- Colleges with selective admissions should evaluate whether these practices are compatible with their goals of advancing historically underrepresented students in higher education, a new report urges.
- The report also features recommendations for simplifying application and financial aid processes to benefit these students. It was released Wednesday by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
- The suggestions for admissions work centers largely on Black students, while those concerning student financial aid can help broader contingents of underserved students. The focus on Black students does not intend to minimize the experiences of other vulnerable populations, the report says, but stems from "the need for a historical reckoning related to the treatment of Black Americans that reached a crescendo in 2020."
The report, produced with financial support from the Lumina Foundation, provides policy recommendations from a systemic level down to more granular ideas for colleges' operations, such as rethinking whether to impose application fees.
It comes amid the pandemic, which exacerbated barriers into postsecondary education for marginalized students, as well as the ongoing racial reckoning in the U.S. These recent events should prompt admissions and financial aid officers to question their work, the report states.
The associations gathered representatives from think tanks, colleges and government to discuss the ramp into higher ed. They also interviewed 17 students of traditional college and adult age.
This provided "a balcony" for the thought leaders to discuss systemic problems, which they often do not get to do, Angel Pérez, chief executive of NACAC, said in an interview.
"To a certain extent, it gives leaders and institutions permission to ask these big radical questions, to move us toward change," Pérez said.
The groups will distribute the report to policymakers, Pérez said, and he envisions its conclusions being used to try to untie selectivity from various metrics, including those U.S. News & World Report uses to determine its influential Best Colleges rankings.
The report also says that states have underfunded higher ed for years, and in turn public institutions raised tuition rates and shifted financial burdens onto students who sometimes cannot afford them. The research is in part aimed at state lawmakers who hopefully will invest more in colleges, Pérez said.
He's cautiously optimistic this could occur, pointing to a recent budget proposal in California that would set aside nearly $40 billion for public higher ed if the state's college systems meet particular benchmarks, like boosting the share of students that earn credentials in high-demand fields.
Other recommendations included in the report are potentially reconsidering the elements of formal college applications in order to minimize burdens on students, and homing in on students' K-12 academic experiences. Officials should also make financial aid offers available as quickly as possible, it states.
On the federal level, the U.S. Department of Education should extend its waiver of a process known as verification, the report states. The department annually audits some applicants' information on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, but discontinued the practice during the pandemic. It is viewed as cumbersome for more vulnerable students.