Sep 21, 2011

Admissions Officials say Money Talks and It’s Alright to Bend the System a Little

It’s one thing to suspect that colleges are actively recruiting students who can pay full tuition, but it’s an entirely different matter to see it documented.

According to a survey being released by Inside Higher Ed to coincide with the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) annual conference in New Orleans, more than half of the admissions officers at public research institutions and more than a third at 4-year colleges admitted they placed a priority on recruiting students in the past year who don’t need financial aid and can pay full freight—tuition, room, board, and those pesky fees.

Results from the survey of 462 admissions directors and enrollment managers conducted in the past month suggest that admissions decisions are affected by considerations other than grades and tests. Ten percent of the respondents from all four-year colleges and nearly 20 percent at private liberal arts schools said that the full-pay students being admitted had lower grades and scores.

And it wasn’t just about the money. The same group concedes that minority students, athletes, veterans, alumni children, and international students (usually full pay), and because of gender inequities in the applicant pool—men—got an advantage in the admissions process.

In a “clash of values” with senior-level administrators, 24 percent of the admissions directors also report receiving pressure to admit applicants with connections to trustees or development (fundraising) officials. And over 53 percent complain that coaching by counselors and parents makes it “truly difficult to learn about applicants.”

Other findings in the report draw a clear picture of an industry at odds with itself:

  • Among all 4-year institutions, the admissions strategy of recruiting more out-of-state students (who at public institutions pay more) ranked higher than providing more aide for low- and middle-income students

  • 12% of the admissions directors reported that their colleges no longer required standardized testing for admission, but 25 percent thought tests should be optional

  • 65% support policies barring the use of paid agents to recruit foreign students, but most admit their institutions are considering or are already using such agents

  • 25% report a serious problem created by plagiarism in essays but two-thirds of the survey participants say essays “convey important information about applicants”

  • Almost 52% rated private high school guidance counselors as very effective resources for student applicants and over 22% also gave independent/private counselors high ratings on the same question, but public high school guidance counselors didn’t make the list

  • 91% agree with the practice of admitting men with lower grades and test scores for the purpose of achieving gender balance in their institutions
In the final analysis, it’s all about the “business” of higher education and the kinds of decisions that best support the long-term health of the institution.

More information and the complete set of data tables supporting survey findings may be found on the Inside Higher Ed website.

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