Problems Associated with Test Optional Policies During a Pandemic

The Background

Test-optional policies have become popular among institutions of higher education in recent years, whether due to holistic admission policies or as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic. While many celebrate the increase of test-optional admission policies as a win for equitable admission, authors Dominique J. Baker and Akil Bello highlight three major problems associated with the quick adoption of these policies. The authors also break down recommendations for both policymakers and practitioners that may help blunt the negative impacts they believe test-optional policies have on students.

Problems with Test-Optional Policies

The first problem highlighted by Baker and Bello involves requiring standardized testing to graduate high school. Even though many colleges and universities are going test-optional, 25 states require a standardized test to receive a high school diploma. However, due to the rise in test-optional policies as a result of the pandemic, it has become increasingly difficult for students in these states to schedule these exams.

The second problem associated with test-optional policies in the age of coronavirus involves the swiftness with which decisions to go test-optional were made. These decisions are being made at faster speeds than ever before, which does not allow significant time for colleges and universities to prepare for the change.

The last problem with these policies involves the new reliance on student’s prior academic performance. As academic grades have been completely upended due to coronavirus, using these grades as predictors of college success no longer is viable.

Recommendations for Practitioners

  • Ensure that initial screening policies do not make negative assumptions about those who do not submit tests compared to those who do submit.
    • Research suggests that taking standardized tests multiple times correlates with an increase in scores. Minority students take standardized tests at lesser rates than white students, indicating that at least some of the score differential between white and minority students could be caused by familiarity with the standardized test.
  • Address the relationship between test scores and merit aid
    • The best approach would be to adopt a test blind policy when awarding scholarships.
  • Ensure that all policies involving test score use is transparent and inclusive.

Recommendations for Policymakers

  • Certain states need to revisit the standardized test requirement for high school graduation. With coronavirus still rampant, it is unlikely that students will be able to meet this requirement.
  • State Boards of Education should consider a systematic way to communicate grade changes from the most recent academic term.
    • Underfunded schools likely do not currently have this capacity.
    • States should create a single database of grading changes that occurred during the Spring 2020 semester that can be made available to admission professionals.
  • State Boards of Education should create better communication practices with colleges about the impact coronavirus has on different communities.
    • This context allows admission professionals to access contextual information while evaluating students.
  • State Boards of Education should provide coronavirus-related sickness and death rate information linked to the nearest high school or college. This would increase time for review as well as provide insight into the struggles students face during the pandemic.

NACAC Research Associate Cameron Hair welcomes comments and story ideas at chair@nacacnet.org

Survey Examines International Student Enrollment Amid Pandemic

Despite recent concerns about new international student enrollment at US colleges and universities, nearly all universities (91 percent) that enrolled international students over the summer anticipate that those students will remain through fall 2020, according to survey findings in a new report from the Institute of International Education (IIE).

IIE surveyed 502 institutions about their summer and fall plans following COVID-19 disruptions. The survey informed the organization’s third report, which is part of its COVID-19 snapshot survey series.

According to the survey, 50 percent of the institutions reported fewer international applicants for fall 2020 than in previous years. Decreases in applications may be due to the economic impact of Covid-19, which is driving students—US and international—to consider other academic options or gap years. The decrease may also reflect students’ preferences to wait for economic stability before deciding to apply.

Among the institutions surveyed, 286 indicated that a total of 57,555 new international students had committed to their institutions; an additional 4,488 had already deferred to spring 2021 or beyond at the time the data was collected.

Due to the uncertainties around students’ ability to come to the US, however, institutions are offering several options. Most institutions are offering students the ability to defer their enrollment to spring 2021 (87 percent) or to enroll online through distance education (78 percent). Even though virtual enrollment will be the reality for many students this fall, the report warns of some long-term challenges when implementing virtual enrollment: decreases in enrollment (75 percent); issues accessing online courses (68 percent); and, an increase in withdrawals (48 percent).

While many international students are still considering enrolling in a US institution, their decision will depend on what options institutions will offer to students unable to travel to the US this fall.

Tiziana G. Marchante is NACAC’s project coordinator for educational content & policy. You can reach her at tmarchante@nacacnet.org.

Equity Concerns Rise as FAFSA Filings and Enrollment Deposits Drop

The Background

Historically, Black and Latinx students have been at significant educational disadvantages. These inequities have crossed into many facets of higher education, from access to quality K-12 education to enrollment rates at selective institutions. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has deepened these inequities, as the virus has disproportionately affected low-income Black and Latinx students’ ability to receive a quality education.

The Study

Researchers at EAB wanted to determine if these inequities extended to enrollment deposits and financial aid at colleges and universities. To do so, they analyzed enrollment data and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) deposit information of 500,000 students admitted to four-year colleges across the United States for the Fall 2020 semester.

The Findings

Results of the study indicate a widening equity gap. According to deposit submission rates, low-income and minority students are not submitting deposits as much as in previous years. While deposits are down across all low- and middle-income households, they are lowest among Pell-eligible households. When broken down by race and ethnicity, Black students were significantly more likely not to submit deposits when compared to other ethnic groups.

Also, of significant concern is the percentage of low-income students who have not filed a FAFSA form even though they qualify for financial aid. Eighteen percent of Black students and 15 percent of Latinx students have not yet filed their FAFSA form for the Fall 2020 year, rates much higher than white and Asian students. While minority students usually file at lesser rates than white students, the heightened rates for the Fall 2020 semester indicate that the coronavirus pandemic may be disproportionally affecting the minority student population.

The Implications

As a result of the findings, EAB encourages colleges and universities to act swiftly to ebb the impact of coronavirus on low-income and minority students. They suggest that the first step involves identifying and contacting students who have made a deposit, but have yet to complete and submit their FAFSA. Colleges can then provide FAFSA completion support to help students submit their financial aid information. EAB urges colleges to be consistent, persistent, and clear in their messaging to relate the significance of filing these important documents.

Read the full report: https://eab.com/insights/expert-insight/enrollment/drop-college-enrollment-fafsa-filing-raises-equity-concerns/?utm_source=Deposits&utm_medium=PR

Read more about FAFSA filings and enrollment declines.

NACAC Research Associate Cameron Hair welcomes comments and story ideas at chair@nacacnet.org

Working to Reign in Unscrupulous Colleges

NACAC members work every day to help students find colleges and universities that will be a good academic and financial fit. Unfortunately, some colleges take advantage of students, particularly students who are low-income, minority, first-generation, military, or veterans, among others from underserved and underrepresented groups.

To support these students, NACAC has developed a student protection agenda, which is meant to hold colleges accountable for predatory recruitment tactics and poor academic programs. These institutions heavily recruit students and charge exorbitant prices, often with students dropping out before obtaining a degree. In many cases, the student would have been better off not enrolling at all.

Recently, NACAC and several other education-related organizations sent a memo to Congress about the risks to students in post-COVID higher education. Many colleges aren’t even open yet, but there has been an increase in predatory recruitment among these colleges. We anticipate these tactics to get more egregious as students reimagine their academic futures and seek options that will allow them to safely pursue their degrees. We urged Congress to include student protection provisions outlined in the memo.

Our organizations also joined together to place an advertisement on thehill.com, a widely read political website, highlighting the memo and our call to action.  The ad will remain online through August 6.

Mike is the NACAC’s director for government relations. You can reach him at mrose@nacacnet.org.

Most Selective Colleges Do Not Enroll Equitably

While recent protests and national unease have shed a light on many aspects of systemic racism in the United States, there has been less scrutiny of how racism specifically limits educational opportunities at selective institutions for underrepresented minorities.

According to a new report from the Education Trust, access for Black and Latino students at the nation’s 101 most selective public colleges and universities has shown very little progress since 2000, and the overwhelming majority of the nation’s most selective public colleges are still inaccessible for these undergraduates.

The report examines how access to higher education has changed for Black and Latino students and whether these institutions are serving an undergraduate student body that represents the racial and ethnic diversity of their particular state’s population.

“Improving access for Black and Latino students at the 101 colleges and universities included in this report is a matter of will,” the report said. “With larger endowments and more funding, these institutions have the resources to do so, but their leaders must make a conscious commitment to increasing access. Policymakers can also help institutions become more accessible.”

Read the full report: ‘Segregation Forever’?: The Continued Underrepresentation of Black and Latino Undergraduates at the Nation’s 101 Most Selective Public Colleges and Universities.

Research Associate, Cameron Hair, welcomes additional comments and story ideas at chair@nacacnet.org.

Amid COVID-19 Crisis, Blended Learning Offers Benefits

iStock

Although federal officials are urging colleges and K-12 schools to re-open for the fall, many institutions plan to continue virtual instruction or adopt a hybrid model that blends in-person and online learning.

And while much of the news surrounding the coronavirus is somber, some education experts think the expansion of more flexible learning options could be a good thing, particularly for postsecondary education.

Continue reading Amid COVID-19 Crisis, Blended Learning Offers Benefits

FAFSA Applications Decline Amid Pandemic

iStock

School closures and the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus propelled a decrease in FAFSA applications nationally, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal data.

As of mid-June, 70,000 fewer students had filed for federal aid compared to the same time period in 2019. The decline represents a 3.7 percent drop overall.

Continue reading FAFSA Applications Decline Amid Pandemic

Report: 1.7 Million Students in Schools with Police, No Counselors

iStock

Editor’s note:  This post was originally published on Admitted in March 2019. It’s being republished as part of NACAC’s Best of the Blog series.

High student-to-counselor ratios are a persistent problem in the United States, but what about schools that have no counselor at all?

Using the most recent federal data, the ACLU compared the number of police in schools to the number of counselors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers on campus.

Their analysis found that 1.7 million students are in schools with a police presence but no counselors. Another 14 million students are in schools with police but no counselor, nurse, psychologist, or social worker.

Continue reading Report: 1.7 Million Students in Schools with Police, No Counselors

Daily updates on NACAC and the world of college admission counseling. For more information about NACAC, visit nacacnet.org.