Race Consideration in Admissions? (And a new blog) 4

I noticed a trackback from a blog I had not come across before, “Notes from Off-Center” by Andrew Tatusko. Not only is his article

Racism, or Leveling the Merit Field? and excellent explanation of why such programs are not racism (saving me a LOT of work and showing much more patience than I have), but all of his blog is excellent. It even has a gorgeous WordPress template (look for it coming here soon!).

I will not rehash Andrew’s comments but I will say that he is spot on. We are currently in the midst of our admissions at the honors college and dealing with just these sorts of issues. I will cite one example of a less than obvious racial, really economic, inequality. Students who attend a poorly supported public school will not be given the opportunities to prepare for SATs and won’t have the money to take prep courses on their own. The result is very low SAT scores for students in this category. They tend to be minorities (African-American and Hispanic) because these groups are those most likely to be in such schools and economic situations, but there are white students that we see fitting this profile as well, especially in the rural areas of PA. As a result, we [the Schreyer Honors College] do not consider SAT scores in our admissions process (PSU as an institution does, however; they are dealing with close to 100,000 applications!). Instead we have several essays and evaluate their transcripts for quality and difficulty.

I should be clear, our approach is not to give preference to students from a particular background rather it is to remove a barrier, one that is largely useless at indicating a student’s potential. This past year we took in several students with SATs at 1100 or lower, but who had outstanding grades and showed keen intellect and outstanding character. After one semester, taking the full and regular honors course load, they averaged 3.9. Not bad.


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4 thoughts on “Race Consideration in Admissions? (And a new blog)

  • Drew

    Thanks for the accolades. Your comments are well appreciated. I have not seen your blog before this discussion and I will be back. I also see that you “bleed blue”! I am in Duncansville, PA just south west from where you are. My cousin is a freshman this year at PSU. Good to “meet” you even through this medium. Cheers.

  • Steve

    You write:

    “we do not consider SAT scores in our admissions process. Instead we have several essays and evaluate their transcripts for quality and difficulty.”

    This hits a few chords with me.

    First, it has always struck me as “wrong” (yes, a judging term) that people who pay for a better SAT result get preferential treatment. Not as a decision, but in practice, since those students generally improve their scores (by some studies) by 100 points. Students that don’t, or can’t, take those classes are at a disadvantage. So kudos to your honors college for not considering SAT scores in the admissions process! Now, if you could just get the University to consider that approach!

    Second though, I am curious how your college (or any college) can evaluate transcripts for quality and difficulty. It would seem to me that to do this effectively, one must have some way to measure the quality of delivery of courses. I am curious what mechanism is used to evaluate these courses at schools around the state, and around the nation.

    Willing to share in another blog post? (Nice to be given a topic, eh?)

  • Chris Brady Post author

    I might well do another blog post on this, but for the moment, let me offer this insight. The way in which we judge the quality of a transcript is based upon a variety of data gleaned from various sources and over time. In the first instance, the schools will give us a description of their curriculum and relative quality of their most recent graduating classes. They will then tell us (we ask specifically) whether the student in question has taken the most rigorous of course options available to them (I believe this is on a scale of 1-5, but I would have to check). We also have built up a collective knowledge of particular schools and school districts, allowing us to have a general reference point for the quality and rigor of a student’s transcript.

    All of that being said, we try not to disadvantage students when we do not know anything about their school and we are always trying to keep our records up to date. This is where letters of recommendation from teachers and advisors are so important. I will say that when we have a letter from an advisor that says, “I do not recommend that you admit this student to your program” it has quite an impact on our decision.

  • Drew

    The truth about any standardized tests is that they really substantiate aptitude for taking standardized tests. For instance, as SAT below 900 results in a much higher probability that a nursing student will fail the NCLEX. Now does the NCLEX measure what it intends (e.g. basic aptitudes in nursing)? Perhaps. The question is if the SAT, GED, SAT, and MAT’s actually measure a students’ ability to succeed in college. I am a horrible standardized test taker because I over-analyze the questions both in content and in form. I score lower than what I am quite sure are my aptitudes for academic success at a very high level. Students at Alverno actually have to take classes to learn how to take standardized test because they do not take those tests as part of the curriculum. In essence they have to “dumb down” their abilities in order to do well on standardized tests. I think that is quite interesting when we discuss what these tests actually do measure…