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December 01
An Updated Look at the Landscape of State Common Core, SAT, and ACT Assessments

​With the emanating roll out of Common Core-aligned assessments this spring, many people are wondering how the tests will interact with the traditional college admissions tests, ACT and SAT. Although both Smarter Balanced and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) have made statements that the 11th grade summative test was not designed to be used in college admission decisions, the question remains as to whether or not it will eventually be considered by admission offices- and this question may remain unanswered for several years. According to a Smarter Balanced representative who presented at NACAC’s annual conference this past September, “to the extent that we see changes, it will be an evolution [not a revolution] as things progress.” 

So where are states now? Several states administer the ACT or SAT to all public school 11th graders statewide, whereas some have district-optional policies, or no mandate at all. So far the implementation of PARCC and Smarter Balanced common-core aligned tests does not seem to have had any negative effect on the number of students taking the ACT or SAT, in fact, those numbers continue to increase. Recent articles have spoken to increasing numbers of students taking the ACT college admission test, due to more states adopting it statewide (Nevada and Missouri most recently), as well as, the increasing number of students in states that already administer the tests statewide. In addition, Missouri also made the decision to use ACT as its 11th grade college- and career readiness measure rather than the new Smarter Balanced assessment, which the state will use in other grades (Education Week). 

While the SAT is currently redesigning its test, with a “continued emphasis on reasoning alongside a clearer, stronger focus on the knowledge, skills, and understandings most important for college and career readiness and success,” the ACT has no such plans. In 2014, 1.85 million students (the most ever) took the ACT and 1.67 million took the SAT. 

For more information, see NACAC’s common core webpage​, as well as:

November 17
Two New Reports on Student Aid... and Student Debt
Fall application season is in full-swing, and students and families are carefully considering college costs and how to best finance a degree. Meanwhile, May 2014 graduates have, generally, passed the end of student loan grace periods and are entering repayment. So as graduates look back at the debt they have accrued and future students look ahead and the debt they may accrue, it is timely that two new reports have been issued on student aid and debt. College Board's 2014 Trends in Student Aid report examines, panoramically, the landscape of student aid. The Project on Student Debt, which is supported by the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), report Student Debt and the Class of 2013 provides a narrower snapshot (press release).

The Project on Student Debt did not examine for-profit institutions due to severe shortages in available data. Among the private non-profit and public institutions studied, great levels of variation were found at both the state and institution level. Overall, the report finds that average debt ($28,400) for the Class of 2013 increased by 2% from the average for the Class of 2012.  Additionally, approximately 1/5 of the debt is private, non-federal student loan debt -- a distinction that bears consideration, since private student loans do not provide borrowers with the same protections and interest rates as federal loans. Drilling down into state-level data, the Project on Student Debt calculated average student indebtedness to range from $18,656 (New Mexico) to $32,795 (New Hampshire). The ten states with the highest average student debt were NH, DE, PA, RI, MN, CT, ME, MI, IA, and SC. The states with the lowest average student debt were NM, CA, NE, DC, OK, AZ, UT, HI, WY, and LA. Not all of the institutions with the highest or lowest average debt are located in these states, underscoring the fact that institutional aid practices differ greatly. To see state-specific and individual college data, visit the Project's interactive map​.

According to the College Board's report, student borrowing is gradually slowing. The past decade has seen a sharp uptick in student borrowing, due in part to increased enrollment in college during the recession; there was a 43% increase in Stafford loan borrowers between 2003-04 and 2013-14. But these numbers are beginning to drop off again: between 2010-11 and 2013-14, students took out 13% less in student loans, with total federal loan borrowing dropping by 18%. While those figures look promising, they are by no means is the whole story. The College Board finds that average debt has increased 19% over the past ten years, and 13% over the past five. Tuition pricing and state aid continues to play an important role in the costs students bear in financing their degrees. Total grant aid per full time equivalent (FTE) student increased rapidly by 39% from 2007-08 through 2010-11. The increase dropped off sharply, to 8%, over the following three years. State grant aid increased at a lower rate, 10%, between 2007-08 and 2010-11, and declined by 5% from 2010-11 to 2013-14, with a 3% decline just in the 2013-14 year. Average grant aid per FTE student varies state-by-state, from under $200 to over $1,000. The percent of state grant aid that is need-based has increased from the low 70s% in the mid-200s to 75% in 2012-13, the broad trend is a significant decrease in percent of need-based grant aid: in 1982-83, 91% of state grant aid was need-based.

Finally, the College Board reports (and TICAS notes) that 32% of student borrowers entering repayment in 2010-11 attended for-profit colleges, and 44% of students in default by October 1, 2013, were for-profit students, despite accounting for only 10% of FTE undergraduate students enrolled in 2010-11. NACAC has resources​ to educate students, family members, and counselors on for-profit colleges. In addition, NACAC staff is engaged in efforts to promote greater transparency and accountability in the sector, which is known for frequently aggressive and misleading recruitment practices and substandard educational and employment outcomes.
November 14
NACAC to be Represented at White House Sponsored Event at San Diego State University

On November 17-18, NACAC will be represented in a convening of recognized educational leaders committed to supporting the school counseling profession’s critical role in increasing college access and success. San Diego State University’s (SDSU) Center for Excellence in School Counseling and Leadership (CESCaL) is hosting the event in partnership with the White House’s College Opportunity Agenda and the First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative. The group of invited experts will focus on strategies to strengthen the school counseling profession through enhanced preparation in college and career readiness.

The SDSU-hosted convening, which will be available to the public through a live webcast, will focus specifically on advancing systematic change in several key areas:

  • Modifying requirements for graduate programs in school counseling to include non-negotiable preparation standards for college and career readiness 
  • Creating sustainable and effective partnerships between university training programs and K-12 school districts in order to ensure productive field training related to college and career readiness for prospective school counselors
  • Enhancing district-level professional development in college and career readiness for experienced school counselors 
  • Aligning hiring policies and procedures for school counselors with the goal of enhancing knowledge about college and career readiness within the profession, and 
  • Creating strategic partnerships with donors who are interested in supporting students’ college and career goals through change in school counselor training and practice.​

The SDSU-hosted event is designed as a goal-oriented working meeting which aims to conclude with 20 or more active university/K-12/community partnerships that are well on their way to meeting these systematic change goals. The group also will create mechanisms to support the establishment of additional partnerships and to assist all partnerships in meeting the systematic changes, thereby allowing the work to continue long after the meeting has concluded. 

The event follows a series of historic milestones that have occurred over the last year. In a January 2014 White House sponsored summit, President Obama called for “an ambitious new agenda aimed at improving college value, removing barriers to innovation and completion, and ensuring that student debt remains affordable.” Following the summit, senior White House staff arranged a listening and learning session on school counseling which examined challenges that counselors encounter while supporting students’ college aspirations. In late July, Harvard University hosted a White House convening​ on counselor’s influence on college enrollment. This meeting encouraged attendees to inventory existing partnerships and establish collaborative relationships with school districts, higher education institutions, college access groups, and non-profit institutions. NACAC will continue to represent the valuable experience and expertise of the membership in these national efforts to enhance the role of the school counseling profession.

November 07
New White House Report Summarizes Latest Discussion Around the Importance of School Counselors


​A new White House report, “Counseling and College Completion: The Road Ahead,” contains a comprehensive summary of the “College Opportunity Agenda: Strengthening School Counseling and College Advising” event convened earlier this year by the White House’s College Opportunity Agenda and Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. The event took place on July 28th and was part of a continued effort of the White House and the First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative to focus on college access.

School Counseling leaders and advocates will gather next on November 17-18 at San Diego State University to continue the conversation of improving school counseling preparation, programs, and practices. The event will be livestreamed. Stay tuned via NACAC for the latest on this first-of-its-kind initiative.

November 03
Mrs. Obama Issues Reach Higher Challenges to High Schools and Colleges

​The First Lady has announced two new initiatives as part of her Reach Higher campaign to increase college attainment and success. The first is the FAFSA Completion Challenge, aimed at creating and fostering a FAFSA culture in high schools. Students and schools will use social media and videos to share how their community is coming together to boost or maintain high levels of FAFSA completion. The second initiative is the Near-Peer Mentoring Challenge, designed to encourage admission, student affairs and other relevant divisions to develop opportunities for underrepresented students to spend time on college campuses with their near-peers: students from similar backgrounds who are only a few years ahead.

Modeling the call to action on Howard University’s Escape to Mecca and other similar programs, Mrs. Obama hopes postsecondary institutions will create new—or expand existing—programs that allow students to not only attend classes with their near-peers, but also stay overnight, eat in a dining hall, attend an athletic event, and/or participate in other activities that make college tangible. Colleges should submit short videos documenting their programs. Schools and colleges that produce exceptional results in the FAFSA and Near-Peer Challenges will be considered by Mrs. Obama as sites for her 2015 commencement and graduation speeches.

Full details on the Near-Peer Mentoring Challenge and the FAFSA Completion Challenge are available on the Reach Higher website​.

October 31
Department of Education Issues Final Gainful Employment Rule

​On October 30, the Department of Education issued its final Gainful Employment (“GE”) rule, which will determine Title IV eligibility for career programs designed to prepare students for “gainful employment in a recognized occupation.” The GE rule will help ensure that taxpayer funds are spent only on programs that live up to that standard, as evidenced by graduates’ debt-to-earnings ratios. The rule will take effect July 1, 2015. Many of the programs impacted by GE are run by for-profit colleges, an industry known for aggressive recruitment, extensive misrepresentation and poor employment outcomes that leave students underqualified for employment and strapped with unmanageable debt burdens. The final rule is the product of several years’ worth of back-and-forth. In 2011, a federal appeals court overturned key provisions of a 2010 version of the GE rule; the current version has been shaped by ongoing advocacy and lobbying efforts by various stakeholders, including NACAC. If this rule were in effect, the Department of Education estimates that 1,400 programs would lose Title IV eligibility.

Under the rule, GE programs will be evaluated and placed into one of three categories: Pass, Zone, or Fail. If a program is rated Fail for two out of three consecutive years or is in Zone for four consecutive years, it becomes ineligible to receive Title IV funding. The Department of Education has provided a fact sheet ​detailing the specific debt-to-earning ratios that align with each category. Because the rule will not take effect until mid-2015 and will require a minimum of two years' worth of data to be collected on each program, sanctions for Failing or Zone programs will not be implemented for a few years.

NACAC is pleased that programs that fail to meet these requirements will no longer be able to accept Title IV funds, and that institutions will need to provide consumer protection disclosures to prospective and enrolled students. The rule also establishes an interagency task force to lead federal oversight of the for-profit sector. While these measures are a good first step, NACAC believes there is still room for improvement in the rules. For example, NACAC is disappointed that GE programs will only be evaluated based on the outcomes for students who have completed their programs, thereby disregarding the negative outcomes for some students most harmed by for-profit colleges’ maleficent practices: students who drop out of a GE program with substantial debt but prior to earning any credential.

NACAC’s press release is available here. The full rule may be read here. NACAC's Compliance Center has information on Gainful Employment and other federal regulations that impact members. Additionally, NACAC's Low-Down on For-Profit Colleges​ is a good resource for counselors, students and families considering proprietary postsecondary education.​​

October 23
PLUS Loan Eligibility Eased, but Institutional Scrutiny May Rise

The Department of Education has announced its final rule​ to adjust PLUS loan eligibility for student and parent borrowers. The new rule will be effective July 1, 2015.

In 2011, the Department intensified its review of PLUS loan applicants' eligibility; potential borrowers found their past five years' of credit being examined to determine eligibility for the loans. The impact of the new standards was felt acutely by Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as other Minority Serving Institutions. Frequently, students at these institutions relied heavily on their parents having access to PLUS loans to afford tuition. Also frequently, the credit histories of these parents did not pass the Department's muster, resulting in a substantial increase in loan denials and subsequent enrollment declines as students and families could no longer afford to finance the cost of attendance. HBCU advocates vociferously pushed back against the new rules, claiming that access to PLUS loans can make all the difference for their low-income students, who otherwise may find higher education unattainable. Supporters of the measures contended that borrowers, and the public, do not benefit when a loan defaults--an occurrence that the Department's eligibility standards were intended to reduce.

Earlier this year, the Department decided to revisit the contentious​ issue. If nothing else, yesterday's announcement meets one hallmark of a compromise: it is unlikely that anyone involved in the PLUS loan debate will be truly happy. Those upset by the Department's previous tightening of eligibility will be pleased that, under the new rule, credit history for PLUS loan applicants will only be considered for the previous two years. Up to $2,085 in adverse credit will not be held against the applicant, and this amount will be linked to inflation rates. Meanwhile, those who urged caution at easy access to loans by high-risk borrowers should be somewhat placated by the requirement that borrowers who do have an adverse credit history will be required to complete PLUS loan entrance counseling. The Department will also begin publishing PLUS loan default rates for each institution. Although colleges and universities will not be held accountable for these default rates, as reported by Inside Higher Ed's Michael Stratford, institutional leaders worry that high default rates will reflect negatively on their colleges, as opposed to the demographics of their institutional constituents, who are more likely to be high-need, high-risk borrowers in the first place.

Which brings us back to why the Department originally tightened loan eligibility standards in 2011.

October 21
Clery Act in the Spotlight

​Several events over the past few years, especially those of recent, have brought Clery Act compliance by institutions of higher education to the forefront of national discussions. Violations of the Clery Act have been increasing in recent years. In addition, members of Congress and the White House have played a strategic role in highlighting the issue of sexual assault on campuses and continue to push for more transparency to ensure the safety of students.

Specifically, US Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) in July released a new report, “Sexual Violence on Campus: How Too Many Institutions of Higher Education are Failing to Protect Students,” which includes findings from a national survey of over 400 institutions and interviews gathered from a series of roundtable discussions. A summary of the results state that “many institutions are failing to comply with the law and best practices in how they handle sexual violence among students.” McCaskill along with other US Senators released legislation in July to address these issues. In addition, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released its first report on the issue in April of this year and continues to update guidance and model policies for institutions to use.

In response to these and other events, some lawmakers and public advocacy groups have also called for campus security statistics to be included in methodology to rank colleges.

Background on the Clery Act and Recent Amendments

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act requires all postsecondary institutions receiving federal aid to publish and distribute Annual Security Reports (ASRs) by October 1 each year that include specific campus crime statistics and policies. In addition to making the data available to current students and employees, colleges and universities must submit crime statistics to the U.S. Department of Education and notify prospective students and employees that the report is available, along with a description of the contents and the opportunity to request a copy. 

In addition, Congress last year reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which among other things amended the Clery Act to require institutions to include statistics on domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in their annual security reports starting October 1, 2014, as well as include plans for certain policies and procedures around the issue. The U.S. Department of Education published final rules yesterday in the federal register, which become effective July 1, 2015. 

Official Resources for Clery Act Compliance

Admission offices must be aware of compliance procedures for distributing information to prospective students regarding the issue. Offices across campus, as well as institutions as a whole should work together to ensure best practices in informing students and families of Clery Act information. 

NACAC’s Compliance Center has the latest guidance on compliance specific to admission professionals. In addition, you can consult the following resources:

  • ​The U.S. Department of Education compiled a list of suggested resources to help support the sharing of resources postsecondary institutions may use to inform and tailor their campus sexual assault training and prevention efforts.
  • The Clery Center for Security on Campus assists colleges and universities in Clery Act compliance. The website includes resources that can aid institutions as they work to meet the campus safety and security requirements.

October 08
An Update on Common Core Implementation, District Progress on Teacher Preparation

​As states get ready to administer assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to students for the first time next spring, the 2014-15 school year will be a critical juncture for implementation of the CCSS. In NACAC’s session at National Conference on the new standards and assessments last month, attendees had many unresolved questions. One area in particular that stood out as an ongoing challenge was whether adequate professional development and teacher preparation to teach the new standards, would be reached across districts by the time the assessments are implemented this year. 

In a new report released today, the Center on Education Policy (CEP) found that in about a third of districts in CCSS-adopting states, leaders do not expect their district to complete important milestones of CCSS implementation- such as adequately preparing teachers to teach the Common Core and implementing CCSS-aligned curricula- until school year 2015-16 or later, (See Table 1 below). Another third expect to be ready this year. The survey is based on a nationally representative sample of districts located in the 43 states that adopted the standards.

Common core district milestones 2014.png

In addition, the report found that 88% of districts reported experiencing major (46%) or minor (42%) challenges with providing high-quality professional development and other support to ensure that teachers are able to implement the CCSS instructional activities. In an interview on the new report, Diane Stark Rentner, the deputy director of CEP, said “it seems to lead to the conclusion that more time is needed to get this down into the classroom level and have everyone more comfortable with the content and be ready to move forward and succeed,” (Education Week). 

While “about 90% of school district leaders in adopting states agree that the Common Core standards are more rigorous than their state’s previous math and ELA standards and will lead to improved student skills,” ultimately, the effectiveness of the new standards hinges largely upon teacher preparation and ability to teach the new standards. Check back at NACAC’s online resource for more updates on the latest happening with Common Core implementation. 
October 06
​Rx for Healthcare Access and Quality Care? Holistic Admissions.

Healthcare in the United States is marred by large disparities in access. While remedying these inequalities is a complex undertaking, a new study by the Urban Universities for HEALTH suggests that university admission practices are a piece of the puzzle—just maybe, a corner piece that will help guide the rest of the pieces into place.

On October 6, the Urban Universities for HEALTH (Health Equity through Alignment, Leadership and Transformation of the Health Workforce) released its study on the use and impact of holistic admission practices in the health professions. From considering an applicant’s race to not considering an applicant’s transcript, holistic admission practices for general undergraduate studies programs have been widely researched and hotly debated. UUH’s study is significant in that it not only focuses on a specific area of professional practice, but also in that it considers both undergraduate and graduate admission practices. UUH is an alliance of the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. The study examined the admission practices at 104 universities in 45 states, with a total of 228 health profession schools from within the universities, including nursing, medical, dental, and pharmacy schools, as well as public health programs.

The first challenge faced in studying holistic admission is settling upon a definition of just what constitutes holistic review. For the purposes of this study, researchers avoided a strict definition; participants were also asked to self-identify as practicing holistic or non-holistic review based on their understanding of the method. Then, researchers selected several qualities that are hallmarks of holistic review, and evaluated the extent to which each school practices the different components. Researchers acknowledged that the practices they chose as constituting holistic review are not exhaustive. Some of the qualities of holistic review used in the study included: whether and to what extent the institution uses information other than academic metrics (e.g., gender, socioeconomic status, etc.) in the initial review, whether the institution’s admission committee receives training related to the institution’s mission and commitment to diversity, and whether students are selected from the waitlist based on criteria relating to the school mission or commitment to diversity. Schools were scored on the amount and extent of holistic review they practice.

Some comparisons between self-identification and scored use of holistic review show how difficult it is to discuss holistic review without a settled definition:

Schools self-identifying as using holistic review: 75% of all schools surveyed

  • More common self-identification among graduate-level programs (low = 78% at PharmD programs, high = 93% at DDS/DMD programs) and far less common at undergraduate-level programs (only 47% of BSN programs)
  • ​14% were found to practice few or no elements of holistic review when application review methods were scored
  • 48% were found to use some elements and 38% were found to use many elements of holistic review

Schools self-identifying as not using holistic review: 25% of all schools surveyed

  • ​2% of schools were found to use many elements of holistic review, and 31% were found to use some elements
  • 67% use few or no elements

Among the schools that self-identified as using holistic review, even those that scored low, various positive outcomes of the holistic review process were reported:

  • ​Student diversity increased at 72% of the schools (81% at highest-scoring, 67% at mid-scoring, and 60% at low-scoring institutions)
  • 90% of schools reported an increase in or no change in the GPA of their incoming classes
  • 89% of schools reported an increase in or no change in standardized test scores of their incoming classes
  • 96% of schools reported an increase in or no change in graduation rates
  • 97% of schools reported an increase in or no change in the GPA of their graduating classes
  • 91% of schools reported an increase in or no change in student success in passing licensing exams (i.e., the students needed to take the test fewer times in order to pass)

Academic indicators of success aside, the UUH survey revealed some less tangible benefits that may be associated with holistic review: student engagement with the community, cooperation and teamwork, and students’ openness to ideas and perspectives different from their own. While not all schools track these qualities in their students, of those that do, the results strongly suggest that holistic admission practices had a positive net impact:

  • ​Student engagement with the community: 70% increased, 30% unchanged
  • Cooperation and teamwork: 66% increased, 33% unchanged
  • Students’ openness to ideas and perspectives different from their own: 75% increased, 25% unchanged

These indicators are the ones that seemed to most impress Co-Principal Investigator Greer Glazer, Associate Vice President for Health Affairs and Dean of the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing and Yvonne Maddox, Acting Director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Holistic admission does not just impact underrepresented students, Glazer said at the press conference. Rather, it is “important to every student” because it “changes the dynamic” in which students learn, leaving them “more engaged, cooperative, [and] focused on teamwork.” Maddox discussed healthcare disparities in the United States and the fact that minority and low-income communities are primarily served by healthcare practitioners who come from similar backgrounds. Admitting students likely to be open to serving these communities is the first step to ensuring the communities receive adequate healthcare. Holistic admission, the UUH study reveals, not only helps universities admit more of these students, but also fosters an environment that increases the likelihood of all students choosing to work in underserved communities, regardless of their own personal backgrounds.

Admissions “is the gate people must go through” to enter the healthcare profession, Glazer said. “It is critically important to study admission… Admission practices can and should be evidence-based,” she continued, stressing that approaches used in admissions “should be as rigorous as any other strategic” undertaking at a university. The UUH study provides valuable evidence that holistic review is worthwhile, not only for the universities themselves, but for the communities their graduates serve. One of the main reasons some universities do not use holistic review is that they are unsure how to implement the process, or their admissions staff are not trained to fully understand the university’s mission. To the latter point, a quality displayed by schools that use holistic admissions is that their admission offices have their own mission statement that includes diversity; this could help integrate thoughtful, deliberate approaches to increasing or maintaining diversity through the application review process. As for the former, Glazer thinks “this [study] is a call to university presidents to fund” serious initiatives to study and implement holistic admission practices at their institutions. She expressed hope that the study will have particular impact on undergraduate admission in the health professions, such as nursing programs. Nursing, the only program in the study to admit students at the undergraduate level, was least likely to use holistic application review.

An archived recording of the press conference and UUH's full report and one-page summary may be accessed here​.

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