Taylor Swift on Tour, Early Admissions, and the Supreme Court
<img draggable=”false” role=”img” class=”emoji” alt=”<img draggable=”false” role=”img” class=”emoji” alt=”” src=”https://s.w.org/images/core/emoji/14.0.0/svg/1f39f.svg”>” src=”https://s.w.org/images/core/emoji/14.0.0/svg/1f39f.svg”> Taylor Swift on Tour, Early Admissions, and the Supreme Court
In some ways, the ticketing process for concerts these days reminds me of the rules surrounding early admissions at selective colleges.
If you’re GenXer, you probably remember the days when you stood in a line to buy concert tickets.
I have this distinct memory of accompanying my dad and one of my older siblings to our local record store, the Gallery of Sound, in the early 1980s, and watching as they peered at rows of X’s and O’s on a monochrome screen to choose seats for a concert and venue I’ve long since forgotten.
That memory rushed back this past week as Taylor Swift announced the dates for her tour next summer (this is big news in a house with two girls, ages 13 and 11). The process to buy tickets for this concert is so much more complicated than standing in a line at the Gallery of Sound, however. First, fans need to pre-register for the Ticketmaster lottery and then wait to find out if they’re one of the lucky ones chosen to buy tickets before they go on sale to the general public. If that’s not successful, fans have another early option if they have a Capital One credit card. If you don’t get tickets early, then you’re stuck with the masses in the general sale.
Taylor Swift is far from the only popular musician who makes fans go through a set of hoops just for a chance to buy tickets. She justifies the process on her web site by saying it’s a way for true fans to get tickets—although the truth is most will probably be stuck buying overpriced tickets on the secondary market.
In some ways, the ticketing process for concerts these days reminds me of the rules surrounding early admissions at selective colleges—a process that also kicked off this past week with the first round of early deadlines. Like top artists, popular colleges also try to justify their Rube Goldberg admissions machine by saying they’re appealing to true fans. In this case, colleges want to fill spots early with those students who have a “demonstrated interest” rather than choose from a slate of applicants later on who are likely applying to many other colleges.
As I outlined in Who Gets In and Why, colleges leaned into early decision during the height of the Great Recession to bring some certainty to their enrollment numbers. Then they never looked back. And as writer and policy analyst James Murphy recently laid out in a report on early decision, highly selective colleges have come to rely on ED even more in the last half decade (see a few of these colleges below).
The impact of top colleges relying more on ED has been felt further downstream.
With highly selective institutions overwhelmed by applications in every round, colleges lower in the pecking order (i.e. the rankings) see an opportunity to feed on the anxiety of teenagers needlessly worried about not getting into college. So they have started to rachet up their own ED numbers. Case in point: Boston University. In 2020, BU admitted 57% of its freshman class through early decision—up from just 20% in 2015.
At the rate we’re going, soon ED will be new regular decision when the entire class is basically chosen in the early rounds.
We’re at a moment in higher ed enrollment not unlike the Great Recession. Then, we were at the beginning of the end of the huge Millennial Generation in college coming at the same time as an economic downturn. Now, we might have another economic downturn just as colleges are facing a demographic cliff. As a result, colleges will be pulling out all the stops to fill their first-year classes but without discounting tuition too much. (As I wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education a few weeks ago, at some point colleges need to rethink their student experience and the outcomes they’re promising if they really want to attract students).
You can expect much more upheaval in admissions if (when?) the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down race-conscious admissions next year.
Oral arguments in the case occurred this past week. If the court bans the use of race as a consideration in admissions, one result is that the test-optional admissions policies at selective colleges are likely here to stay (only a small set of colleges are selective enough where considering race makes a difference). Several admissions deans told me in recent weeks that test scores are often used as evidence when a plaintiff is trying to prove discrimination. If you don’t have test scores for every applicant, then the complaint becomes more difficult to prove. Without requiring test scores, colleges have the ultimate flexibility in shaping a class.
One note on Monday’s arguments: Lots has been written about the case—I highly recommend this short interview with the Atlantic’s Adam Harris—but what was clear during Monday’s discussions is that the justices are just as much in the dark about how college admissions works as the general public. Admissions is black box that colleges have designed to their advantage.
Many times during the arguments on Monday there was discussion of “checked boxes” for race and ethnicity and how they are used. It was clear that the thinking of many in the court is that applicants with hooks go right to the front of the line.
The reality is that top colleges are awash in applications from highly qualified applicants of every race and ethnicity. What I’ve seen happen in the admissions offices where I was embedded is that the consideration of race (and other hooks like legacies) come near the end of the admissions process when there are a bunch of easily admissible students who are sitting just outside of the admit pile. That’s when admissions deans look at their priorities: Do we need more kids from the Southwest? More humanities majors? More men? More Black students? Then lots of shuffling happens and students are moved in and out of the admit pile.
The truth is that competitive institutions turn down ten highly qualified applicants for every one or two they accept. Nonetheless, the belief that admissions is an “us vs. them” game, or a “zero-sum” game as we heard at the Supreme Court on Monday, remains strong at institutions where seats in the freshman class are few and the application numbers more abundant each year.
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ON MONDAY at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT, join me for the “Next Office Hour,” my regular webcast where I explore higher ed topics in-depth with expert guests. Our topic: new models for teaching, learning, and outcomes. In this webinar, we’ll have an interactive discussion with: ► Mallory Dwinal-Palisch, chancellor at Reach University, about the university’s apprenticeship-based teaching degrees and how we can scale job-embedded learning throughout the curriculum. ► Sarah Rose Cavanagh, author of The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion on how to foster social/emotional coaching and belonging in the classroom. ► Derrick Anderson from the American Council Education about efforts to reimagine how colleges are classified to encourage more diversity among institutions and more focus on teaching. ► Richard Baraniuk, founder and director of OpenStax and a professor at Rice University about the role open academic resources play in engaging students.
Free College Resources. I have updated two free conversation guides that I produced last year in partnership with Corebridge Financial (formerly AIG Life & Retirement). The two guides cover such topics as finding the right fit in a college, knowing what to look for in a campus, and determining the value of a degree.
National completion rates are inching up but still haven’t cracked 60% over all.
The Habits of Successful Students
It’s a question on the mind of every college leader and every undergraduate: why do some students succeed in college, and others don’t remain until graduation?
Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, with 72,000 students, collected data around 61 student behaviors. After collaboration with faculty staff, and students, Ivy Tech identified 10 “high-impact behaviors” related to student success.
Why it matters: Provost Dean McCurdy calls these ten behaviors “habits.” The more of these habits a student has, the more likely they are to be retained. That’s good for students, but it’s good for colleges, too. Higher retention rates are good for the bottom line, especially in light of declining enrollment.
The 10 habits?
Early registration gives students time to arrange their schedule and other personal considerations, such as finances, work commitments, and transportation.
Successful students login the institution’s Learning Management System (LMS) at least once a week. Students are encouraged to do so by faculty and text messages.
An academic completion plan devised with the help of an advisor gives students a roadmap to degree completion.
When students stick to that plan it is efficient and cost-effective.
Students in paid status at the beginning of each term are not at risk of being dropped for non-payment.
Participation in a student orientation is related to success.
Complete classes with a C or better.
Regular communications with advisors or career coaches helps students not only chart academic and career plans, but also gives them a common point of connection when faced with challenges to finishing.
Timely completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
And finally, successful students enroll in a mandatory student-success class early in their college careers that introduces them to strategies like these 10 habits.
So far, Ivy Tech’s data shows that most students have engaged in anywhere from two to seven of these habits. Having four habits correlated with a 60% retention rate, but with six habits, that number shot up to over 90%.
A few weeks ago in a newsletter I asked for your suggestions on how to remake the college rankings if you had the chance. Thank you for all who responded. Here are some of the ideas I received:
—”Get rid of the ‘faux precision’—it is truly just arbitrary—and go to clusters, including regional clusters since most parents shop for colleges regionally, not nationally. Only the richer folks shop nationally.” —Ed Stanford
—”The rankings should have an interactive component where students rank what is most to least important to them and show THAT customized list of rankings—just like colleges rank what is important to them such as essay, SAT scores, rigor, legacy, GPA, interview, etc.” —Dana Lezaj
—”Let’s hear from the students. College is not just about outcomes and future salaries. College is a life-changing experience for young people, and we never hear their voices. Let students rate their classes, interactions with professors and TAs, access to support services, mental health access, housing, etc.” —Jaime Smith
—”If schools were measured on agreed upon standards, not a rank, it would benefit our students and schools. A ‘Gold’ school meets a specified criteria. If 300+ schools are ‘Gold,’ great.” —Glenn Grossman
—”This is a timely opportunity for community and technical colleges to be included. Some of the best ROI, best value, greatest career-linked experiences are being offered by these institutions. Time to shine some light on this topic and push further evolution in the academy overall.” —Lesley Vossenkempter
Thanks for all your ideas. We can only hope for a change to the rankings!
Test Scores Part I. “These days, nobody—not even the rich—seems all that sure that their children will live better, or even slightly less privileged, lives than they did,” writes Jay Caspian Kang in The New Yorker. “That fear has only been made worse by the pandemic, and the constant stream of stories about falling ACT and SAT scores, learning loss, and a generation of children who, absent some large-scale intervention, may fall well short of expectations.”
“Preoccupations like these have fuelled a revanchist current in education, which has taken many forms.”
“Over the next decade, the scarcity mind-set that says that the only path toward class mobility runs through exclusive academic institutions will intensify, and, in turn, bring education into a new political prominence. (The New Yorker)
Test Scores Part II. On the latest episode of the Future U. podcast, co-host Michael Horn and I take a breather from our slate of guests and weigh in on headines in higher ed, including the story behind the headline that was missed with the drop in ACT scores reported recently.
While more teenagers took the ACT and the SAT this year, their numbers are still way down from before the pandemic. For the ACT, they’re down more than 300,000 since 2020. And for the SAT, they’re down more than 450,000 since 2020.
And you can blame California for a big chunk of that drop. Just look at the ACT, for example. Back in 2020, 80,000 students in California took the ACT. Last year, 21,000 did. And you only have to go back to 2017 when there were 130,000 students in California who took the ACT. (Future U.)
The Pandemic Generation Goes to College. “Colleges are now educating their first waves of students who experienced pandemic learning loss in high school,” Eliza Fawcett writes in The New York Times. “What they are seeing is sobering…in interviews across the country, undergraduates discussed how their disjointed high school experiences have trailed them in their first years of college; some professors talked about how grades are down, as well as standards. Many students are tentative and anxious.” (The New York Times)
If you live in and around Chicago, I’ll be there for two nights later this month to talk about college admissions with the Family Action Network. Both events are free and open to the public.
On Tuesday, November 29, I’ll be joining Ron Lieber, a personal finance columnist for The New York Times and author of The Price You Pay for College in a conversation with Andrea Mondragón, co-director of college counseling at Francis W. Parker School in Chicago. We’ll be in the Heller Auditorium there starting at 7 p.m. to talk admissions and financial aid.
On Wednesday, November 30, I’ll be in conversation about my book and admissions with Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. That also starts at 7 p.m. We’ll be at the Adlai E. Stevenson High School, Performing Arts Center.