dichotomy between being physically on campus and taking a correspondence course somewhere there can be sort of an in between and of course we know that those models have been under development for years, but I think the opportunity for scale is there now so interestingly enough that in itself could help us address the equity equation and could help also colleges and universities navigate the tough economic times they are bound to face over the next few years

 

PETER: One of the things that I'm hearing from folks on the college side is that this my words have been a stressful nerve wracking experience so building the plane while it's in the air kind of thing exactly and I think there's a sense that well at least when the plane lands will be done with this but to hear what you're suggesting there's more building that will be done in another trajectory that will be found with that newly built plane

 

DAVID: Yeah you know you're exactly this this rebuilding the plane in midair is kind of an interesting concept it's almost as if you have to have an airplane that serves as a submarine as well so the fact of the matter is when you're done with this now you don't it's not as if the pieces that you put on there to be a submarine just evaporate you still have that so you can fly if you want to you can you know you can go underwater if you want to so that's the idea I think that that will be available to a lot of colleges is that they do have this expanded capacity and with students and families you know again the market for the traditional residential experience I think will always be there but for those who seek something a little less intensive and maybe a little less expensive there you know there isn't any reason why we can't have more affordable options for students who can't afford the entire or maybe just who don't want the entire residential experience

 

PETER: That'll be an interesting trick to pull though because I think many of the institutions that have done something in a hybrid fashion or totally remote fashion have said well you know our brand is worth X and we're going to charge you that whether you're on campus doing you know in class instruction or whether you're sitting at home on your bed doing this so it'll be interesting to see how that develops in the coming years

 

DAVID: Absolutely yeah then and your emphasis on individual institutions is key you know it's they're going to decide what's right for them and if they feel like their brand is a residential campus then that's what they're going to do so you know but that the hopefully the idea that there is a market for this will allow some institutions to thrive where they might have been looking at a very bleak future otherwise

 

DAVID: So will there be back to normal at the end of the pandemic you know I think I would be the laughingstock here at Mac and other places if I said yeah it's just going to go back to normal because I really do think it's going to be things will have to change for the long term but to some degree we may we may just sort of ease into this what people call all the time the new normal where you know where the facts as we knew them will never again be the same so it's not as if we can forget the last two years I do think the fact that you know we've seen how virtual recruiting and virtual college search can just sort of explode you know that's going to change things and who knows whether it has any lasting effects after all students do still attend college within about 3 hours of their home but the idea that you can open new doors and new opportunities is likely to be here to stay

 

PETER: Wow David this has been great I really enjoyed the opportunity to kind of poke at some issues and get the perspective from your position and I hope those who have an opportunity to put an ear on this particular podcast will take a great deal away but not only in understanding of what's happening now but what may happen into the future so thank you for your time today I really appreciate this very much now

 

DAVID: Peter it's been a pleasure thank you for having me always

 

PETER: Great and you know for those listening in pass along this podcast to your friends too because they need to hear what David has to say thank you again be well everybody be safe and I will look forward to the next time. Take care.

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