Rinse and Repeat Does Not Work for College Admissions: A Call for Change

The standard approach to college admissions for vulnerable students is not working. Students who can succeed at four-year colleges are not getting there. It is time to rethink the approaches we've been using for decades and consider viable alternatives. Not surprisingly, given that this is college admissions season, several new approaches have been suggested for improving this decades old process.

Adam Grant in his opinion piece "Throw Out the College Application System" in Sunday's New York Times recommends an assessment center where prospective college applicants will perform tasks and be interviewed and then assessed by trained evaluators "looking for key behaviors." What those behaviors are and how we determine them is no small trick and requires considerable attention both as to substance and accuracy of the measures. What is known is that grades, SATs and essays should no longer be the coin of the realm.

Coincidentally, in the Business Section of the same paper and delinked from the op-ed above, the President of the Posse Foundation, Deborah Bial, is profiled and she speaks directly to the effective alternative assessment approach the Posse Foundation has used effectively, a set of get-togethers that somewhat resemble Grant's alternative assessment centers. Then, several colleges recently shared their new admissions approaches -- "dimension admissions" where students share about themselves in whatever manner they choose and transcripts appear to be optional.

At Southern Vermont College, we have two programs that adopt yet another but very promising practice in the context of vulnerable student access to college: inverted admissions where sending institutions (high schools, after school programs and community colleges) select the students who are admitted (within a prescribed but flexible rubric). These programs, Pipelines into Partnership (referenced in The New York Times in 2012) and Counselor Select, recognize that the qualities that reflect student success, particularly for first generation, low-income students, are not necessarily grades and SAT scores and are best determined by those who have known these students well (through ups and downs) and worked with them for an extended period. Other qualities -- like resiliency, adaptability, fire in the belly and tenacity -- are key to enabling vulnerable students to progress to and through a four-year college.

Here's a call to action across all institutions of higher education: With the recognized need to provide much greater access to college and better success in college for our first generation, low-income students, alternative or additive admissions approaches need to be implemented now -- even on a pilot basis for a portion of the incoming student body. Any of the approaches suggested here would generate an entering Class in 2015 that is different from a class welcomed based on traditional criteria. And, students selected in the standard manner may not be primed for collegiate success.

It is not too late for change in this Admissions cycle if we have the will. And we certainly know that in the absence of these efforts, the entering Class of 2015 will not look or perform vastly differently from entering classes in prior years.

Given that it is high time for a change, we're encouraging anyone interested in SVC's Counselor Select program to reach out for details. We stand ready to bring about change with you. Together, the Class of 2015 can offer new hope for success for our most vulnerable students.