An election year in 2020 on the heels of a newsworthy 2019 necessitates a rundown of the opportunities and challenges in U.S. college admissions. Here are the top 4 trends likely to impact college admissions this year.
Trend 1: Revolution in Standardized Testing
Beleaguered by lawsuits, the standardized testing industry is under fire for a number of issues, including allegedly selling students’ SAT data and allegedly leaking student disability information without consent (ACT has since eliminated the practice). But there’s one lawsuit that could revolutionize the way that students are evaluated and selected for admission across the entire United States.
That lawsuit, filed last month, claims that the SAT and ACT should be illegal to use in California, based on the grounds that the test is biased and cannot meaningfully measure the potential for student success. If judgment rules in favor of the plaintiff, the SAT and ACT may be considered unconstitutional in California, which means that the University of California system, which hosts over 200,000 students, would have to abandon using the SAT and ACT when evaluating who gets accepted and who gets rejected.
As it stands, the list of “top tier” colleges that have de-emphasized standardized tests has grown to 370 institutions. In addition, rather than sit for the entire exam on a retake, the ACT now allows students to retake specific sections of the exam.
Trend 2: New Ways To Enhance Racial And Ethnic Diversity On Campus
My clients frequently raise the question of who gets an advantage in the admissions process. One lawsuit claimed that Harvard unfairly used race and ethnicity in the admissions process, which disadvantaged Asian-American students. Harvard won this suit, meaning that their use of race in evaluating students was not found to be problematic. Yale University’s admissions office was previously investigated by the U.S. Education and Justice Departments for a similar issue.
While the legal system has not proven overt discrimination, some universities are proactively combatting the potential for implicit bias in the college admissions process. Lawrence Alexander II, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Carney, Sandoe, and Associates is working with admissions offices to recognize and combat implicit bias in the admissions process. Institutions such as Brown University, Connecticut College, and Olin College of Engineering have jumped on board.
As we discuss in my University of Pennsylvania Coursera course, Optimizing Diversity On Teams, unchecked implicit bias can negatively impact the decision-making and leadership of any organization. It’s important to take strategic steps to combat biases, both seen and unseen so that they don’t derail the integrity of the process.
Trend 3: Vigilance and Transparency
The college admissions scandal was a grand scheme that involved a group of privileged parents working on their students’ behalf to cheat on standardized tests and bribe university-based athletic officials. Unrelated to the scandal, just months later, the National Association of College Admissions Counseling, under Justice Department pressure, changed its code of ethics, to avoid the potential for antitrust violations.
Both events brought college admissions under scrutiny, including the question of how donations influence admissions decisions. Given the higher level of scrutiny, universities are likely to be even more vigilant about who’s giving donations and the intention behind the giving.
Based on these tidal shifts, I predict that colleges and universities will need to be more accountable to the public. At the same time, students applying to traditional four-year colleges will need stronger social proof to back up claims made on their application, for example, websites that provide evidence of extracurricular achievement.
Trend 4: Popularity of Online Degree Programs
A desire for affordable and accessible education has breathed life into the online education industry. As I previously reported in a Forbes article about Simone Biles’s choice to go to an online college over UCLA, the global online learning industry is growing by millions of students each year, and the industry is expected to grow to $331 billion by 2025.
In a move towards providing an affordable and accessible option, Georgia Tech, in concert with Udacity and AT&T, offers an online master’s degree in computer science for just $7,000. According to its website, more than 26,000 students have already applied and over 8,000 have enrolled.
In the first of its kind for the Ivy League, as of fall 2019, the University of Pennsylvania launched its online bachelor’s degree targeted at non-traditional students. In addition to students being “only required to visit campus for two on-campus learning experiences, which may be as short as an extended weekend,” this online program has a way to “Prove Your Way In,” that allows prospective students to first take courses to “prove” that they are admissions-worthy rather than traditionally apply.
On the whole, federal data shows substantial enrollment growth in online education and among the largest online education providers, with no signs of slowing down.
In addition to the changing tides of college admissions, the outcome of the 2020 presidential race will surely impact the decade to come. It is critical for students, families, admissions offices, and independent consultants to keep watch of these trends and other shifts in the landscape in order to maximize their opportunity.
Writer: Aviva Legatt