More Colleges Will Adopt Test-Optional Admissions
Then, last spring, the University of Chicago changed the conversation. By announcing that it would no longer require the ACT or SAT, the university became the most-selective institution ever to adopt a test-optional policy. No, Chicago isn’t Harvard.
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More Colleges Will Adopt Test-Optional Admissions
Then, last spring, the University of Chicago changed the conversation. By announcing that it would no longer require the ACT or SAT, the university became the most-selective institution ever to adopt a test-optional policy. No, Chicago isn’t Harvard. But it’s a big-name university with international cachet, a 7-percent acceptance rate, and a No. 3 ranking in U.S. News & World Report’s college guide. And it could help accelerate the test-optional trend among top-tier colleges.
After all, colleges are creatures of caution: They often don’t like to be the first among their peer institutions to make a big change. Chicago’s move, some admissions officials have said, can reassure nervous trustees at other institutions who are skeptical of forgoing traditional admission policies.
More than 220 colleges have de-emphasized the ACT and SAT since 2005, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a watchdog group. Last year Colby College was among nearly 30 institutions to drop or modify their testing requirements.
One reason the list is likely to keep growing: data, data, data. Colleges are using ever more sophisticated statistical analyses to better understand how their students perform. On many campuses, deep dives into enrollment data have helped admissions offices determine which pieces of information they collect from applicants actually help them predict a variety of student outcomes, such as first-year grades and progress toward a degree. Chicago found that ACT and SAT scores didn’t tell it much about who would succeed and who would struggle.
Though many other colleges have reached the same conclusion, few have the same potential to sway institutions that are seriously considering a test-optional policy. A small handful of well-known, superselective institutions that compete with Chicago are doing just that. Admissions officials at two of those colleges told The Chronicle that their institutions might announce new testing policies this year. Yes, they said, peer pressure had a little something to do with it.
— Eric Hoover
Social Mobility Will Matter More in College Rankings
The people who judge the value of colleges are starting to think so too. In 2018, U.S. News & World Report said it would tweak its rankings formula to include social mobility. Other rankings, like the one produced by Washington Monthly, emphasize an institution’s ability to recruit and graduate students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
College rankings have power because they signify what we believe is the purpose of higher education. That’s why it was so surprising late last year to see federal lawmakers write an open letter imploring U.S. News to reconsider how it defines success.
Much of the interest in student outcomes has stemmed from the influence of Raj Chetty, an economist at Harvard. In 2017, The New York Times featured his work via an interactive graphic that highlighted any given college’s ability to move a student from lower income brackets to higher ones.
Yet the idea that colleges’ main goal should be helping students climb the economic ladder is not without its critics. And even scholars concerned about social mobility say using it as a metric to rank colleges could backfire.
This year two economists — Caroline M. Hoxby of Stanford University and Sarah Turner of the University of Virginia — published a working paper that looks at how colleges define their success in serving low-income students, and suggests a new way to measure an individual institution’s goals. Current methods often focus on students who qualify for Pell Grants, which could mean less support for students who are just above that threshold.
The researchers stressed that no one is saying colleges shouldn’t do more for low-income students. Rather, they said, how colleges are going about it may be flawed.
Experts will probably continue to disagree over the precise metrics, but the ability of college to change a person’s life via increased wages, especially as student loans continue to weigh on the public’s consciousness, will remain a key factor.
— Chris Quintana
Urban Colleges Will Expand — but Carefully
Last year, San Antonio was crowned the fastest-growing U.S. city, and enrollment growth at the University of Texas at San Antonio mirrors that trend. It’s crowded right now, said Lisa G. Blazer, interim vice president for strategic enrollment. But not for long. Among the university’s many planned projects is an “urban village” — a mix of housing, retail, and dining spaces — a student-success center, and a laboratory large enough to simulate earthquakes. It’s a world apart from when Blazer started at the university in 2001, when the campus amounted to four buildings. The University of Illinois at Chicago is experiencing a similar trend. Though undergraduate enrollment has struggled at other Illinois institutions, enrollment at the Chicago location has risen by about 24 percent since 2014, transforming it into a residential campus.
But expanding isn’t solely about the buildings. The power balance between an urban college and its adjacent neighborhoods can be wildly off-kilter, said Ted Howard, president of the Democracy Collaborative, a research and consulting company. Sometimes, when colleges try to pour money into those neighborhoods, home and rent prices skyrocket and force out longtime residents, frequently people of color. The community “gets blown up,” Howard said. But it’s not a lost cause. Some universities, like Duke, have invested in community land trusts so that residents can be stewards of local land. Others, like Drexel University, established a hiring policy that favors local talent. Hiring local businesses, restructuring an endowment portfolio, and investing in affordable housing are all ways that institutions can stretch their dollars further, and circulate them longer, in their cities. For colleges that are successful, there’s a throughline. “They had stopped seeing themselves as ivory towers,” Howard said, “with all the doors facing inward.”
Growing institutions need to take care not to get too big, since a dip is coming down the line. During the financial crisis, the national fertility rate took a tumble, said Nathan D. Grawe, a professor of economics at Carleton College. A nationwide drop in student enrollment, beginning in the 2020s, is on the horizon, said Richard Vedder, a professor of economics emeritus at Ohio University, so campuses should be cautious about big infrastructure expansions. When thinking about the long term, he added, “if I were a university president, I wouldn’t be planning on building a lot of new dormitories.”
— Emma Pettit
Title IX Will Remain a Battleground
The U.S. Department of Education’s proposed rules on Title IX, the federal gender-equity law, are top of mind for campus officials nationwide as they continue to move through the monthslong regulatory process. The public-comment period, which ended in late January, drew 104,000 comments.
Most of them were critical of the rules, which would require colleges to conduct live hearings for sexual-misconduct cases and allow alleged victims and accused students to cross-examine each other through an adviser. The regulations would also narrow the scope of complaints that colleges are required to investigate.
Most college officials fall into the anti-rule camp. They say the proposals would force them to essentially create courtrooms on campuses, which is not only inappropriate for educational institutions but also burdensome and expensive. Hearings and cross-examination, administrators say, could also intimidate victims and make them even more reluctant to report.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says the regulations would restore basic fairness to campus Title IX proceedings. Due-process advocates agree, saying the Title IX guidance from the Obama administration effectively required colleges to tilt the process in favor of accusers. As a result, they say, many students were falsely accused or punished harshly for minor offenses.
It’ll be months before the proposed rules are finalized. Most colleges are sticking to the policies they crafted based on the Obama administration’s guidance, which, starting in 2011, reshaped the way colleges handled sexual-misconduct reports. Some states have passed legislation to codify parts of the Obama-era guidance, and it’s unclear how colleges would respond to a conflict between federal regulation and state law.
Victim-advocacy groups and activists say they, too, will stay the course — meaning they will continue to raise awareness, promote education on consent and prevention, and hold colleges accountable for mishandling sexual-misconduct cases.
— Sarah Brown
Financial Crunches Will Force More Colleges to Merge
All of that seemed to confirm what some observers had predicted: The sector’s straining business models would lead various institutions to hook up — and they would be the lucky ones. In its 2018 negative outlook for higher education, Moody’s Investors Service said stagnant net-tuition revenue and declining demographic trends would pressure more private and public colleges to merge. Closure may be the only other option for weakened colleges that can’t find a partner.
To be sure, a merger can help preserve some portion of the name and mission of an institution facing oblivion. Wheelock College, an institution founded to train kindergarten and preschool teachers, became the Wheelock College of Education & Human Development under the shelter of Boston University. Mergers can also combine and enhance the strengths of respective institutions. Administrators at Thomas Jefferson University and Philadelphia University sought to combine the science and medicine specialties of the former with the art, design, and business programs of the latter.
A growing number of colleges are considering a less drastic option: collaboration. Colleges have already found ways to combine back-office functions in technology services, purchasing, or human resources, or to jointly offer courses in underenrolled programs, like foreign languages. At a Council of Independent Colleges conference in early January, some small-college presidents privately yearned for partnerships between their institutions and neighboring ones. The idea was something like a nation of Claremont Colleges, the well-known consortium of seven private colleges in Southern California.
But colleges are proud institutions, and many have resisted the notion of merging — or merely working together — even in the face of stark financial challenges. Trustees and alumni sometimes fear the loss of their institutions’ identities. And faculty and staff members understandably fear the loss of their jobs, given that mergers and collaborations can eliminate redundant positions, making a dent in the biggest category in any college budget: payroll.
— Scott Carlson
The Traditional Textbook Will Be Hard to Find
- The political push for lower-cost books, championed by students and foundations and recently embraced by states including New York, California, and Ohio, which have put up money to make more course materials free and openly available to students.
- The slowly building momentum behind the broader movement for open educational resources (OER) and the belief in the merits of having materials that allow for the “five Rs”: the right to retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute them.
- Advances in digital technology that make possible the production of “books” that can be customized by professors and personalized to the needs of individual students.
What this means for the big textbook publishers and their customers is still evolving. Already, open resources are gaining market share among professors teaching general education, thanks in part to new OER publishing ventures like OpenStax and Lumen Learning. Surveys show that professors who are moving to open educational resources do so because they’re concerned about students’ pocketbooks, and because they like the flexibility to mix and match materials. They’re also becoming increasingly resentful of publishers’ business tactics, such as frequently revising editions, or selling digital add-ons, to undercut the used-book market.
In response, big commercial publishers like Cengage, Macmillan, Pearson, and Wiley have begun rolling out their own strategies that incorporate — or, as skeptics argue, co-opt — OER models, including products that feature repositories of open materials and digital tools to create and deliver them.
But these are probably stopgap measures. In the longer term, as publishers go more digital and further embed technical enhancements such as simulated experiments, interactive test banks, and data-driven personalization, what was once considered a “textbook” with a digital supplement could start to look more like something that’s considered “courseware.”
For now, print still rules, at least among students. But once that tipping point is reached, responsibility for buying the product could shift from students, who can be fickle customers, to the institution. That would be a double win for publishers.
Paradoxically, one development making that win possible will have been the experiments in customization and other innovations taking place under the umbrella of today’s OER movement.
— Goldie Blumenstyk