Apr 28, 2016

The Universal College Application introduces gender identity questions

The University of Rochester is a member of the UCA

Once again, the Universal College Application (UCA) is paving the way for others in the industry to
follow, by introducing changes designed to make it easier for applicants who do not identify as either woman or man to describe how they wish to be identified to colleges.

In a statement released to colleges and others on Sunday but embargoed for Tuesday, the UCA announced that effective July 1, its standard application form will include a modification to its question about an applicant’s sex and will add a new gender identity question.

The modified question relating to the sex of an applicant will continue to be a required question but changes from simply asking “Sex” to now asking “Legal Sex.” The options continue to be either “Female” or “Male,” and the applicant must choose one response.

The new “Gender Identity” question is optional, and the choices are “Woman,” “Man” or “Self-Identify” with a free-form text field provided.

Late Monday, the Common Application reversed a long-standing policy set by its board of directors in 2011 and followed the UCA lead by announcing on its website that students applying in 2016-17 will have “the ability to express their gender identity in several ways including within the Profile page, optional free response text field, as well as in member colleges’ specific sections.”

According to the UCA, the application modifications were requested by member colleges and universities as well as by national LGBTQ student advisory organizations.  Over the past year, UCA has worked closely with Campus Pride and the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst  to carefully craft its response to the requests from LGBTQ youth, higher education and youth advocacy organizations.

“The Universal College Application is being responsive to today’s diverse student population by adding the gender identity question. We need this information to ensure we are supporting all students’ academic experiences,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride. “Campus Pride applauds the Universal College Application for being the first to do so on their standardized form.”

In its statement, the Common App indicated that the decision to change position came after an “ongoing dialogue” with member colleges and universities and in consultation with the Application Advisory and Outreach Committees.

“We asked all the companies that produce admissions applications to add a question about gender identity, and the Universal College Application was the only one that immediately saw the value of such a change and made it,” explained Dr. Genny Beemyn, the director of the Stonewall Center.  “Others are now following suit.”

And by working with organizations supporting the LGBTQ community, the UCA approach is less controversial and more in line with what experts believe is appropriate language.

According to the Common App, their change will offer a free-response text field to give students a place to further describe their gender identity.  Within the Profile screen, the sex question will be modified to “sex assigned at birth” as opposed to the UCA’s modification to “legal sex.”   Representing Campus Pride, Windmeyer noted that the language “sex assigned at birth” is problematic and suggested that while the open-ended field is an inclusive approach, it will be challenging for data collection with gender identity.

In fact, one of the motivations behind the optional gender identity question is the “clarified” legal concerns associated with Title IX compliance. Colleges now have more of an incentive to seek information about transgender applicants and students.  And if a recent discussion on the Common Data Set listserv is any indication, there are associated reporting problems for colleges providing data to IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System).

For everyone involved, the willingness of both the Common Application and the UCA to modify their applications in ways that help make gender identification easier for applicants and result in better reporting for colleges marks an historic shift in attitude.  Note that the Coalition and CollegeNET® have yet to comment on their respective positions in this regard, but it seems likely they will follow suit.

“I think we’re all going to have to take a step forward and stop assuming, to the extent that we do, that any specific person standing in front of us has an identity that we can discern at a glance,” said Jonathan Burdick, dean of college admission and vice provost for enrollment initiatives at the University of Rochester, in support of the UCA announcement on Sunday. “That’s kind of exciting, I think, to be living in a society on the cusp of a new, more sophisticated degree of understanding about what it means to be a human being.”

Apr 26, 2016

The Coalition announces new Executive Director

Annie Reznick worked on the University of Maryland admissions staff

The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success announced yesterday the appointment of its first Executive Director, Annie Reznik.  And it’s great news for the independent educational consultant (IEC) community.

In addition to recent appointments at several Rhode Island independent schools, Ms. Reznik also worked as an IEC, on staff at College Guidance Coach, providing “comprehensive college counseling services to individual families.”  To accept her position with the Coalition, Ms. Reznik resigned both her position as an IEC and as a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), but hopefully will retain strong connections with the independent counseling community of which she’s been a part since 2011.

“Annie has already reached out to IECA and we look forward to a close working relationship with the Coalition,” wrote Mark Sklarow, IECA’s chief executive officer, in a Facebook post announcing Ms. Reznik’s appointment.

Along with her IECA connection, Ms. Reznik also is an active member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and has blogged for the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools (ACCIS).

Prior to coming to Rhode Island, Ms. Reznik worked in various capacities at the University of Maryland-College Park.  According to her biography, she directed the freshman review process for over 25,000 applications annually, chaired the admission review committee, and developed the recruitment strategy for managing annual enrollment goals.  She also engaged in numerous access-related projects, including leading a race-blind admission study, chairing the planning committee for the College Access Conference, and collaborating with campus TRIO programs.

“I’ve had the privilege to work with Annie,” said Barbara Gill, associate vice president at the University of Maryland.  “She is one of the most thoughtful, caring and committed people in our profession and we are so fortunate to have her lead our efforts.”

Ms. Reznik’s strong background on all sides of the admissions process, including her work as an IEC, should prove helpful as she steps into a new leadership role for the Coalition.  According to a statement on the Coalition website, she “is well equipped to provide new leadership for the Coalition’s member schools in our joint access activities for students and families and is deeply passionate about this important work.”

In the meantime, the Coalition is moving toward release of two of the three main elements of their new technology—the Student Locker and Collaboration Space. Essay prompts have been released, the software is being fine-tuned, and the counseling community is anxious for more details. 

There is no doubt that Annie Reznik is coming into a challenging job at a critical moment in the future of the Coalition.  And support from all her colleagues at IECA, NACAC and ACCIS will be key to her success.

Apr 23, 2016

The Coalition releases essay prompts and brings back ‘topic of your choice’

Michigan State plans to delay implementation
Not that it ever really went away, but the much-loved and possibly over utilized “topic of your choice” prompt will be included among essay questions revealed yesterday by the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success for the application set to launch in July.

While warning that not all coalition member institutions will require an essay and each will treat essays differently in their admissions processes, the suggested prompts for the 2016-17 application year are:
  • Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
  • Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
  • Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
  • What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
  • Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.
Sound familiar?  The first three questions look very much like those used by the Common Application. The fourth poses a more unique challenge, and the last is an umbrella large enough to accommodate virtually anything and has never left the Universal College Application.  Note that no suggested word limit was provided.

In another context, the announcement might have been met with cheers, but with all the controversy surrounding the launch of the new application, the appearance of essay prompts several months before the start of the 2016-17 application year was cause for increased criticism about how the powers behind the association of 90-plus colleges and universities have chosen to do business.
There were no public announcements and no emails to the counseling community, similar to those sent by the University of California system concerning their new “personal insight questions.”  It didn’t seem that anyone on the coalition mailing list was alerted to the prompts.  They just appeared, and an opportunity to generate interest or—more importantly—support was lost.  

“Leak a wee bit of information publicly, and then make us beg for every randomly released tidbit moving forward,” said Tara Dowling, director of college counseling at Rocky Hill School, in her characterization of the coalition announcement.  “Oblige us to visit the website religiously until we are absolutely hypnotized by searching for the new items that are posted at random intervals.”

Summing up the views of many of her colleagues, Ms. Dowling concludes, “I absolutely do not believe that the Coalition wants anyone to use this application next year.”

And as reported earlier this week by Inside Higher Ed, a few dozen members of the Coalition may be planning not to use the new application system for next year.

According to an email from James Nondorf, chairman of the Coalition and the University of Chicago’s vice president and dean of admissions, only 60 out of 93 current coalition members plan to use the new application.  Among those Inside Higher Ed has confirmed will be delaying a year are Colorado College, Georgia Tech, Michigan State University, Mount Holyoke College and the University of Vermont.

"The decision of whether or not to go live this year with a coalition application is largely driven by the technology resources at individual member schools and being able to support a new application this coming cycle," wrote Nondorf.  "Some members must also engage their public legislatures, and that requires more time."

Three members, the University of Washington, the University of Maryland at College Park, and the University of Florida, are reported to be using the system exclusively. But even those specifics remain in the realm of insider information, with confirmation coming on an “as needed” basis.

The Coalition promises an early release of two of the three main elements of their new technology—the Student Locker and Collaboration Space—at the end of this month.  Information on the status of integration with Naviance has also been promised along with interim guidelines for schools currently using Naviance for document transmission. In addition, Inside Higher Ed reports the planned appointment of a new executive director. 

Hopefully, these developments will be handled with a little more commitment to keeping the counselor community informed.

Apr 22, 2016

Top producers of US Fulbright students in 2015-16

Pitzer College earns top honors among Bachelor's Institutions

The U.S. Department of State together with The Chronicle of Higher Education recently announced lists of colleges and universities producing the most Fulbright students for 2015-16.

And a spot on any one of these lists is one more bragging right for schools hoping to promote academic achievement to prospective students.  In fact, it’s way up there on the top of prestigious postgraduate opportunities including the Marshall, Rhodes, and Gates Scholarships.

Considerably larger in scope than the much older Rhodes Scholarship Program, the Fulbright Scholarship is the U.S. government’s flagship international exchange program. Since 1946, more than 360,000 “Fulbrighters” have participated.  In fact, the Fulbright Program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually and operates in over 160 countries worldwide.  

And it’s often a ticket to personal success.  To date, 54 Fulbright alumni from 14 countries have been awarded Nobel Prizes, and more Nobel laureates are former Fulbright recipients than any other award program.  In addition, 82 have received Pulitzer Prizes, 29 are MacArthur Foundation Fellows, and 33 have served as head of state or government.

For prospective undergrads, the degree to which a college or university supports students interested in applying for honors such as the Fulbright can be an important consideration. And among those colleges that actively support global ambitions, the annual tally of grants offered may be a measure of institutional success.

The following are lists of top producers of Fulbright students by type of institution for 2015-16:

Research Institutions
Harvard University:  31
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor:  29
Northwestern University:  26
Yale University:  26
Arizona State University at Tempe:  22
University of Pennsylvania:  21
Columbia University:  20
University of Chicago:  20
Princeton University:  19
University of Southern California:  19
Indiana University at Bloomington:  19
Brown University:  18
Georgetown University:  17
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:  15
University of Pittsburgh:  15
Johns Hopkins University:  15
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:  16

Masters Institutions
Saint Edward’s University:  10
Villanova University:  9
City University of New York, Queens College:  7
University of Portland:  6
Rollins College:  5
Western Kentucky University:  5
Western Washington University:  5
Elon University:  4
Truman State University:  4
Marist College:  4
Seattle University:  4
Nazareth College of Rochester:  4
North Park University:  4

Bachelor’s Institutions
Pitzer College:  21
Smith College:  19
Bates College:  18
Bowdoin College:  17
Williams College:  15
Pomona College:  14
Oberlin College:  13
Amherst College:  12
Occidental College:  11
Wheaton College (MA):  10
Kenyon College:  9
St Olaf College:  9
Scripps College:  9
Davidson College:  8
Carleton College:  8
Claremont McKenna College:  8

Complete lists of Fulbright recipients are available on The Chronicle of Higher Education website.