A helpful look at the whole of American higher ed, not just a few campuses

I’ve been writing for a while about the problem of mistaking a handful of American campuses for the whole of postsecondary education. All too often public discourse and educators’ own discussions massively overfocus on the Ivies, skewing our understanding.   Today’s Inside Higher Ed offers a great example of avoiding that error, through the unusual method of actually addressing the full range of colleges and universities.  The angle: looking at admissions.

NACACScott Jaschik* reports on a recent National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) survey, and finds the reality of college and university admissions:

in fact, most colleges admit most applicants, and the rarified world of Ivy League admissions is almost completely irrelevant to what goes on in most of higher education — even when the survey focuses on four-year colleges and not the open-access world of community colleges.

“most institutions say yes to most of those who apply… the rarified world of Ivy League admissions is almost completely irrelevant” – ouch!

How did NACAC and Jaschik arrive at this conclusion?

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 From this data:

In terms of institutions, only 19.7 percent admit fewer than 50 percent of applicants, while 36 percent admit 50 to 70 percent of applicants…

the average admissions rate for colleges for enrollment in the fall of 2014 was 65.8 percent, up from 64.7 percent the year before. The acceptance rate for international students was much lower: 34 percent.

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In other words, college admissions is a far, far more relaxed and open process than is normally presented.  Perhaps American higher ed is doing better at access than we think.

Here’s a crucial takeaway on a very specific point of interest to some readers: “for most institutions — grades in college preparatory classes are far more important than test scores when colleges make their admissions decisions.

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*Scott was a fine guest on the Future Trends Forum this summer: full video recording.

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