NACAC member Jayne Fonash spoke on behalf of school counselors at Members of Congress' event to introduce the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act of 2013. U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mark Warner (D-VA) and U.S. Representatives Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Robert Andrews (D-NJ) on 5/9 introduced the bipartisan legislation at a roundtable event with local Virginia high school guidance counselors, students and parents. The legislation seeks to provide students and families the information they need to make more informed decisions about higher education. More specifically it would streamline existing institutional reporting requirements to enable students, families, institutions, and policymakers to assess schools and programs based on a wide range of key data including graduation rates for non-traditional students, transfer rates, frequency with which graduates go on to pursue higher levels of education, student debt and post-graduation earnings and employment outcomes.
Jayne, who is the Director of Guidance at Loudoun County's Academy of Science, a member of NACAC's Government Relations Committee and chair of PCACAC Government Relations, emphasized that in addition to access to better information, increasing student access to counselors is important in order to assist students and families with using and understanding the information, as well as, guiding them through other aspects of pursuing higher education.
Read more about the bill or view the live webcast of the introduction event here.
In the fourth and final US Senate HELP Committee hearing on the "Challenge of College Affordability," Senators heard from students and student representatives on their perspective of financing higher education and their recommendations for keeping college access "within reach."
Derrica Donelson, a student at Lipscomb University in Tennessee, spoke about her experience applying for colleges and financial aid and in turn, deciding which college to attend. Ms. Donelson mentions two key people who helped her navigate this process, including her high school guidance counselor and the Director of Financial Aid at Lipscomb University. She mentions that without guidance and federal grants and loans, she would not have been able to afford college. After five years, Ms. Donelson will graduate this fall with her bachelors and masters in accounting.
In order to improve college access and success, her recommendations to the Committee included: keeping guidance counselors well informed on the resources and information out there and in turn, giving them the opportunity to share this information with their students, increasing the Pell grant and giving students more opportunities for loan forgiveness to help ease the burden of debt.
Committee Chairman, Senator Harkin, mentioned the importance of the students' perspectives as Congress moves forward with the next reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). NACAC will continue to work with Congress to implement effective and sound policies supporting students pursuing a college degree and counselors helping students navigate this process. To help advocate on behalf of counselors and students, check out NACAC's Legislative Action Center.
A new NACAC study released today finds that early college counseling, as early as middle school, is essential to students' aspirations for attending college. The study, called Preparing Students for College: What High Schools Are Doing and How Their Actions Influence Ninth-Graders' College Attitudes, Aspirations and Plans, finds that despite the proven benefits of early contact, only 18 percent of all ninth-grade students have spoken with a school counselor about college.
Additional findings are especially relevant for counselor's serving traditionally underrepresented students. Among ninth graders whose parents have not earned a bachelor's degree, the study finds:
- The amount of time counselors spent on college readiness activities was positively related to students’ belief that their families could afford college.
- A family member’s talking to a counselor about college was positively related to students’ plans to enroll in college.
- A student’s talking to a counselor about college was positively related to students’ plans to enroll in college and take an admission exam, such as the ACT or SAT.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education Deb Delisle commented on the report, noting that early college counseling is "vital in shaping students' attitudes." "This report highlights the importance of providing systemic advocacy and support networks well before a student’s senior year," she said. "Achievement gaps can only be closed if we provide opportunities for all our children to be successful."
For more information about the report, visit NACAC's summary page, and read an interview with an innovative counseling department that emphasizes early college counseling.
Every other week, the Journal of College Admission will highlight a current article or other Journal-related findings. In this post, we hear more from Bradley D. Custer, the author of “Admission Denied: A Case Study of an Ex-Offender” (Downloads: Member / Non-member), who assesses how admission officers handle applicants with criminal histories.
Are there any other ex-offender cases, besides Susan's, that you'd like to share?
Every college applicant has a story of their past, hopes for college, and dreams for the future. Applicants with prior criminal history have unique and sometimes dramatic stories and their needs for higher education are markedly different. After reading over 50 essays from ex-offender applicants, I learned that the applicants reacted to the special admission policy requirements differently, and each could serve as an insightful case study. Many recognized the importance of following the application instructions, answering the questions completely, and giving the level of detail needed so that they would have a better chance of being admitted. Others, including Susan, resisted providing details of their criminal past and questioned the institution’s reasons for requiring the disclosure. Still others plead with the application reviewers to admit them because they needed higher education more than anything else to improve their lives. One must remember that there is a unique person behind each application who deserves a fair chance to attend college, which leads me into the next question.
Are there any specific ways admission officers can help ex-offenders applicants?
The most important way admission officers and review committees can help ex-offenders is by giving their application a thorough, individualized review. No college applicant should be denied from a college on the basis of prior criminal history without sufficient information that indicates the applicant is a true threat to the campus, in my opinion. Each applicant has a unique story, and while people who commit crimes should accept personal responsibility for their actions, the role of admission officers/committee is not to re-judge a person for their past crimes. Instead, they should evaluate the available information to determine if the applicant’s criminal history might reasonably predict near future acts of misconduct, which is an evaluation process that takes specialized training. There are also compelling legal reasons to review applications individually and to justify admission decisions. In a case of application reviews done incorrectly, check out this ACLU case from Michigan.
I also want to add that patience is so important. The special admission process is puzzling for applicants, and they may call or visit multiple times with questions about the process. Remember that this process goes above and beyond what most college applicants must go through, and it can be a challenging barrier. I once spoke with a county jail administrator and told him about these admission practices. He had no idea that colleges and universities were seeking criminal history information to make admission decisions, which he thought was a mistake. This tells me that parole/corrections officers may not be preparing ex-offenders for this step in the admission process when encouraging them to enroll in college. Keep this in mind when applicants struggle to obtain official copies of court records or when they hesitate to share details about charges. Without proper advisement, they may not know how to comfortably explain their history and will be wary of judgment.
What is the most common misconception held about ex-offenders?
The assumption that all ex-offenders are dangerous is how these admission practices originated. This in itself is a common misconception. Ex-offenders exist among us in the public every day at the grocery store, the mall and at the gym. Are they any more dangerous in the classroom or on campus? When I speak with colleagues who operate these screening processes, I learn that most ex-offender-applicants are ultimately admitted anyway, which I also found in my study at one institution. This indicates that most ex-offenders who are applying to colleges do not pose an immediate threat to the college, which is why I question this process in its entirety. As always, we need more assessment and research to learn about ex-offender acceptance rates and to learn once and for all if the process does any good. Bottom line: not all ex-offenders need to be feared.
If you were an admission officer, what would you have done differently in Susan's case?
While it is very important that applicants fully comply with college admission policies and procedures, it is evident to me that Susan made a substantial effort to comply by writing two essays for the application review committee. The committee obtained public court records, as they did for all applicants, and could see exactly her charges and sanctions. The committee pressed her for a third time to provide the anecdotal details of the incidents, but she finally refused and withdrew her application. In my personal opinion, the information collected from public court records, from Susan’s first two essays, and from her other application materials were sufficient to determine that she clearly did not pose a threat to the campus community, not to mention that she had been attending a local community college without incident. Because she was also academically eligible, I believe that Susan should have been admitted under the probationary status that was typical for other applicants with similar, non-threatening histories. In this case, the process itself was the barrier, not Susan’s criminal history.
Now, post-publication, is there anything you'd like to add?
On April 18, I was elated to read a surprisingly timely article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Students’ Prior Criminal Histories Don’t Predict Future Misconduct, Research Finds.” Reporter Libby Sander summarized a recent study conducted by Carol W. Runyan and published in Injury Prevention that adds more evidence to the literature suggesting that special admission policies do not yield the intended outcome. In this case, the researcher studied the screening process at one university and found that it didn’t accurately predict which future college students would misbehave. (The presumption of course is that ex-offenders are more likely to re-offend or violate campus policies than non-ex-offenders.) More studies like this one are needed to challenge the reliability of these practices, and I encourage all admission officers who implement special admission policies to employ sound assessment practices to test their policy outcomes regarding campus safety and the personal effects experienced by individual applicants.
Bradley Custer is the coordinator, code of conduct at Moraine Valley Community College near Chicago (IL). He holds bachelor's degrees in French and music education from Capital University (OH) and a master’s degree in student affairs from Wright State University (OH). His research interests include student conduct, assessment and students with felony convictions.
A Pew national survey recently revealed strong public opposition to education spending cuts. According to the survey, only 10 percent of the population supports education cuts, while 60 percent actually favor spending increases.
Unfortunately for Americans, the newly active sequester does not lend the same weight to education. The draconian across-the-board cuts that went into effect in March translate to a roughly 2.5 billion cut to education programs this year. Additional cuts of about five percent will occur each year unless the sequestered is replaced.
These sequester cuts represent the largest reduction in education spending in the nation's history. Important programs like Head Start, which lost $401 million in funding, will suffer without the necessary intervention. The cuts cover the entire range of US education, from elementary school to higher ed. Two of the largest sponsors of research at postsecondary institutions, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, will collectively lose $1.9 billion. Aid to TRIO, GEAR UP, and similar programs has also been slashed by $129 million.
For more perspective on the cuts, consider Education Secretary Arne Duncan's comments on the sequester: "...a lot more children will not get the kinds of services they need, and as many as 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs."
There is still time to deflect these harmful cuts to education. Visit the grassroots action page on the Committee for Education Funding webiste for information on how you can help:
Each month, the Admitted blog will feature a post from a
member of NACAC’s Current Trends and Future Issues Committee that will discuss
trends in college counseling and admission. This post comes from Cicily Shaw,
Director of College Counseling at Boston Trinity Academy (MA).
Counseling Waitlisted Students
We’ve all been there…you have worked tirelessly to help your
student to produce the best application they can to their top choice school.
They have seemingly done everything right, taken all the standardized tests necessary,
attended the session at your high school when the college representative
visited, they have even visited the college for a tour and information session,
had an interview with an admissions representative and submitted their
application early; only to discover in late December that the student was
deferred to the regular admission pool. So you start over again with them,
submitting new grades and possibly even revising your counselor recommendation,
counseling them on what additional information should be submitted, to only
find out in late March that the student was placed on the waitlist!
According to NACAC’s Admission Trends Survey, the percentage
of institutions using a waitlist has increased from 32.1 percent in 2002 to
44.7 percent in 2011. Having worked in college admissions prior to becoming a
high school counselor, I understand how necessary the wait list is. It is a
safety net for the college or university to fall back on should they not
achieve their desired enrollment goals. However, as a school counselor it can
be the source of much frustration for you, your student and their family. The
wait list for some is like the kiss of death. I have found in this microwave
society that we live in, students are used to getting what they want when they
want it; and for many, the college admission process is the first time in their
life that they have been told either “no” or “wait.”
In order to assist your student in the best way possible, we
as educators need to stay current on what the college waitlist means (for each
college) and how to best support students through this process. I have used the
following tools to assist my students when faced with a waitlist decision.
- Ask for a copy of the waitlist letter to review the
individual college policy regarding their waitlist.
- Advise your student to submit the necessary paperwork to
remain on the waitlist.
- Write (when necessary) a supporting letter with new updates
about the student, or make a phone call to the admissions representative if a
relationship has been established at that institution.
- Due to the fact that most colleges will not reconsider waitlist
candidates until after the May 1st deposit deadline, it is important to
encourage your student to focus the bulk of their energy on the colleges where they
have been accepted. This way, they can make the best decision on where they
want to go to college. They will need to submit an enrollment deposit to their
top choice by May 1st.
After these steps have been accomplished, continue to remain
positive, talk up the schools they have been accepted to and encourage your
student throughout the process. On average, institutions accepted 31 percent of
students who accepted their place on the waitlist in 2011 (this proportion has
remained relatively constant over the past ten years). So
while they may have to wait a bit, it is not an impossible feat.
You can find more waitlist data in NACAC’s
2012 State of College Admission report.
Looking down the road to reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), which is set to expire at the end of this year, both sides of Congress have begun holding hearings and gathering feedback on higher education topics. On the House side, the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training has held three hearings since March, each on different topics ranging from improving federal student aid programs and student loans to transparency efforts.
The latest hearing, Keeping College Within Reach: Enhancing Transparency for Students, Families and Taxpayers, took place on April 24th and focused on increasing transparency and ensuring that students and families are equipped with the best information to make informed decisions about where to attend college. NACAC was very pleased that witnesses not only testified on the importance of information that allows students and families to make "apples to apples" comparisons when choosing a school, but also on the importance of counselors in helping students navigate postsecondary and financial aid opportunities.
Witnesses acknowledged that there is some great work being done to enhance transparency, but that there are still real barriers that need to be addressed to ensure all students, especially low income or first generation students, have the best information when considering their postsecondary opportunities.
Dr. Donald Heller from Michigan State University said counselors are a "valuable and critical resource" and that there "is no substitute for access to objective, unbiased and knowledgeable information that can be tailored to the needs of individual students." In his written testimony, Dr. Heller wrote that "students in predominantly low-income schools who have had been able to gain access to good college counseling from an individual report how important it has been to them." He cited NACAC's research that "high school guidance counselors can be critical in improving college access for racial minority and low socioeconomic status students,” adding that “these are exactly the populations who are likely to have the least access to good college counseling." Among his recommendations to enhance transparency included the suggestion that the federal government consider a highly targeted program to place more qualified college counselors in schools serving lower income schools, improving the information that the Department of Education provides about college and financial aid, continuing to invest in current programs like GEAR UP and TRIO, ensuring that schools are adequately funded so students have access to good advice from school personnel and look into recent innovative efforts to deliver these services to reach all students.
Dr. Nicole Farmer Hurd from the National College Advising Corps said one of the major barriers in enhancing transparency for students and families is the high student-to-counselor ratios across the nation, with the majority of states' ratios way over the recommended ratio of 250:1. Among her recommendations included, universal adoption of the financial aid shopping sheet, providing simpler methods that include "apples to apples" comparisons and expanding counseling efforts to reach all students.
Mr. Travis Reindl from the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices recommended that the federal government data system focus on and make available for students and families data on outcomes in addition to inputs, simplify and make clearer the information delivered without duplicating efforts and craft policies with an eye towards the long-term future.
Every other week, the Journal of College Admission will highlight a current article or other Journal-related findings. In this post, we hear more from Alexis Brooke Redding, the author of “Supporting International Applicants and Promoting an Ethical Model of Global College Admission” (Downloads: Member / Non-member), who outlines and evaluates the work of independent educational consultants working with international students.
What is the most common misconception held by international students who are applying to colleges and universities in the US?
The most common misconceptions stem from confusion about the admission process as a whole and uncertainty about what “holistic admissions” looks like in practice. Many international students initially assume that decisions will be based on a single performance metric like it is in their native country (i.e. the Matura in Switzerland or the Baccalauréat in France) and that achieving a set score on the SAT guarantees admission to the college of their choice. This is problematic for many reasons, particularly because it makes it that much more challenging for students and their parents to understand the level of competition involved in admission to highly-selective colleges and universities.
A second misconception that was described by several interview subjects and throughout the surveys is that students and parents abroad mistakenly think that U.S. News & World Report is a government publication. This is not something that I encountered when I worked overseas, but the overwhelming focus on ranking lists abroad is a real concern for most people involved in this field.
As you conducted your interviews, did anyone say anything that surprised you?
I was surprised by the trends in the data more than any single interview or statement.
One thing that was quite striking was the consistency in the responses between groups. When I began this project, I assumed that the concerns of admission officers would be quite different from the concerns of independent educational consultants (IECs). However, I found much more synchronicity than I could have predicted.
Equally striking was the difference between my first study on IECs in 2010 and this study, conducted just two years later. In the interim, it seems that there has been a growing acceptance of IECs and the role that they can play in the admission process. I heard this from both sides of the desk—clear acknowledgement of the positive role for IECs by admission officers and a recognition of that message by both IECs and leaders in the professional organizations. Since we all work with the same core goal in mind—helping students find the best-fit school—strengthening this kind of relationship is beneficial. As we work to enforce ethical standards for IECs, this relationship should continue to improve. Additionally, as organizations work to further spread their message about the importance of working with IECs who have been vetted and who agree to adhere to ethical principles, I think that this trend will continue.
Finally, I was encouraged by the receptiveness of the admission officers who were eager to hear about the issues international students face in the process and how to make improvements. In one interview, I mentioned a suggestion that had come from an IEC survey the day before. The dean of admission took a minute to write the suggestion down and say that he would look into it. His exact words, “Well, why don’t we do that? Seems like an easy fix!” I found that attitude pretty encouraging.
Tell us more about your plans for future research.
I am working on several projects right now, including continued analysis of this dataset. The interviews conducted with IECs and admission officers working in China yielded some particularly compelling information. I am coding those transcripts now and hoping to conduct some follow-up interviews after the NACAC Commission on International Student Recruitment announces its findings and recommendations. I am also doing some additional analysis for a presentation that I will give at HECA’s national conference in Nashville next month.
Looking ahead, my focus will move beyond IECs and the college admission process to examine broader issues of ethics in the context of elite achievement culture. I am using developmental theories (moral development, adolescent development, and emerging adulthood) to understand how high-achieving students in elite institutions justify cheating behavior. This is a new project that I am excited about and will likely be the focus of my doctoral dissertation. I will be presenting on this topic at the NACAC conference in Toronto and am looking forward to leading colleagues through some interesting case studies that illustrate this evolving research.
Now, post-publication, is there anything you'd like to add?
It is so easy to focus on the extreme examples of misbehavior in this field, but understanding the subtle instances of ethical misconduct is more important to me. I really appreciate the candor of the individuals who participated in this study and who shed light on these moral dilemmas and the ethical grey areas that they navigate every day.
Post-publication, I have been overwhelmed by the volume of emails I have received from NACAC members. It’s exciting to see this community support my research, including their openness to the critiques I shared as well. It speaks to the importance of looking critically at these issues and the passion that we all have for creating a process that invites ethical practice. I enjoy being part of this dialogue and invite other NACAC members to continue to share their ideas and stories with me. This input will certainly shape future research questions and upcoming conference presentations.
Alexis Brooke Redding is a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (MA) where she researches ethical issues in higher education. She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Harvard and a Graduate Certificate in College Counseling from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She has worked with international college applicants for 12 years.
Researchers from the Research
& Planning Group for California Community Colleges are conducting a
study called “Student Transfer
Professional Pathways Project” to understand transfer advising services for
community college students in various academic fields seeking to transfer to a
four-year institution. As part of this project, researchers interviewed a small
group of community college students who transferred to one four-year university
in California to complete an education degree and receive a teacher
certification. The interviews highlighted a variety of challenges that the transfer
students encountered as well as factors that aided success.
One of the barriers most frequently cited by the interviewed
transfer students was financing college. Many of the study participants began
college after a traumatic life event like divorce or job loss. These events
added to the financial stress of completing a degree. Many of the students also
had trouble getting helpful information about transfer from sources at the
two-year college. Faculty and advisors were not readily available and were
difficult to meet with. Several students also claimed the information they
received was incomplete causing them to enroll in unnecessary courses.
The study also found that transfer students rely on support
from four main sources: family, community college counselors or advisors,
community college faculty, and staff at the four-year institution. It is
interesting that the students interviewed generally considered the
encouragement received from staff in the teacher certification program at the
four-year university to be the best source of support during the transfer
process. These staff members made the students feel welcome and genuinely valued
at the four-year campus. University staff were often better able to answer
questions about transferability of credits and program requirements compared to
community college staff as well.
As two- to four-year transfer becomes more prevalent it will
be important to consider the receiving four-year school’s informational and
support systems in building strong transfer opportunities for community college
At the 2013 meeting of the American
Educational Research Association (AERA), a leading scholar in college
access research shared the latest findings in the field and discussed worries
for future students transitioning from high school to postsecondary education. Dr.
Laura Perna, Professor at Pennsylvania
University’s Graduate School of Education, used evidence from a variety of
sources to illustrate the current state of college access and listed worries
about the changing postsecondary environment.
The current research Dr. Perna shared is based on
traditional college students who enter college directly after graduating from
high school. Studies of these students have found that forces such as academic
readiness, financial status, and support/information influence students’
entrance into college. Each of these forces can affect students differently
depending on family, high school, college, and policy contexts.
Current research indicates these forces and impacts are
changing, and these changes may bring more barriers to college access. Dr.
Perna listed five of these challenges. First, stratification of academic
resources begins early in a student’s educational path. Students that attend
under-resourced elementary schools have a huge academic disadvantage by the
time they approach college. Research shows that this resource gap is widening.
Second, the higher education funding model is shifting the financial burden of
college from public sources including government to private sources, especially
students and families. This means students are increasingly relying on loans
and are finding it difficult to finance college degree completion. Third,
higher education options are changing. Students are faced with many options for
postsecondary education including for-profit institutions, distance education,
and MOOCs. The variance among higher education options makes the admission
process extremely complicated and makes finding the “right fit” more difficult.
Fourth, information matters in improving college access, but there is little
effort to improve availability of information. College counselors take on huge
caseloads and non-counseling responsibilities that leave some students
under-informed about college. Finally, research confirms that there is no “silver
bullet” policy or program that will improve college access. Researchers and
policymakers will not make any progress toward improving college access if the
goal is finding one, sweeping reform that will solve all challenges.
There is much research to be done and Dr. Perna encouraged
researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to continue to try and answer the
difficult questions through rigorous research so the challenges of college
access can be understood and addressed.