How open enrollment is breaking down educational barriers for art students | Tech US News


The education and career landscape is changing rapidly. Students and administrators are asking the same questions: How can students best prepare for the future? How can they access the best education?

It is obvious that obtaining a college degree is still the dream of many students. And this desire to learn means more than just fulfilling dreams or exploring potential avenues. It is about ensuring a better quality of life.

In the United States, people who graduate with a bachelor’s degree earn, on average, 84% more than those with only high school. College graduates are 3.5 times less likely to experience poverty and 47% more likely to have health insurance through a job. Some studies have even found that life expectancy is longer for those who attend college.

It stands to reason that everyone, regardless of socio-economic status, disability or ethnicity, should have equal access to these benefits. Unfortunately, this is not the case today – there are many barriers that prevent diverse groups of students from participating in higher education. As president of the University of Art and Design, we have found one way to fill this gap through an open admissions policy.

The problem with strict entry requirements

One of the disadvantages of strict university entrance requirements is that a student’s future performance is largely dependent on performance in high school. The challenge here is that many students may simply not have had the support they needed to succeed in their high school years, making their current scores, grades, and portfolio an unfair estimate of potential.

For example, people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds statistically do not perform as well in high school in general compared to those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. One study reported that the dropout rate for students from low-income families was 8.7% compared to only 2% from higher-income families. Evaluating these students against hard and fast admissions requirements does not always provide an accurate assessment of their potential; all too often their past performance reflects the circumstances.

Countless circumstances beyond their control or life choices could have led to someone lacking the prerequisites a university requires for admission. People with disabilities whose school did not have the resources for a support worker, people from low socio-economic backgrounds on the brink of poverty, or people whose life experiences have simply led them down a path full of obstacles, are real scenarios of people starting higher education on a path with disadvantages. not necessarily a lack of talent or potential.

Why open admission works

At our university, students often come from communities where high schools have been inferior—or from households that lack educational support and money for after-school art classes to develop a portfolio. As a result, many pursue creative careers despite these obstacles.

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Many of our students could be described as the proverbial “square” who did not fit into the “round hole” of public education. Sometimes it’s because they needed special support that wasn’t available. Others simply hated traditional education and opted out. While around half of our students are classified as Generation Z, the other half are older students who have put their education on hold – often for economic reasons or because they are returning to school after a break. Many of our students are employed full or part time to support themselves and their families.

Most students would not score well on standardized tests, and their grades reflect their high school educational challenges. As a school administrator who decides who gets in and who doesn’t, the question becomes clear: Should these students also be given access to a university education in art and design? Personally, I think the answer is yes.

I believe that a high-quality education should be available to anyone willing to put in the work required to obtain a degree. Removing barriers to college education in art and design means that admission should not be based on SAT or ACT scores, undergraduate portfolios, evidence of high grades, or lengthy essays.

Some see this type of open enrollment approach as exploitative or an old-fashioned money grab used to get students in the door. I see removing barriers to entry and prioritizing inclusivity when it comes to higher education as an incredibly powerful mobiliser.

Our graduates have achieved some incredible career milestones. We’ve watched students become senior vice presidents at multinational corporations, Emmy-winning film directors, heads of game design companies, world-renowned fashion designers, and leaders in many artistic fields. Without a college education, all of these individuals would face a very different future than the one they live in now.

Path forward

Regardless of whether a university chooses open enrollment or not, I believe that every educational institution should take an active approach to reducing barriers for disadvantaged and underrepresented students. Failure to do so is not only detrimental to these students, but also to the future of these institutions.

In May 2021, the University of California system discontinued the requirement for SAT and ACT scores in their application process. This was the result of a lawsuit they faced in 2019 when they were sued over student testing and admissions practices. Students and advocacy groups in California’s predominantly African-American and Hispanic school districts have argued that using SAT scores in admissions decisions discriminates against low-income black and Hispanic students. By requiring these standardized test scores, the school system has perpetuated inequality in the test prep industry, where only wealthy families can afford tutoring and preparation, leaving low-income students unfairly behind.

Another approach some take to dealing with students who are traditionally underqualified is to push them into community college. At these institutions, students can earn general education credits before transferring to a four-year university. But I also wonder why? Why should students put their arts education on hold to get a good grade in algebra before they can study what they’re passionate about and start honing those skills?

Other schools will only look at portfolios and completely ignore grades during admissions. For example, some private art and design universities offer some free places to outstanding high school artists based on the quality of their portfolio. This process does not take into account low scores on the board and poor grades, with the goal of further inclusion in their admissions process. However, this allowance still does not take into account that group of students who were unable to create a stellar portfolio in high school due to life circumstances.

These students also deserve the opportunity to fully explore their talents and obtain a higher education. When students are admitted to universities with an open admissions policy, those institutions must provide core education courses in the first year to level the playing field between students who have had prior arts education and those who have not.

The central question is, if a student cannot prove himself as an artist before going to university, should he be denied the opportunity to do so? When you look at the many years that Picasso, Rembrandt and other legends of the art world worked in infamy before their genius was recognized, the answer to that question is certain. Yet many schools have closed their doors to aspiring art students, denying them the opportunity to improve their skills and hone their craft unless they first prove their worth.

Higher education is slowly turning to include more people from diverse and disparate backgrounds, but this change is not happening fast enough to accommodate the next generation of creative talent. Until the system adequately meets this need as a whole, we will continue to advocate for diversity in schools and remove barriers so that all students can receive a quality arts education, not just a privileged few.


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