The the first piece in this three-part series, she examined issues related to transparency in college admissions. This second part explores the depth of information colleges hold about students and how applicants can access data about colleges.
The data dance of college admissions is delicate, and it’s not always clear who’s in charge. Students and those who support them try to estimate their likelihood of being accepted. Colleges and universities, striving to create a diverse student body, try to predict the behavior and choices of adolescents. Anyone who has – or works with – young people knows that this is often a fool’s errand. As schools try to balance access and anxiety, there is an ongoing tension over transparency about what information is shared, how much, and with whom. The playing field is uneven when it comes to predicting college admissions outcomes.
What do colleges know?
Brian Zucker of the Human Capital Research Corporation (HCRC) explains that his company handles thousands of data points about individual student characteristics in their enrollment management consulting. Their researchers and analysts pull data from multiple sources on about 1,400 variables on which to base their predictive modeling. Some of these include general demographic data, but there is also more detailed data drawn from the college’s customer relationship management (CRM) platform, Slate. Many colleges use Slate to manage recruitment, applications and enrollment, and Zucker says the information they can get from the platform is “extraordinary” and in some ways very “Big Brother-like.” Through Slate, colleges can track email interactions, events attended, forms completed, and third-party interactions with companies like Cappex and scholarship provider Raise Me. They even have access to the specific web page of the college website that the candidate visits, how often and how long they spend there.
Armed with this information, along with financial and pricing data and more, analysts use machine learning algorithms to create as many as 24 different enrollment models. They then develop “composite yield scores” based on the student’s engagement and background, tailored to specific moments in the admissions cycle. Looking at the previous twenty days of interactions can predict the likelihood that a student will accept an offer of admission if it is extended (known as a “win”). If this all sounds really weird, it is, but it’s an example of how much data schools now have at their disposal.
What do you know?
Students and those who support them do not have the benefit of a team of analysts to help them with their college search, application and decision making. Most have school counselors to guide them, but in reality, access to counseling is shamefully inequitable. But there are some resources students can use to cut through the noise of college admissions and help them find information about schools. Here are some more useful tools:
The latest updates to the Department of Education’s College Scorecard have become an outstanding resource for students and their supporters as they consider their options for higher education and the best fit for their circumstances and goals. The searchable database allows users to compare colleges, prioritizing issues of “affordability, inclusivity and outcomes over exclusivity.”
Zucker applauds the breadth and depth of information in the tool, saying families should pay particular attention to debt data such as “the loan repayment rate—the percentage of the original loan balance that remains five, ten, even twenty years after students or parents enter repayment.” He adds, “based on the latest announcement, the statistics on Parent Plus loan repayment rates are staggering, with many schools showing outstanding loan balances in excess of 50 or 60 cents on the dollar for ten or twenty years.” It is essential that families have a complete picture of what they are getting into.
With a comprehensive understanding of costs, Zucker encourages applicants to consider “Scorecard earnings data in addition to their potential debt, broken down by quartiles and deciles and years after entry, not just average earnings.” While the Scorecard data is far from perfect, Zucker praises this source of information for going much further than the balance of dominant alternatives. Among other innovations, Scorecard now provides program-level information based on areas of study, which is more than can be easily found on most websites.
Shared data set
The Common Data Set (CDS) is a standardized report produced annually by colleges with the stated goal of improving “the quality and accuracy of information provided to all involved in a student’s transition to higher education.” Students can search online for the latest CDS for schools they want to visit, apply to, or possibly attend. This will provide detailed enrollment and persistence data, as well as information about admissions practices and other priorities that may not be immediately clear on their public website. This tip sheet will help you understand the data.
College Results Online
The Education Trust’s interactive College Results Online (CRO) tool allows students to search for colleges based on specific characteristics and student demographics. It also reveals information about underrepresented minorities and Pell Grant recipients and allows users to compare schools using unique criteria. It even provides a warning symbol to alert students to whom socioeconomic diversity is important.
Campus Safety and Security
One of the keys to success in college is a student’s sense of safety and security. Jeanne Clery’s federal bill requires colleges and universities to report campus crime statistics.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Campus Safety and Security Toolkit provides a central database where students can search for information on everything from car theft to sexual assault on or around college campuses. It also allows users to compare multiple schools.
National Student Clearinghouse
For more data-savvy consumers, the National Student Clearinghouse’s Student Insights Dashboard offers searchable databases for researching college and university enrollment and completion information.
Take the lead
Take the time to get your own information about the schools on your list so you can make an informed decision. You may not be able to predict the outcome of your admissions application, but you should take the lead in the data dance and choose your steps carefully.