Inside Higher Ed and Gallup just released the results of its 2012 Survey of Admissions Directors, in which admissions representatives at a mixture of 471 public and private four-year schools and 105 public two-year colleges weighed in with their thoughts on higher education today. The results are interesting, to say the least. These are the principle findings of the survey:
- “Four in 10 college and university admissions directors (44 percent) say they are very likely to increase their recruitment efforts of transfer and minority students; at least one-third (35 percent) are increasing efforts to recruit international students.”
- “One-third of directors (33 percent) strongly agree that college counselors at private high schools are very effective in helping students to find the right college fit.”
- “One-third (32 percent) of college admissions directors say their admitted minority students, on average, have lower grades and test scores than do other applicants; almost half (47 percent) say they should admit some of these students.”
- “One-fourth of all respondents (25 percent) strongly agree that they are feeling very confident about their enrollment prospects this year. “
- “One-third of directors (33 percent) say senior-level administrators have tried to influence them to admit some applicants.”
- “Nearly all institutions (99 percent) report that they have not falsified student admissions data; most (91 percent) report that they think other institutions have falsified such data.”
- “Nearly three in four two-year colleges say they are experiencing at least some competition from for-profit colleges and universities to enroll students into certain programs. “
Positive Survey Results
All of this indicates some positive developments for college recruitment. In particular, two specific results give me some optimism about the future of higher education in the United States:
- The study indicates that long-term concerns about educational inequality and the lag in enrollment and graduation rates for minority students, which I wrote about in my post “How to Bridge the Latino Achievement Gap” (17 August 2012), are currently or will be addressed by college recruiters and admissions reps. In my post, I highlighted the unfortunate reality that Latino students fall far below white students in achievement standards at all grade levels. The indication from admissions counselors that a significant proportion of them are committed to focusing more efforts on the recruitment of minority students indicates a new awareness of the problem and focused attention on how to rectify it. The desire to recruit more minority students, though, is more evident at public institutions than private.
- High school college counselors may be overcoming their reputation as ineffectual and irrelevant through hard work that is appreciated at the college level. For example, last year The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that a College Board survey found that high school college counselors “often lack proper training and concrete measures of their effectiveness. They sit side by side students, but many sit on the sidelines of education reform, lacking the support they need to help more students go to college.” The counselors report that this is largely due to the school administration’s failure to focus on the important issue of student achievement: “Eighty-five percent of counselors surveyed said ensuring that students graduate and succeed in college or careers should be a top priority, yet only 30 percent saw this as their school’s mission.” The fact that 33% of admissions directors think of high school counselors as crucial role-players in the success of their students is encouraging and demonstrates the important work that high school college counselors do to help their students move on to college.
Worrisome Survey Results
Despite the good news, the study also revealed some problems. It is unsurprising but still appalling to me that one-third of admissions representatives have been pressured by administrators to admit students that they otherwise would not enroll. This problem is not as well-known as, for example, the aggressive recruitment tactics employed by some for-profit colleges but negates the integrity of a college in much the same way, because it ignores academic standards in favor of other factors, including personal connections, the institution’s financial goals, etc.
In addition, admissions counselors may not be completely helpful to students when it comes to financial aid and student loans. There is genuine disagreement over- and a variety of opinions about- the value of taking out private loans for college, but in general the admissions staff at private colleges support students taking out private loans more than they do at public institutions. In addition, they also disagree over how much student loan debt is reasonable. The majority of admissions directors at public colleges and universities believe that students should only accumulate $20,000 or less in student loan debt, while at private institutions, 78% say that it’s reasonable for students to borrow $20-30,000 or more.
There’s a problem here: If the average “sticker price” of tuition for a 4-year degree at a public institution is just over $8000 per year, according to this graph from NPR, that’s $32,000 for the whole degree. But admissions reps don’t think students should take out more than $20,000 in private loans. This means that students need to come up with another $12,000 from other sources, just for the tuition alone.
Yet financial aid in the form of Pell Grants is currently up in the air, a political football tossed around by presidential candidates, and scholarships are competitive. How are students supposed to pay for their entire degrees, including the costs not included here, such as books, housing, food, etc.? It seems that college admissions reps are have not been able to address this problem for the students they enroll. In fact, at private colleges, the majority (78%) see no ethical problem with admitting students who do not have enough money or aid to actually enroll in the college, a practice called “gapping.” At public 4-year institutions, 45% believe that gapping is an ethical practice. I can understand wanting to let students know that they have the grades and the ability to get into a given school, but is it ethical or responsible to dangle that carrot in front of someone who cannot afford it, encouraging them to go into debt? This is an ongoing question.
In general then, Inside Higher Ed’s 2012 Survey of Admissions Directors reveals that the perspective of today’s college admissions directors and representatives seem to mirror the stressful mixture of hopefulness and confusion evident in today’s students, parents, and other players in the higher education game. I guess that’s comforting on one level-we know they’re not hiding anything from us. But it is unfortunate that even those most intimately involved in running our institutions of higher education don’t seem to have any better answers to our most pressing problems than any one else.