NACAC, NASFAA Recommend Framework for Equity in College Admission and Financial Aid

New report funded by Lumina Foundation creates a “resource for reflection and action” and a roadmap for admission and financial aid offices, institutions, and state and federal governments.

Contact: Allie Arcese
Managing Editor, NASFAA
(202) 785-6959 
[email protected]

ARLINGTON, VA, January 19, 2022 — The impediments to racial equity in college admission and financial aid are complex, systemic, and longstanding, and so the work to dismantle those impediments requires courage, collaboration, creativity, and an unrelenting commitment to both understand the problems and continue to strive to solve them.

So says a new report out today from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), the result of a months-long project funded by Lumina Foundation that sought to reimagine college admission and financial aid through an equity lens. The report recommends a series of actions for admission and financial aid practitioners, educational institutions, and state and federal agencies and policymakers. And it urges further, deeper study and examination of issues that create barriers to entry to postsecondary education for traditional-aged and adult students of color, particularly Black students. In focusing on advancing equity in college admission for Black students, the report acknowledges the legacy of discrimination and the ongoing effects of structural barriers against Black Americans throughout society that continue to limit postsecondary educational opportunity for Black students.

The project, which began in earnest in the spring of 2021, grew from ongoing efforts by NACAC and NASFAA to advance equity and was spurred by the tumult of the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial reckoning in the summer of 2020 that compelled individuals and institutions in all sectors to examine their roles in perpetuating inequities and their responsibilities for advancing justice.

The report, “Toward a More Equitable Future for Postsecondary Access,” challenges us all to consider how to design admission and financial aid systems that are equitable. NACAC and NASFAA hired Hearken Consulting to facilitate the project, which engaged a Thought Leadership Panel of experts and higher education professionals — whose members are listed in the full report — and conducted interviews with both traditional college-age students and adult learners, whose voices greatly informed the report’s recommendations.

The report recommends actions aimed at:

  • Counteracting the negative effects of institutional selectivity on racial equity
  • Reducing the complexity of processes for applying to schools and applying for federal financial aid
  • Re-centering the student K-12 educational experience in admission decision-making criteria
  • Diversifying admission offices
  • Combating implicit biases in financial aid offices

Even as it recommends such actions, the report asserts the critical importance of institutional context in implementing changes to advance equity. Recent years have seen advocacy to change or eliminate practices and policies related to, for example, legacy admission, early admission, and the use of standardized test scores and other inequitable indicators of student potential. While there is merit in addressing those and other specific issues, the report emphasizes the need to center students in a comprehensive, big-picture examination of postsecondary admission and financial aid—to address the root causes of inequity rather than treat individual symptoms.

The report’s ambitious aims, in turn, live in the larger framework of questions that it urges higher education to ask of itself, questions that follow from a full-throated articulation of inequities that are not merely incidental, but rather are often inherent in the very design of postsecondary admission and financial aid systems.

“The college admission profession is rooted in a history and in systems that have disadvantaged the most marginalized students in our society,” said Angel B. Pérez, chief executive officer of NACAC. “We must reckon with that history and begin to tackle the bigger issues that affect who has access.”

Pérez said the solutions go far beyond changes that individual admission offices can make. “College admission officers do not function in a silo and are often limited in the impact they can have in creating greater access for the most marginalized students. Until we address how higher education is funded in America, the complexity of the financial aid process, the tools we use to evaluate students, and the investments we make in the admissions professionals doing the work, we will make incremental progress at best. Our time is now, and this report has identified the issues and given us a path forward.” 

NACAC is reorienting its entire advocacy agenda toward student- and equity-centered admission practices. And it is continuing to engage partners in research aimed at understanding and addressing systemic inequities.

“Financial aid professionals are driven by a deeply held belief that no qualified student should be denied access to postsecondary education for lack of money. It is that belief that drives us to look inward at hidden biases that may be embedded in institutional policies that could negatively impact historically marginalized students,” said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. “We have the tools at our disposal to push for a more equitable playing field for all college students, but it must start with the willingness of institutional leaders and policymakers to lean into the sometimes-uncomfortable situation of exploring and ensuring that policies align with our values.”

Key questions and recommendations from the report, along with a note on public investment in higher education, and comments from select members of the Thought Leadership Panel can be found here. The full set of recommendations can be found in the complete report.


The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), founded in 1937, is an organization of more than 25,000 professionals from around the world dedicated to serving students as they make choices about pursuing postsecondary education. NACAC’s mission is to empower college admission counseling professionals through education, advocacy, and community.


The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) is a nonprofit membership organization representing more than 32,000 financial aid professionals at nearly 3,000 colleges, universities, and career schools across the country. NASFAA member institutions serve nine out of every 10 undergraduates in the United States. Based in Washington, DC, NASFAA is the only national association with a primary focus on student aid legislation, regulatory analysis, and training for financial aid administrators.

About Lumina Foundation

Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. Lumina envisions a system that is easy to navigate, delivers fair results, and meets the nation’s need for talent through a broad range of credentials.

Publication Date: 1/19/2022

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