To the Editor:
Goucher College launched the Goucher Video Application and was featured in an article in The Chronicle (“At Goucher College, Applicants Who Send Videos Need Not Send Grades,” September 4). Many high-school teachers, counselors, and others in education have welcomed our creative rethinking of the stressful college application process. Others have raised questions.
The traditional college admissions process is based on the premise that students who did well academically in high school will probably continue to be good at school. Indeed, a reasonable premise. Goucher will continue to admit the vast majority of students through more traditional application processes, which include the Common Application and transcripts. Goucher has been test-optional since 2007.
But there are two major problems with this traditional application system: It perpetuates socioeconomic inequities, and it is a fallible method for uncovering student potential.
Caroline Hoxby, a Stanford University economics professor, and Christopher Avery, a public-policy professor at Harvard University, conducted research showing that only 38 percent of high-achieving students from the lowest quartile of family income apply to selective colleges like Goucher. Most such students end up in community college or do not attend college at all.
Another Stanford professor—Sean Reardon, from the Graduate School of Education—found a 125-point difference on each 800-point SAT test between the children of the top 10th and bottom 10th percentiles of family income. What good are test scores if they actually reflect parental wealth, rather than a student’s true talents and abilities?
A college degree brings even more economic mobility to the poorest populations, and yet a student’s likelihood of getting a college degree is primarily determined by parental wealth. Talented students are missing out on educational opportunity beyond high school.
Additionally, while test scores and grades have much predictive power for academic success in college, they also miss potential. Lots of things can happen to blemish a transcript, and many capable students do poorly on high-stakes tests. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Cs in public speaking were not predictive of who he would become.
Goucher will always accept students with strong grades and test scores, but we are also committed to inclusion and social justice. We asked ourselves: How can an institution further live up to these ideals in the admissions process?
Our alternative and optional approach, which includes a video and two samples of high-school work (one of which is a graded writing sample), can help us discover even more potential. This change is an invitation for students to introduce themselves and start a conversation—not a substitute for demonstrating achievement, promise, and integrity. We will continue to closely and holistically review applications—in any form-to assess a student’s inherent capabilities, resilience, talent, and intellectual curiosity.
A quarter of current Goucher students receive Pell grants, so we are already quite economically diverse for a selective liberal-arts college. Video applicants who are accepted and want to be eligible for need-based or merit awards will need to supply further information: the FAFSA and a CSS profile for need and a transcript for academic awards (plus an essay and interview in some cases.)
We hope that inviting this conversation and demystifying the college application process even a little will make a selective liberal-arts education available to more talented and worthy students. We have tried to give students an option that hopefully levels the playing field for some of them.
Last week, a middle-school teacher in Virginia wrote me as “a teacher who is trying hard to save lives, create lifelong readers, and inspire a lifetime of learning.” He described his renewed hope after hearing of this effort to help students like those in his classroom.
We are trying a new idea for a fairly old and persistent problem. In a few months we will have some idea about the relative quality of students in the two application systems, and in a few years, we can compare retention and graduation rates. In the meantime, we will continue looking for more ways to discover, reward, and develop the academic potential of our students.
Jose Antonio Bowen