By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter
If higher education is to be seen as a door to opportunity for Americans, then recruitment, admissions, and enrollment policies and practices are what determine how wide the door is open — and for whom.
A new report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) aims to address how institutions can achieve the intended mission of higher education through their various recruitment, admissions, and enrollment practices.
“Colleges and universities have the power to address long standing inequities in college access through their recruitment, admissions, and enrollment policies and practices,” the report states. “Yet many institutions, including public universities with an explicit mission to serve qualified state residents of all backgrounds, continue to use admissions policies that disproportionately and gratuitously benefit students from White and affluent families.”
The report examines existing inequities in how college recruitment practices, admissions criteria, and the application processes impact Black, Latino, indigenous, and underrepresented Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students, those from low-income backgrounds, and first-generation students, and shares recommendations for institutions to reexamine their strategies.
Regarding recruitment strategies, the report asserts that too often, schools prioritize recruitment of students from wealthy, out-of-state communities, in turn “supporting a system in which an applicant’s zip code determines their future.”
Noting the investment schools place in their recruitment efforts, with the report finding universities spend $600,000 on average per year on vendors for enrollment management, it outlines several existing practices that exacerbate inequities.
“Decisions about which schools recruiters visit, which students to target, and whether to focus efforts in or out of state all have equity implications,” the report states. “These decisions shape the makeup of incoming classes. Institutions can use recruitment policies and practices to diversify their student body and advance equity in postsecondary education. Doing so requires a commitment from the highest levels of institutional leadership.”
Standard enrollment practices — such as a student’s demonstrated interest, early admissions, and legacy admissions — are all identified in the report as practices that schools should do away with.
When a student makes a decision on where to enroll to meet an institution’s early admission deadline, they often aren’t able to make a full comparison of their financial aid offers since many schools change their aid awards following May 1 priority deadlines.
“Financial aid packages play a critical role in enrollment decisions for students from low-income backgrounds, so applying early decision is often not a realistic option,” the report states.
Another component the report suggests be terminated is the use of criminal history in the application process.
“Simply asking for criminal history on a college application can have a psychological and emotional impact and can deter someone from submitting it,” the report adds. “This attrition effectively limits postsecondary access for students impacted by the justice system, who may endure trauma, the emotional burden of having to relive past incarceration, and the many collateral consequences of criminal justice involvement.”
The report also identifies investing in need-based financial aid as a way to reform the recruitment, admissions, and enrollment processes.
Pointing to research that shows financial aid offers have a strong influence on a student’s college decision, the report argues this type of aid should be more utilized to decrease equity gaps.
In conjunction with the report’s recommendation to scrap the use of standardized test scores for admissions purposes — as was the case for much of the past year due to canceled SAT and ACT exams amid the pandemic — the report argues it is time for schools and states to adapt their financial aid policies.
“Institutions should take advantage of this moment to revisit institutional aid allocations, emphasize student need in the distribution of resources, and pivot toward more equitable financial aid policies,” the report states.
While need-based aid is intended to provide additional assistance to those from low-income families or from under-represented groups, the report asserts more investment is needed. To do so, the report recommends reallocating funds from non-need-based aid.
Additionally, the report calls on institutions to award financial aid dollars based on demonstrated student need, adequately fund transfer and part-time students, and clearly inform prospective students about financial aid availability and their eligibility for such funds.
“Colleges and universities wield great influence over who can access the life-altering benefits of higher education,” the report concludes. “That access not only impacts the life of individual students, their families, and community; it influences positions of power that determine societal structures for decades to come.”
Publication Date: 6/15/2021