A few years ago, Walter V. Wendler attended a high school near West Texas A&M University, where he is the president.
The assistant principal told him about a student who would have succeeded if she had been accepted to West Texas A&M, but was convinced she would have “no chance” of getting in. Wendler met with the student and reviewed her high school transcript. He accepted her on the spot and she enrolled in WT, as those on campus call it.
This experience led to the creation of the program in 2018. As part of the program, principals of 137 high schools in or near the Texas Panhandle are invited each year to nominate five students for automatic admission to WT. The admissions officer reviews their transcripts, test scores (for those that have them), and their class rank. Then they’re usually accepted (Wendler said in one case, the student was told to enroll in a community college first). He pointed out that it is in a part of the country with many small high schools, which allows principals to really know their students.
WT received 972 student nominations and enrolled 234 students through the system. He did not examine the decision of those who do not enroll. He plans to study how enrolled students fare compared to full-time students, but says anecdotally, they appear to be doing the same or better.
“There’s this triangulation going on,” Wendler said. “We are committed to the principals. As a result, the students are burdened when performing.”
He said he mentioned the idea to other university presidents and got no interest. “They asked about quality control,” he said.
But those universities, like his and most colleges, accept most applicants. Only about 25 percent of applicants are rejected by WT.
Wendler added that “we’re putting absolutely too much stock in metrics” against principals’ confidence.
Image above everything
Wendler’s experience is notable in that many colleges and companies are experimenting with direct enrollment, where students don’t formally apply to college but are accepted nonetheless. (None of the faculties are yet using the new systems to admit most students.)
Last month, Inside Higher Ed wrote about Concourse, a company that started with international students and last year penetrated the US student market with a focus on Chicago. In the United States, it focuses on low-income students. Over the next year, it will expand to seven regions: New York City, Philadelphia, Minneapolis–St. Paul, Dallas, Houston and Atlanta (retained Chicago). In each of these areas, Concourse will identify colleges that serve low-income students and college counselors who will verify the accuracy of what students enter in their profiles. Students will not apply to colleges, but will be accepted.
Last week, Inside Higher Ed wrote about Sage Scholars, which this fall will offer its members the ability to view profiles and offer admissions to students.
In all cases (and those discussed later in this article), the colleges involved are typically public and private, as they accept the majority of applicants. Most of them are not well known in the country and recruit mainly from their own countries. There are arrangements that are individual, that involve the state, or those that involve companies. But what they share in common is the belief that the admissions system currently used by most colleges was designed for colleges at the upper end of the prestige rankings (public and private). And they wonder who gains by putting all students through a grueling process.
A public-private effort in Minnesota
In Minnesota this fall, the state Department of Higher Education is regulating student enrollment differently at the state’s 50 high schools. Students will have the option to join the system. Those who agree will have their first-year grades added to the profile. Then about 40 faculties will have the opportunity to accept them. Colleges can specify the grade point average range they want or search by geographic area in the country. Faculties that wish can accept students.
Colleges are not forced to participate, but some remain outside the program, at least for the first year. Carleton College and Macalester College are two private state colleges that recruit nationally and are competitive in admissions. They don’t cooperate.
At the University of Minnesota, Brad Robideau, a spokesman, said: “Three of these campuses are eligible for this pilot project – Duluth, Crookston and Morris – and are participating. The Twin Cities campus uses a comprehensive screening approach that considers many factors for admission. We will evaluate the pilot project and align on how we can best serve academically prepared students.”
Many other colleges jump in.
Take Augsburg University. It admits about 2,500 students every year for the first class of 600. In recent years, it has achieved a good number of enrollments. Ninety percent of them are from Minnesota.
But Robert Gould, Augsburg’s vice president of strategic enrollment management, said he would rather change the admissions system than just tinker with what they have now.
Under the new system, he hopes all admissions decisions (for those in the new program) will be made by October and that aid packages will be ready by December. “Part of the mission here is to support democracy,” he said. “It’s about sharing power.”
Admissions counselors will have more time to do outreach, financial aid packages and helping students instead of evaluating them, he said. “We are not considered a selective institution,” he said. “Nor do we want to be.”
When Idaho followed suit — admitting all high school seniors to the state’s public colleges in 2016 — enrollment soared.
If many efforts to promote direct enrollment come from those who want to shake up the system, one of them is the Common Application, which for many people represents an admissions establishment. After all, Common App processes hundreds of thousands of traditional applications each year.
However, the Common App is moving in the direction of direct entry — for some. Six colleges and universities are participating this year. The Common App provides them with students from their countries and regions. Students will create an application through the Common Application, but may not have completed it unless they have provided a transcript. However, they will still receive offers of admission.
The six participating member institutions are Montclair State University, University of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Middle Tennessee State University, Fisk University, Marymount University (Virginia) and George Mason University.
By April 24, more than 800 students had applied through the Common App direct admission program. Of those students who applied through the program, 46 percent are first-generation students and 48 percent are underrepresented minority students. Students are still announcing whether they will enroll.
Niki Patel, who leads the effort, calls it “a really powerful tool for students, especially those without support at home or in high school.”
Patel points to some of the responses Common App has received:
- “I felt like I was wanted at school after being rejected from two top schools. It made me feel proud.”
- “I was really relieved because I felt like a lot of my accomplishments in high school were totally worth it. To be honest, I didn’t think I was fully worthy of studying, but it showed me that I was somewhat prepared for my future.”
- “I felt more confident because the university contacted me for the first time. I also felt more validated academically because he showed me that I was really interested in colleges.”