Higher education: the admissions officer view

What can we learn about higher education listening to the staff who run admissions offices?  Inside Higher Ed partnered with Gallup to survey nearly 500* of these administrators.  The results are very useful for anyone looking into higher ed’s present or future.

IHE admission officers' surveyI’ll pull out some of the findings that struck me.  They include issues of marketing, race, international students, and technology, among others.  I’d love to hear what you think.

Recruitment Competition is heating up. 81% of officers “agree their college is increasing its efforts to recruit full-time undergraduate students.”  More officers say their institutions are ramping up recruitment of older students (over 24) as well as everyone online. A clear majority is increasing recruitment of first generation (67%) students.

(Think of this competition increase when considering challenges to inter-campus collaboration.)

On race A clear majority of admissions officers (71%) describe increasing recruitment efforts targeting minority students.

At the same time, there is a strong difference of attitudes towards minorities based on ethnicity or nationality:

[F]orty-six percent of admissions directors believe that some colleges hold Asian-American applicants to higher standards than other students…

39 percent of admissions directors say that Asian-American students who are admitted to their college generally have higher grades and test scores than other applicants.

This brings to mind the Harvard suit.  In response to a question about that story, about one half of admissions officers “strongly agree or agree that the lawsuit is engendering significant distrust among Asian-American students and their families in the admissions process at competitive colleges…”  In addition, about one half of those surveyed “strongly agree or agree… that the Harvard case could lead to new legal attacks on the ability of colleges to consider race in admissions.”

Back to the caucasian majority, there’s a strong division about outreach to that population. “Admissions directors… are divided as to whether colleges should recruit more low-income white students (35 percent agree and 36 percent disagree they should).”

There is also an issue when it comes to increasing institutional exclusivity – i.e., decreasing the proportion of accepted students: “a majority of admissions directors, 58 percent, strongly agree or agree that the increased competitiveness of public universities threatens to impede efforts to admit diverse student bodies…”  Note that this question was aimed at public institutions, not privates or for-profits.

International students Surprisingly, a majority of colleges seem to be leaving alone or reducing their marketing abroad.

The proportion of admissions directors who strongly agree or agree that their college will increase efforts to recruit international students has fallen from 60 percent in 2015 to 50 percent in 2016 to 42 percent today.

Is this because they fear a losing competition with other nations, given America’s recent reputational hits (Trump, the Muslim ban, widespread media coverage of school shootings)?  “74 percent of admissions directors agree — including 52 percent who strongly agree — that the policies and rhetoric of the Trump administration have made it more difficult to recruit international students.”

While most aren’t seeking to expand that population, those surveyed tend to be anxious about its decline. “Fifty-seven percent of admissions directors strongly agree or agree that they are concerned about maintaining the same number of international students at their college in the years ahead.”

Timing Filling a new fall class now tends to take more of summer.

Most colleges are not meeting their enrollment goals by the traditional date for admissions acceptances, May 1. [Just] thirty-eight percent of admissions directors say their college met its goal by that date…

Half of private college admissions directors say they met their goal by June 1, but roughly two-thirds of those at public associate and public master’s/baccalaureate colleges did not.

Testing There’s split on high school testing.  We may soon see a divergence between elite institutions and everyone else based on ACT and SAT requirements:

A majority of admissions directors, 56 percent, believe the University of Chicago’s decision to drop standardized test requirements for applicants will encourage other (elite) colleges to do away with their own requirements. But 7 in 10 admissions directors at colleges that have standardized test requirements disagree that the Chicago decision prompted reconsideration of their own college’s policy. Three-quarters predict their college will continue to require ACT or SAT scores in 10 years.

Here’s an interesting glimpse into campus politics: “35 percent of admissions directors at colleges requiring standardized test scores strongly agree or agree that they are open to dropping the requirement but face opposition from administrators at their college.”

Two more notes about problems with tests:

Three-quarters agree, including 43 percent who do so strongly, that they are concerned about the persistent gaps in test scores by race and ethnicity. Sixty-two percent strongly agree or agree that the emphasis by parents and students on average test scores discourages students from applying to colleges at which they could be admitted and thrive.

The majority of admissions officers are skeptical of AP classes (and tests, presumably) and seem to slightly prefer IB.

On the perception of American higher ed Admissions officers are worried about the popular view of colleges and universities.  It may be costing campuses:

Close to 9 in 10 say higher education needs to do a better job explaining the value of earning a college degree, and two-thirds believe media reports of college graduates struggling to find adequate employment, as well as public discussion of student debt, are discouraging students from considering higher education.

Eight in 10 admissions directors — and an even greater proportion at private institutions — say their college is losing potential applicants because of concerns about accumulating student loan debt.

One interesting note: “Admissions directors at colleges that consider legacy status also express greater concern about future attacks on the ability of colleges to consider race in admissions, and they believe the Harvard case is sowing distrust in admissions among Asian-Americans. ”

Technology IHE asked about two digital tools.  Admissions officers tended to be pleased with their CRM, but “many are dissatisfied as satisfied with their college’s social media strategy.”  That second part is going to be useful for some companies and professionals.

Different types of colleges and universities This report offers some good insights into the ways American institutions differ.  For example, on legacy admissions (preferring descendants of alumni) “42 percent of private college admissions directors [take legacy status into account in admissions],” as compared with a mere “6 percent of public college admissions directors.”**

On the liberal arts: “Just 7 percent agree that parents understand the value [of a liberal arts education] and 5 percent say students do.”

Community colleges stand out from the rest in several ways.  They are much more eager to recruit part-time students (“Admissions directors at public associate-granting colleges are nearly as likely to say they will increase their efforts to recruit part-time undergraduates (68 percent) as they are to say the same about full-time undergraduates (70 percent)”).  Only 22% require standardized tests of their prospective students.

Thanks to Gallup and IHE for conducting this very useful research.

*499 officers responded, which represents a little over 10% of American colleges and universities.  They are fairly representative, including public, private, and for-profit campuses, and institutions granting associates, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

**I admire the archness of this line: “Admissions directors at colleges that take legacy status into account are, as would be expected, much more inclined to say it is an appropriate factor than are those whose college does not consider legacy status.”

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2 Responses to Higher education: the admissions officer view

  1. Ken Soto says:

    Bryan – re International student recruitment: I had a conversation back in 2014 with VPs of Marketing and AA at a mid-sized LibArts school that had invested in intl recruiting over the years for their full-price paying capability, but were reconsidering because they’d found that they we’re seeing increased costs to deal with remediation – bringing these students up to grade level – mostly due to these student’s english language deficiency, but also because these students were from wealthy families but not exactly high achievers. So while it generated income in the short term and helped make the class, the effort wasn’t worth it. The marketing side was happy but the VP for academic affairs was not. Thoughts?

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      I’ve heard that, Ken. There’s actually a healthy business sector for helping international students into US higher ed, from ESL tutors to talent scouts to workshops, etc. I haven’t heard that the extra costs are too much to bear.

      There have also been persistent concerns about cheating, both for reasons of culture and entitlement. In addition I’ve seen (fairly muted) political complaints on multiple lines, both from faculty and outside politicians. Protests of China’s Confucius Centers, for example, or concerns about supporting illiberal regimes.

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