Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Five Trends to Watch in the Year to Come

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

It’s the annual December toss-up- do you write about the year in review, or do you write about the year to come?  A little advanced planning would allow me to do both, but the life of a school counselor means planning ahead is a luxury.  Let’s just look ahead, shall we?

The Harvard Case Comes to Its First Resolution  The first few months of 2019 will undoubtedly bring a decision in the Harvard Admissions case, where plaintiffs claimed Harvard had shown bias against Asian Americans.  This case will likely be appealed to the US Supreme Court, but the initial decision itself could be more than enough to lead colleges to alter the tools they use in reviewing applicants.  Most likely up for consideration is the use of standardized testing, where assigning a number to a student’s ability is one of the easiest ways to create a comparison among students, even if the basis of the comparison is faulty. Advocates of test optional admissions see a ruling for the plaintiffs as one more nail in the coffin of standardized testing, and a rise in the use of the more amorphous holistic review.

Other College Testing Likely to Change  A large number of colleges stopped requiring students to submit the writing portion of either the SAT or ACT in 2018, leaving the number of school requiring the test at around a dozen.  Since nine of those schools are the UC colleges, keep an eye on what, if anything UC does with their policy.  Combined with the ever-shrinking number of colleges requiring Subject Tests, 2019 could see a major shift in the role testing plays, and in the development of home-grown alternatives for those who will want to see expertise in specific areas (we’re looking at you, engineering schools.)

Self-Reporting Scores and July Application Windows  Colleges allowing students greater control of their own application (and the chance to save some serious money) are letting students report their own grades and test scores, requiring verification as a condition of enrollment.  This welcome news makes it easier for students to apply, but when paired with the new trend of colleges offering incentives for students to apply as early as July 15 of their junior-senior summer, there could be an increase in incentives for students to complete their college plans before senior year even starts.  This change would throw a real wrench into the logistics and staffing of most counseling offices, and has led some counselors to wonder if early has finally become too early.  Keep a close eye on this.

The Reality of Free College  Colleges and policy makers continue to look for ways to make the financing and paying of college more manageable and palatable for students and families.  Of these options, the Free College movement is likely to gain some traction, thanks to the rise of several progressive candidates in Congress.  A balanced evaluation of current efforts will include an assessment of who really pays for free college, and if it advantages those who aren’t already advantaged by the current system.  Early findings in both these areas are murky; bringing the issue to light can only help all involved.

Liberal Arts Colleges Limping Along?  A few well-placed college counselors are hearing about colleges who are experiencing the pain of discounting themselves into near bankruptcy.  Unlike past predictions that the “college bubble will burst”, this reality is expected to affect small liberal arts colleges only, and over a number of years.  Continuing declines in some high school graduation rates might only exacerbate the problem, as colleges may have to spend more to get the attention of fewer students.

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