Boeckenstedt says that there are two structural factors that make life difficult for enrollment managers who want to admit more low-income students. The first factor is the simple need for tuition revenue. Unless colleges can reduce their costs, it is going to be difficult for them to resist the lure of wealthy students who can pay full price. And there are several perverse incentives in the marketplace that make it hard for colleges to cut costs. The most basic one is that the U. News algorithm rewards them for spending a lot of money: Higher faculty salaries and more spending on student services lead directly to better rankings.
If you reduce your expenses, your ranking will fall, which means that next year your applicant pool will probably shrink. So instead you keep your spending high, which means you need a lot of tuition revenue, which means you need to keep admitting lots of rich kids. Things are different among the wealthiest colleges. Boeckenstedt points out a fact that is somehow simultaneously totally obvious and yet still kind of dumbfounding: Some of the most selective colleges have so much money that they could easily admit freshman classes made up entirely of academically excellent Pell-eligible students and charge them nothing at all.
The cost in lost tuition would amount to a rounding error in their annual budgets. But not only do those and other selective colleges not take that step; they generally do the opposite, year after year. As a group, they admit fewer Pell-eligible students than almost any other institutions. Colleges like DePaul, with much smaller endowments, somehow manage to find the money to admit and give aid to twice as many low-income students, proportionally, as elite colleges do.
It also depends on admitting a lot of rich ones. And he has a point: The researchers Nicholas A. Bowman and Michael N. Bastedo showed in a paper that when colleges take steps to become more racially or socioeconomically diverse, applications tend to go down in future years. There is a second big structural problem standing in the way of colleges that want to admit a more socioeconomically balanced freshman class: the extraordinary power of standardized admission tests and the apparently unbreakable relationship between family income and SAT or ACT scores.
There is a continuing and often impassioned debate in higher education over the value of standardized tests in college admissions. Most analysts concur, though, on a couple of basic premises.
They agree that high school grades are the single best predictor of college success — more accurate than test scores alone — and they agree that test scores and high school grades considered together are a more reliable predictor of college performance than grades alone. Those two categories each make up about a sixth of each cohort of high school seniors. The students with the inflated SAT scores were more likely to be white or Asian than the students in the deflated-SAT group, and they were much more likely to be male.
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Their families were also much better off. These were the students — the only students — who were getting an advantage in admissions from the SAT. They were the students — the only students — whose college chances suffered when admissions offices considered the SAT in addition to high school grades.
High school grades, considered alone, made for a fairly level playing field for students from different economic backgrounds. But SAT scores tilted that playing field in favor of the rich. Currently, about half of the top schools on the U. News list of the best liberal-arts colleges in the nation are test-optional, as are a number of larger national universities, including George Washington, Brandeis and the University of Chicago. Under Boeckenstedt, DePaul decided to join them, and in , the university became the largest private nonprofit university in the country to offer test-optional admissions.
About 10 percent of the students in each 2,member freshman class at DePaul are now admitted without the university seeing their scores. For research purposes, after they are admitted, DePaul asks nonsubmitting students to submit their test scores anyway. But nonsubmitting students do just as well at DePaul as the submitters do. Their freshman G. They have the same likelihood of returning to DePaul for their sophomore year. And the six-year graduation rate for nonsubmitters in the first class admitted under the test-optional policy was Allowing those students to apply without submitting their scores made it easier for Boeckenstedt and his admissions staff not to be misled by that false signal.
It made it easier for them to do the right thing.
So when he proposed to overhaul the enrollment-management strategy at Trinity, he recommended that Trinity go test-optional as well. By the application deadline in early January , 40 percent of applicants had opted not to submit their scores. When the U. It now does.
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Trinity was paying more attention to diversity in its admissions, and its freshman class was becoming more academically accomplished, but by U. Soon after the U. They were more rewarding to teach.
They were just plain better students. Instead, he told them simply to consider each student as an individual and ask themselves: Does this person belong at Trinity? Can they do the work? Will they add to our community? Do they deserve to be here? This was far too many. But half of them are selected in the early-decision rounds.
According to the current rules, students apply early-decision to just one college, and they make a binding commitment to enroll there if admitted. Those students need, instead, to be able to compare tuition costs and aid packages from multiple colleges before deciding where to enroll — which means they need to apply in the regular-decision round.
At Trinity, the or so students admitted early in were quite a bit wealthier, on average, than the rest of the freshman class, and about half of those early admits were athletes. But coaches do recruit athletes, and colleges are allowed to offer those athletes preferential admission. The result is that at Trinity, as at many other Division III schools in the Northeast, the recruited athletes are actually more likely to be white and wealthy than the rest of the freshman class.
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When colleges send out acceptance notices to students each spring, they know that a significant number of those students will turn down the offer and enroll somewhere else. The average yield rate among four-year, nonprofit colleges now stands at 27 percent, nationwide. By contrast, students admitted early, who are bound by the rules of early decision to enroll, have essentially a percent yield rate.
The teams considered the tentative admits from each high school in their region, debated their comparative merits and rejected the least qualified. The first cuts were relatively easy, reducing the tentative admit pool to 2, — but there were still about 1, students to cut. The first number was the size of the class, which had to be as close as possible to students.
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The second number, even more pressing, was the combined tuition revenue those students needed to bring in. The modern practice of enrollment management was invented in the mids by a man named Jack Maguire, who was then the dean of admissions at Boston College, and one of his most important innovations was to deploy financial aid strategically, as a way to attract the students he most wanted to admit, whether they genuinely needed financial assistance or not. It turned out that offering grants — even relatively small ones — to students with high family incomes made it significantly more likely that those students would enroll in your college.
Over the last 30 years, as list-price tuitions have climbed rapidly, this strategy has spread to almost every private college in the nation, and many public ones, as well. And as merit aid has expanded, it has created two big problems. The first, and most obvious, is that if you give more aid to rich kids, you have less to offer to poor kids. Beginning in the early s, the practice of giving out merit aid evolved first into an arms race and then, more recently, into what is beginning to look like a death spiral.
Colleges still publish official tuition rates, just as they used to, and those published rates are often astoundingly high.
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But the official numbers have become almost entirely divorced from reality. In the average tuition-discount rate for freshmen at private, nonprofit universities hit 50 percent for the first time , meaning that colleges were charging students, on average, less than half of their posted tuition rates. Rising tuition rates may still dominate the headlines, but the truth is that discount rates are rising just as quickly, and at some colleges, more quickly. That meant that he was aiming for a 42 percent discount rate. But the discount would not be the same for each student. But he knew he would need to balance each full-need student he admitted with enough full-paying students to hit his revenue target.
But the discounts they offer vary widely from student to student. In fact, if you pick any two freshmen at the same college, they are very likely to be paying completely different tuition rates. Instead, they are based on a complex calculation, using sophisticated predictive algorithms, of what the student is worth to the college and what the college is worth to the student.
If teachers saw me with them, I would be categorized as a gang member, or worse, if other gang members noticed then they would try to attack me because they thought I was a rival. I tried to explain this to my friends but they could not understand and eventually the friendships grew cold. During the end of my ninth grade year, I was still adjusting to my new life. Although I no longer physically lived in that neighborhood, I still felt like I was alone and was stuck in the same position. My closest friends, the ones I could relate to, were all on a downward spiral in life; at the same time, I could not relate to the students in my honors courses.
Many were discussing vacation trips, showing off new clothes or getting a new car for their birthday when getting their driving permit. While some of my classmates were planning on taking family vacations to Disneyland, I was planning to visit my father who had been recently arrested and was serving jail time for robbery.
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Instead of having memories of helping my parents wash their car in the front yard or riding a bicycle on the sidewalk as a child, I remember seeing people get shot and killed in my neighborhood or seeing a pregnant woman smoking crack. Sophomore year of high school proved to be the lowest and most humbling part of my life.
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