It’s a matter of bias, said Ozan Jaquette, assistant professor of higher education at UCLA. It’s not just that colleges give preference to potential applicants from well-endowed high schools or affluent areas. The very design of the recruitment tool they use is unfair, according to a new study.
Jaquette and a team of researchers, including Patricia Martin and Crystal Han from UCLA, produced a series of research papers for Institute for College Access and Success challenging a popular entry point for college recruiting: lists of students who helping schools connect with college-bound students through email and brochures.
High school students taking the SAT, ACT, or Advanced Placement tests can choose to share their coordinates, that the College Board, ACT, and other vendors use to organize the lists that colleges purchase. Researchers say the products systematically exclude underrepresented groups by focusing on applicants and filtering out students in other means likely to reinforce inequalities.
“The use of filters, especially in combination with each other, actually results in racial and socio-economic inequality among students who are on lists purchased by universities and colleges,” said Karina Salazar, co- author of the reports and assistant professor. at the University of Arizona.
ACT did not respond to requests for comment. The College Board, one of the largest players in the student roster market, said higher education institutions use student rosters as part of their overall recruiting strategies, and how each college uses them varies according to their resources and institutional goals.
Marketing is indeed part of college admissions strategies, but research shows that for marginalized students, it can be a crucial step in getting them to apply. Black and Hispanic students contacted by colleges via student lists are 46 percent and 65 percentrespectively, more likely to apply to a four-year college than their peers who don’t receive information, according to research commissioned by the College Board.
The coronavirus pandemic has upended the admissions process, expanding the optional testing movement and college recruitment through virtual engagements. College advisers said students were listening to the flood of emails and brochures, instead turning to social media and online fairs for information.
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“These lists are slowly running their course,” said Angel B. Pérez, chief executive of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “It is time to think bigger. Do not twist the edges. Let’s create a new process that works for the types of students we serve today.
As colleges adopt innovative ways to reach prospective enrollees, student rosters remain, at least for now, a mainstay of their recruitment and one that deserves closer examination, say Jaquette and Salazar.
Researchers analyzed lists of students purchased by 14 public universities to recruit undergraduate students from 2016 to 2020. They examined academic, geographic and demographic search filters, examining the characteristics of students whose profiles were purchased based on factors such as race or household income.
Researchers say the The “geo-demographic” filters offered by the College Board allow colleges to target students based on historical college attendance behaviors of students from the same high school and neighborhood. Because the categories are strongly correlated with race and socioeconomics, the filters reify inequality in access to educational opportunities, the researchers say.
The College Board argues that its customers “agree to strict usage policies which state that they may not discriminate against any group of students.” The organization said it “maintains a direct relationship with all organizations using student data from the College Board and monitors it to ensure users are adhering to these policies.”
As for the underlying data, the College Board said its student finder service is available to anyone who enrolls through its college planning website, BigFuture, not just to those spending tests. Additionally, students whose information is collected through testing are a large and diverse population, according to the company.
In a statement, the College Board said, “How each college uses research varies according to its resources and the goals of its institutional mission. As the researchers themselves point out, many colleges use research specifically to reach underrepresented students and increase equity in educational opportunities.
Even when colleges use search filters to achieve equity goals, Salazar argues that filters can undermine the effort. The study, for example, analyzed student roster purchases targeting women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) based on a combination of high AP and SAT scores. These filters produced lists made up largely of affluent, white, and Asian students, and according to the study, disproportionately excluded students of color attend predominantly non-white high schools.
“It appears that the search product does not lend itself to colleges to expand beyond those who would likely be admitted and enrolled,” said Akil Bello, an admissions expert with the National Center for Fair and Open Testing at Aim. non-profit. “If I conduct with test scores as the parameter of my research, that encourages you to exclude lower test scores, which means excluding low-income and underrepresented groups.”
Universities need to meet enrollment targets to maintain tuition revenue, and that can compete with priorities to advance equity on campus, said Nikki Chun, vice provost for enrollment management at the University of Hawaii. While schools are serious about admitting marginalized students, it is difficult to change recruitment practices that have long been believed to be effective.
“There are so many priorities to balance,” said Chun, co-author of a chapter in the upcoming book, “Rethinking College Admissions.” “And the extent to which an institution can really find a replacement that’s happening through enrollment, that’s going to be difficult.”
Cover says create a free national database of information already collected by high schools, including GPA and courses taken, could be a viable alternative to lists of paid students. It would include more states and a high share of prospective students who could submit more information about their interests for a more accurate match.
“The system that would provide equal opportunity for students is a system that would actually benefit the enrollment needs of college universities,” Jaquette said. “Each name is available for free. So you no longer need those problematic filters that allow you to target this or that segment.