Attitudes in the Admissions Office

A recent survey of college admissions officers, sponsored by insidehighered.com, has attracted some attention in the press, such as this story in the New York Times and, of course, this account at Insidehighered.com (there is a link to a pdf of the full survey report).  It’s a valuable document that reveals attitudes and policies among admissions officers at a time of financial strain and fierce competition among institutions.

Indeed, the main finding in the survey is that admissions personnel are increasingly seeking out students who can pay full tuition.  Public institutions want more out-of-state and international students (who pay a much higher fee than in-state students).  About one-in-ten four-year colleges, the survey found, even practice affirmative action for full-pay applicants, lowering academic standards in order to admit them.

This adjustment is to be expected, of course, with public schools finding their budgets cut by state governments and private schools finding that more of their students qualify for financial aid (family finances having suffered in these economic times).

There is another finding in the report that is worth noting.  It bears on two questions to admissions officers that ask for their opinion on, one, affirmative action and, two, standardized tests.

When asked if their institutions single out certain groups for whom they will lower admissions standards (grades and test scores), 39.3 percent of respondents at all four-year institutions stated that they did so for minority students.  (Athletes, veterans, and a few other groups enjoyed the favoritism, too, but at much lower rates.) 

There is nothing new about that rate, but the next question yields a surprising response.  Asked about whether they agree with showing favoritism to minority students, 99.3 percent of four-year officials said, “Yes.”

Conclusion: while affirmative action for minorities in college admissions is a controversial subject among the American people, in the admissions office, the endorsement is nearly absolute.  There, it has the status of dogma.

The next question found that 11.7 percent of four-year institutions no longer require standardized tests in undergraduate applications, but when admissions officers were asked about whether they should be required, the rate more than doubled to 24.6 percent.  In other words, nearly one in nine schools don’t require tests scores, but one in four admissions officers believes that test scores shouldn’t be required. 

Why?  Because a test score isn’t malleable.  It doesn’t allow any wiggle room the way a personal essay or extra-curricular activities listed in the application do.  Eliminating test scores helps the 99.3 percent who endorse affirmative action to act on their beliefs.

Mark Bauerlein

Mark Bauerlein is a professor emeritus of English at Emory University and an editor at First Things, where he hosts a podcast twice a week. He is the author of five books, including The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults.

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