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Study finds that colleges favor well-off students

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 10/26/2011, 7:12 p.m.

Another byproduct of the recession, another example of the poor being shut out.

In late September, a study by Inside Higher Ed titled, "A Survey of College and University Admissions Directors," found that college admissions offices are under more and more pressure to enroll students whose families are able to pay the full cost of their education.

"For many colleges, a top goal of admissions directors is recruiting more students who can pay more," the report stated.

Among all four-year institutions, the admissions strategy judged most important over the next two or three years-driven by high figures in the public sector-was the recruitment of more out-of-state students who pay significantly more at public institutions. The bridesmaid in the report was the strategy of providing more aid for low- and middle-income students.

Among several facts found in the study is that "recruiting more 'full-pay' students-those who don't need financial aid-is seen as a key goal in public higher education, a sector traditionally known for its commitment to access and providing a gateway into the middle class.

"At public doctoral and master's institutions, more admissions directors cited the recruitment of full-pay students as a key strategy and the secondary goal of providing aid for low-income students," according the report. At doctoral institutions, the study said the gap was 47 to 40 percent, and at master's institutions, it was 45 to 38 percent. But that's not where it ends.

"The interest in full-pay students is so strong that 10 percent of four-year colleges report that the full-pay students they are admitting have lower grades and test scores than do other admitted applicants," claim the study's results.

"At community colleges, a focus on serving students who don't have money remains central, with 66 percent of admissions directors citing that as a key strategy, more than any other cited strategy. But even in that sector, a notable minority (34 percent) said that an important strategy for the institution was attracting more full-pay students."

More colleges are also looking to boost their enrollment of international students and are starting to use tactics that other countries have used, such as hiring agents to recruit kids to attend their school. The agents are paid on commission for their successes.

"In recent years, more colleges in the United States have started to use these agents, arguing that reputable ones do an excellent job of recruiting students in a way most American colleges can't," the study said. "Critics say that there are inherent conflicts of interest involved and that the same rules should apply to recruiting American and international students."

But 47 percent of admissions directors surveyed said there are problems with these agents because they play a role in fabricating information for international applicants. According to the study, "Even proponents of the use of agents acknowledge that many are not honest, but the proponents argue that this is why the field needs regulation."

As for affirmative action?

The study showed that only a select few schools have competitive admissions processes and claims the impact of race or ethnicity is marginal at best at many institutions.