Friday, December 5, 2014

Chronicle of Higher Education: Make Admissions at Elite Colleges ‘Access Aware’

Raynard Kington, the president of Grinnell College, argues that elite, selective institutions with need-blind admissions should become more access-aware to increase the proportion of low-income students among their student enrollment. Here is an excerpt of his commentary from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Wealthy families, understandably, invest huge amounts of money to ensure that their children receive the best possible education starting at the kindergarten and even preschool levels. Students’ transcripts and college applications are in effect inventories of wealth-related facts: academic rigor of schools attended, grades achieved, course options, extracurricular pursuits, test scores, even involvement in "volunteer work," which admissions officers interpret as evidence of social commitment and leadership potential. Advantages in all of those areas make children from wealthy backgrounds more competitive from the start, without any need for outright consideration of family resources.

Most children from poor families—even households deeply committed to their children’s education—do not have a chance in this competition. Their families cannot make anywhere near the same investments, and it shows in their comparative performance, even when the children in question are every bit as gifted and able as their affluent counterparts.

So, what is the fix? Should we end the use of need-blind policies? In some cases, yes. Wealthy, elite institutions that are unable to admit appropriate numbers of students from poor families through a need-blind policy should instead become "access aware." In the lingo of college admissions, they should give students from poor families a "bump" when assessing their applications. It can clearly be done: Many institutions give comparable advantages to the children of alumni.

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