Reimagining College Admissions Through an Equity Lens


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired February 10, 2022

A number of reforms have been put on the table in recent years to make the college admissions process more equitable. But is focusing on one or two areas—say, test-optional admissions—enough to dramatically transform the process? Angel Pérez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling and Terri Taylor of Lumina Foundation visit the podcast to talk about how broad-based, systemic change and a deep examination of how the barriers arose is the only path to true change. The hosts open the show by talking about ACE’s new partnership with the Carnegie Foundation to develop the collaboration on the next incarnation of the Carnegie Classifications, and the latest higher education policy developments in Washington, DC.

Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show:

The Carnegie Foundation and the American Council on Education Announce Partnership on the Carnegie Classifications for Institutions of Higher Education​

​Toward a More Equitable Future for Postsecondary Access (PDF)
The National Association for College Admission Counseling and the National Association of Student Financial Aid 

An Admissions Process Built for Racial Equity? This Report Imagines What It Would Look Like
The Chronicle of Higher Education | Jan. 19, 2022

Higher ed groups offer bold ideas for ensuring racial equity as SCOTUS takes up new admissions case
Medium | Feb. 1, 2022

A Racial Reckoning For College Access In America​
Forbes | Jan. 27, 2022​​

Hosts and Guests
Angel B. Pérez
CEO, National Association for College Admission Counseling
Read More
Angel B.  Pérez  - CEO, National Association for College Admission Counseling  - Guest
Angel B. Pérez
CEO, National Association for College Admission Counseling
Terri Taylor
Strategy Director for Innovation and Discovery. Lumina Foundation
Read More
Terri Taylor - Strategy Director for Innovation and Discovery. Lumina Foundation - Guest
Terri Taylor
Strategy Director for Innovation and Discovery. Lumina Foundation

 Read this episode's transcript

Jonathan Fansmith: Hello, and welcome to dotEDU, the Higher Education Policy Podcast from the American Council on Education. A little bit later in the episode we're going to be joined by Terri Taylor, the Strategy Director for Innovation and Discovery at the Lumina Foundation, and Angel Pérez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, to talk about Toward a More Equitable Future for Post-Secondary Access, a new report out by NASFA, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, NACAC, and Lumina.

But before we get to that conversation ... And I'm sure there will be many topics covered as well. I will not, unfortunately, be joining for that conversation, but the people who were there, Mushtaq Gunja and Sarah Spreitzer, my illustrious co-hosts, how are you both doing today?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yay. Great.

Mushtaq Gunja: I'm great! The Rams are in the Super Bowl on Sunday, they are going to win for the first time since the Kurt Warner years. I mean, life is ... Life is good.

Jonathan Fansmith: You're not in any way worried about being the favorite against the Bengals? The Bengals only beat favorites on their way in, so ...

Mushtaq Gunja: I am, in every way, worried about that; however, I have my Kurt Warner jersey ready, and I haven't worn it in a long time.

Jonathan Fansmith: Excellent.

Mushtaq Gunja: Looking forward to it.

Sarah Spreitzer: Really? We're starting with a sports discussion on this podcast when we have big ACE news?

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah! So, the Carnegie Classification Systems are going to be moving over to the American Council on Education starting in the middle of March, but the transitions are well underway. They have been well taken care of, been well shepherded by Indiana University and the team there, where it's been housed for several years. They've just done a fantastic job of doing the modeling, keeping the trains running, and they were looking for a new home. Indiana had done it for a while, and I think was ready to sort of pass it off, and it's coming to us, to all of us, the American Council on Education. I'm very excited about this news.

Sarah Spreitzer: I feel like our producers always get mad when we don't fully explain things. For those that aren't in the know, what are the Carnegie Classifications?

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah! The Carnegie Classification System has been around for 50-ish years, and it was originally intended to be a system of describing and categorizing our institutions, our very complicated set of colleges and universities, so that researchers and others might be able to have some way of sort of comparing and contrasting like institutions.

For a while, it was really a classification system that was about how big your institution was, what type of degrees it granted, and that's what it's been for the last sort of 50 years. It started out as something that I think was descriptive in nature, and I think, as maybe all systems of classification end up being, it's turned a little bit more normative. I know I am certainly guilty of this; I see a list of like things and I'm constantly saying, "Yeah, well U2 was better than REM, was better than Green Day," as I sort of consider rock bands of that time, and I think this classification system has also turned a little bit more normative over time.

Knowing that, one of the things that the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, who sort of owns the classification system, and the American Council on Education want to do over the next few years is broaden the classifications from something that's turned a little bit more normative ... You might've heard of things, our listeners might've heard of things like an R1 classification, a Research 1 classification to something that's a little bit broader that also looks at economic and social mobility. Colleges out there are doing the hard work every day of taking in students, trying to have them graduate and graduate into a more successful economic world, and we want to make sure that that's captured as well, and I think it hasn't been perfectly captured in the classification system as it stands, so we're going to be adding a social and economic mobility index to the classifications.

Then one last thing. I'm sorry I'm talking so long. There's also a set of elective classifications. There's one right now on community and public service, but there's a whole set of other possible elective classifications that colleges can apply to and apply for. What we would like to see the Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and ACE, over the course of the year ... sort of a broadened suite of classifications that I think might help us get back to a place where the classifications are a little bit more descriptive, to the extent that they're normative ... We're sort of applying a little bit of intentional normativity to them ... and gets us to a place where colleges, I think, are striving for the right things, and striving for the things that make them unique in the world. Not everybody needs to be an R1 institution, and we certainly shouldn't think that institutions that are striving on the social and economic mobility index side are somehow lesser than the folks that are striving for Research 1 status. And not that those are a dichotomy, either.

So, we're looking for a system of classifications, over the course of the next few years, that more accurately describe the great diversity of higher education in this country.

Jonathan Fansmith: That's exciting listening to you. I can tell you're excited while you're talking about ... It's very much, I think, not only of the moment, but important to start looking into institutions and the various ways they contribute. To your point, not everyone's an R1; doesn't necessarily mean an R1 is better than another type of institution, depending on what they're trying to do. I think some of that gets lost in rankings and classification, so it's a great way to take a refresh of that, and we will, of course, be eagerly working alongside and seeing where that goes.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah, Jon, can I say one more thing about this? I think—

Jonathan Fansmith: Yeah.

Mushtaq Gunja: One of the things that's really important as we go forward at ACE on this project is that we hear from the field. I think we will be convening technical review panels and other sorts of roundtables for us to be able to really hear what is important and get feedback on the types of data that are out there and that we might be able to use to put together the best sort of indices to have ourselves ... We'll have the classification to best describe our universities. I mean, a lot has changed in the last 50 years in higher education, and I want to make sure that we're really capturing all of that work.

So, I think that our listeners might well have opportunities to sort of engage in this conversation. I quite hope that you do, and please feel free to reach out.

Jonathan Fansmith: And there are a few other things going on in Washington besides ACE's big announcement. Sarah, I know you are tracking a few major pieces of legislation that are underway as we speak.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. I'm sitting here kind of stuck by Mushtaq's ranking of Green Day over REM, but, yeah, in my—

Jonathan Fansmith: I think he said the opposite actually.

Sarah Spreitzer: Really?

Mushtaq Gunja: Very much the opposite.

Sarah Spreitzer: I'll have to go back and listen.

Jonathan Fansmith: Although I might even argue REM over U2, but ...

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, I would definitely argue REM over U2, but in the meantime, I am spending my time thinking about the competes, the America COMPETES bill, which I think we've talked about on this podcast before. This is the big competitiveness package that the House just moved, and actually passed late last week, including an interesting amendment, Jon, which I don't think you would think about in a research competitiveness type of legislation, but there was an amendment offered by Congressman Levin from Michigan, which was bipartisan, and would create short-term Pell for certain programs, and then also included the College Transparency Act, which would establish a unit record keeping system. Both things have been proposed before, but I don't know if we've actually seen legislation actually move forward.

Jonathan Fansmith: Yeah. It's a really interesting process, and it's one we're seeing a lot now, right? Like financial aid, the FAFSA simplification, move through funding bills. Congress isn't passing HEA re-authorization, they're not passing substantive standalone policy bills, so you start to get these things where big policy acts are taking place by being sort of tucked into other things. This is really the case. An identical amendment was tried to be included in USICA in the Senate. It ultimately wasn't included in that final bill. In this case, it is included in the final bill.

These are big, big, big policy provisions for the higher education world, and it's sort of an interesting thing that they're slipped in as amendments to a bill that, frankly, a lot of people who might be following this area of higher ed policy, wouldn't necessarily be tracking what's happening on that bill. They're controversial within higher ed. Eligibility for short-term programs, Pell eligibility for short-term programs, is pretty hotly debated because where we have seen in the past, fraud and abuse is a lot in the proprietary sector, and those tend to be the institutions that do a lot of this work. This amendment actually explicitly prohibits proprietary institutions from being eligible. It's got a whole range of requirements on what institutions have to do to be eligible for the federal Pell money. It's going to make it, in fact, frankly, probably really difficult for a lot of institutions that otherwise could benefit from it to access those funds. It's a very tightly written, narrowly written definition of who's eligible.

The flip side, the College Transparency Act, that's been around for, I don't know, 10 years, it feels right to say.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, probably a decade.

Jonathan Fansmith: And it follows up on this controversy that started really in the mid-'90s, which was, can the federal government create a record of each student's progress through higher education? And if you think about that, in some ways, it seems fundamental; we track students in terms of borrowing loans and other things, and certainly the wealth of data that would come from being able to say, "Student attended this institution, transferred with these credits," those sorts of things. It opens up a whole range of accountability, as well as great information for policy making. There's a lot of reasons to think this is a good idea.

On the flip side though, there are a lot of institutions, particularly in the independent sector, who care a lot about the privacy of their students, the security of their data. They have concerns about a huge federal database, particularly because about one-third of all college students don't take any federal financial aid. They're not in the system in terms of getting something from the federal government. It's not entirely clear to those students, maybe, "Why do I have to surrender my personal information to the government, even if you might see a greater social good from that?"

So, there's a lot of angles to it. Again, I think the thing that's more interesting ... We could talk about both of those provisions in great detail, but the fact that two of them are rolled together and tucked into COMPETES is a really interesting way to make policy, and probably, honestly, not a good one. But there's a lot of political motivation to get it done, and this is a path to get it done.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, there were also some immigration provisions that were tucked into that house bill, and I think it's going to be ... Some of these things will likely be stripped out as the Senate starts talking to the House about whatever they're going to pass, whether it's conferenced or it's some sort of legislation that's worked out between the Senate and the House, but the House bill is definitely much more expansive, I think, than the Senate House. Both bills over 2500 pages long. There's just a lot of stuff in there, so we'll be closely watching it. And we know that the House and Senate are already starting to have conversations, because they need that momentum. We're quickly running into, timing-wise, when people are going to start thinking about midterms, and the legislative dates are dwindling. I know, Jon, you've been following on the appropriations fronts. We've were getting close to the end of the CR, right?

Jonathan Fansmith: Yeah. As we record this, we are nine days away from, theoretically, the government shutting down funding. It looks like that's not going to happen, which is the good news. The bad news is, we don't know exactly what is going to happen with federal funding, and we won't know for a little while longer. They're going to do a short-term CR, a continuing resolution. This is basically just a legislative maneuver that allows Congress to kick the deadline for funding down the road further. They've done that three times, I think, so far to move it back from October first to the current February 18th.

The good news, though, as they keep kicking the can down the road, is that the four corners, the chairs and ranking members of the Appropriations Committee, they have been talking regularly. They seem to have reached a broad agreement on a framework. There was a lot of dispute over funding, the top levels, how much we'd spend; basically the levels between how much we'd spend on defense, and how much we'd spend on everything else. There's always a question about what's fair, and divided administration. Democrats taking control had wanted to do a very significant increase in non-defense spending, really to overcome a lot of years where it had lagged behind increases to defense. There's a lot of advocates, both Republicans and Democrats, for defense spending. It's usually an easy vote, who would also support greater increases.

That seems to have been ironed out at around $25 billion more on the defense side than what the President had requested. There's a lot of policy provisions. Those are trickier in some ways. I think that's what we're going to keep a closer eye on to see where the resolution on those comes from, especially because the Labor, HHS, Education bill, which is the one that funds Department of Education, the one that funds all the financial aid programs, that's usually the most controversial one policy-wise, so if there is a bill that's going to be a target for action in a policy space, that's the one that's going to have the biggest problem.

So, still to be determined. They're moving in the right direction, though, which ... I think you kind of pointed out, three months ago it looked like it was deadlocked and we might have a yearlong CR. Progress is a good thing here.

Mushtaq Gunja: And Jon, Build Back Better in its 57th incarnation, it's still not anything, right? And it doesn't look like it's going anywhere anytime quickly.

Jonathan Fansmith: Yeah. No, it's a glint in many people's eyes at this moment. The bill that passed the House is not going anywhere. That's officially dead. What another reconciliation bill may look like, that's a great question. There's lots of people who have lots of ideas about that. It's not entirely clear. The President and members of his cabinet have been speaking about all different aspects of that. In fact, First Lady Jill Biden spoke to the American Association of Junior Colleges and the Association of Junior College Trustees this week and essentially confirmed that free community college is dead as a proposal. It won't go into a reconciliation bill. We sort of knew that, because it got dropped from the last one, but ...

It's really hard to guess what direction it'll go, and I circle back to where Sarah started this. The calendar is not their friend. We have a Supreme Court Justice who is resigning and a new nominee needs to go through. On the Senate, that's a lot of floor time, right? That's a lot of time and attention. They've got to do the appropriations bills. They're probably going to reconcile these China Competitiveness bills and do something like that. You start to add to that the idea that you have to shepherd a reconciliation bill through the Senate again ... Everybody wants to start campaigning in the middle of the summer. They don't want to hang into the fall resolving big, thorny issues that could swing elections. They want to get this done and get home. So, it's hard to see that working out.

So, I'm full of good news this week. As usual, I guess, actually.

Mushtaq Gunja: Well, one piece of good news was the conversation that Sarah and I had with Angel and Terri was fabulous. It's a really interesting look on what financial aid offices and admissions offices can do to create a more equitable landscape for new applicants to college. It was a lot of fun. We spent a little bit of time looking into the future, too. I think it's a good conversation, Jon. I'm sorry you missed it.

Jonathan Fansmith: Well, I am sorry I missed it, but much like our listeners, I am about to go listen to it, so I look forward to hearing the two of you talking with Terri and Angel after this little break.

Mushtaq Gunja: And we are back. Today we are joined by two very special guests, Angel Pérez and Terri Taylor. Angel is the CEO of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, or NACAC as we know them. NACAC represents some 25,000 admissions officers around the country, so, Angel, you've got a big job, and of course I think you started at NACAC about two years ago in the midst of the pandemic, if I remember correctly. My goodness. And before joining NACAC, Angel was the Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success at Trinity College. Angel, we are so happy to have you on the podcast. Thank you for joining.

And then, Terri Taylor is the strategy director for innovation and discovery at the Lumina Foundation. No stranger to many of us, I am sure. Terri's been relentlessly focused on access and completion at Lumina for some years now. And Terri holds a JD from the fabulous Georgetown University Law Center, where I hear they have amazing adjunct professors. Prior to Lumina, Terri worked at Education Counsel, advising institutions on equity, equality, and attainment.

Angel, Terri, welcome to the podcast.

Dr. Angel B. Pérez: Thanks for having us.

Terri Taylor, J.D.: Glad to be here.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah. I mean, we could talk to you two for days about your areas of interest. I wonder if maybe we could just start with this very interesting new report that NACAC and NASFA and Lumina worked on together about enrollment and financial aid practices at institutions. Angel, maybe I'll start with you. What made you want to focus on the topics in this report?

Dr. Angel B. Pérez: I think the timing for gathering this group that did this work couldn't be more important and more timely. The reality of the matter is, the admissions profession has really been undergoing some seismic shifts recently, and I think the pandemic certainly accelerated some of those things. We had many, many more institutions going test optional. We also had racial, and continue to have racial reckoning in this country. I think more students are lifting their voices and saying that the admissions process does not work for them, and that, to a certain extent, it wasn't created for the students that are going through the process currently. So, it really was the perfect time to think about, if we were to redesign the admissions process through a racial and equity lens, what would that look like? So, I was really excited that we decided to address a broader question as opposed to one specific part of the admissions process.

Terri Taylor, J.D.: And I'll just add that it's a report, but it's not just a report. It's the evidence of these membership organizations coming together to talk about really big changes to the system that they keep. I remember when they came to us in the summer of 2020 [inaudible 00:20:36], "It feels like there's an opening to think bigger than we normally do. What can we do to catalyze that?" So, we all have lots of reports ourselves. I think, for me, the fact ... who wrote this report, who put it out, how it acknowledges big changes. I'll say, from the Lumina perspective, focused on racial equity, particularly the need to elevate Black students and their unique experiences. And the fact that we have selective admissions talking about adult learners. Those are big things, and I'm just so pleased to have been able to endorse the leadership of NACAC and NASFA, who came to us on this together, because those two parts of the enrollment system work together.

Mushtaq Gunja: Sure. Hey, Terri, can I ask you a question about methodology?

Terri Taylor, J.D.: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mushtaq Gunja: I found the way that you came to the findings in the report, and the way that you tackled the problem was really interesting. Will you say just a couple of words about that?

Terri Taylor, J.D.: Well, they specifically didn't just write the report as the staff of NACAC and the staff of NASFA. They had a panel of thought leadership folks. It's a really diverse panel with lots of different ideas. There are many different practitioners within higher ed representatives, there are civil rights folks. My old boss [Art Coleman 00:21:59] is there. And they had a really deliberate process to have students as a parallel panel. I actually love that they had students as their own feedback loop, rather than ... When you have one student in a big panel, sometimes that student's voice gets drowned out, and so I think it's really great that they had these two different sets of information going to the folks writing the report. So, I think it's really the culmination of writing down what you hear people say in meetings ... And I've heard people say in meetings for a decade now, but now it's sort of more of a movement, I hope. But, Angel, is this different than how you all usually think about projects like this?

Dr. Angel B. Pérez: Yeah. The one thing I want to point out which many people probably won't realize unless they read the report; while this was led by NACAC and NASFA, the first conversation we had is that this shouldn't be a typical process where you have a chair and someone leading a conversation. We actually hired a design thinking firm because we felt it was really important, "If we are talking about a fundamental redesign, let's go to the experts who know how to do this, and who are going to push us to think outside of our day-to-day and not get too operational into the weeds." So, we think one of the reasons the report ended up being a lot more innovative and a call to action is because it was led by a design thinking process.

Sarah Spreitzer: Thanks for that, Terri and Angel, and I think we're going to put a link to the report in the show notes so if folks want to go and read it ... I don't think we want to run through every single recommendation in there, but we've seen other reports on these issues, how to make an impact on these issues at our institutions, and you touched on some of the things that made this different. But, Angel, if you have a member of NACAC and they're looking at these issues, how is this report different than maybe things that they might've been doing on an institutional level, or trying to do individually? What does it mean for your membership?

Dr. Angel B. Pérez: Sure. I think a couple of things come to mind. One is, I was excited that the report addresses some of the history of systemic racism in admissions. Really, again, that just reaffirms that the system that we are currently using, many of the processes were actually used to keep students out, not admit them into institutions, but also that have a deep history of systemic racism. And so, I think we haven't seen a report that calls that. You have to reckon with that history before you move forward.

The other piece is that this is a report that really is calling for a fundamental redesign of the entire process, and a collaboration across sectors. So, a call to action from K through 12, through higher education, but other industries ... technology, for example ... who can help, and policy, and legislation as well, who are going to really come together to think about this process, and to redesign it. Because as we know, I think a lot of the pressure my members in admissions are feeling is that, often, the way the media sort of portrays their role is that all of the change is going to come from within their offices. But, as we know, the tools they are given to do their work are pretty flawed ... This report highlights that ... so I think what's really exciting about it is that it's calling for a fundamental redesign.

Sarah Spreitzer: Thanks for that, Angel. When you're reading through the report, the recommendations call on three specific groups, right? They look at recommendations for admissions officers, recommendations for institutions, and then for state and federal policymakers. Why is it important to have recommendations for those three specific groups?

Dr. Angel B. Pérez: I think it's really important to have those recommendations because each one of these groups relies upon the other and can't do the work without each other. A perfect example is, without the appropriate funding for higher education or funding for financial aid, admission officers really can't open the doors wider in terms of their own admission policies and how many students they actually can afford to admit. And oftentimes, the decisions around what an institution values and what they require in the admission process does not come from the admissions office, oftentimes it comes from the dean of faculty's office, or perhaps the trustees or the president. So, this is really calling on all three of those different sectors to think creatively, but more importantly, to work together in sync.

Terri Taylor, J.D.: The thing I might add here is that it's necessary for all of those groups, because I think this report also shows the big, massive societal problems that this can help move towards. There's an obsession in our national media with a handful of institutions, and frankly, some of the malpractice that happened with the varsity blues, but one, we've had a 10-year decline in enrollment in higher ed that was accelerated by the pandemic, but was not started by the pandemic. As Angel said, the systems we have for admitting folks does not fit who we want to be in higher ed.

So, thinking about how we can all work together to solve this issue and make clear it's not just selectives, it's not just community colleges, but there are barriers that impact all of these institutions, and information that institutions rely on to decide if someone is admissible. Those all could use a rethink, and there are some specific ... I love that they cited in the report some critics of higher ed. Civil rights groups that have found access to ... Sure, we have more ID access and more AP access across the country, but if you look at who's getting more access, that's not evenly distributed. So, thinking about that, thinking about how that impacts people throughout their lives, I think it's really important because it's going to take everybody working together, and everybody can do something to address these really big challenges.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah. Terri, I love how you frame the problem, and you're exactly right. We have seen an enrollment decline. I think the demographic shifts make us worry a lot that that decline is not just going to turn around on its own, and we are going to have to take specific steps, as institutions of higher ed, as financial aid offices, as admissions offices, to sort of do this. It's not just going to work. The report does such a nice job of laying out some of the historical practices that had been problems.

Terri, what are some of the recommendations? You've identified the problems. What did you identify as sort of solutions to some of these problems?

Terri Taylor, J.D.: Well, I'm going to let Angel talk about some of these, too. I will say I was really happy to see some things that we're used to seeing pass the reform ... the application process, could we change what information to give ... but also like, should we rethink institutional selectivity? Should we think about how decisions are made, who is in the admission staff? Implicit bias. I did a lot of work on admissions in the context of the Fisher case. It was before I came over to Lumina. These were some of the places that people really wanted support in, and really wanted to feel like they had some support for making shifts; that how you make the decision, what information you're using, how is that living up to the mission?

Because the thing is, diversity and equity are not new mission values for most higher ... This is helping us deliver on the mission that a lot of our schools already have. And I forgot to mention, it's not just like enrollment is a problem. Enrollment's a problem because it also prevents how we can grow our economy. It prevents how we can help retrain people if that is shifting. There are really, really challenging things, and I just love that this report can take someone who feels some angst and they can be like, "Oh. I actually do have some authority over this," or, "I have some research on that," and, "I can't do everything, but gosh, it's good to know that maybe everybody's doing something."

But, Angel, are there things in here that you haven't talked about before with NACAC that it was nice to have a forum for that?

Dr. Angel B. Pérez: Yeah, there's a lot. I wish we had so much more time to talk about each of these. But what I love about the report is that, depending on where you sit at each level, whether you're at the institution or in admissions or in policy, there is something concrete that you could work on at your institution and within your system.

One thing that I think a lot of my members at NACAC are going to be talking about is, how do we diversify our teams? How do we make sure that the admission counselors who are traveling to recruit around the country and the world are representative of the students that they are recruiting, and representing those experiences; a very concrete, tangible example of what can be done.

But I also love, to Terri's point, that is also challenges institutions to have some very uncomfortable conversations; that ones that I like to talk about as the elephant in the room. Selectivity. We've never really called that out, and to a certain extent, it really doesn't impact thousands of institutions. We're only talking about a smaller group, but it is something that we tend to focus on in this society.

And I also think, I always remember, I mentioned that ... or Mushtaq mentioned that I had just came from an institution. Every institution that I worked at as the chief enrollment officer, the president, the board, the faculty would say the same thing to me: "Bring me the best and the brightest. Just bring me the best and the brightest." And I would always respond ... which did not make me popular, by the way, I'll preface it by saying ... "Why don't I bring you the ready, willing, and able, and you make them the best and the brightest? Isn't that the point of education? To transform?" But that wasn't the goal. The goal was to bring in the students that, to a certain extent, already were going to succeed at the institution.

So, I think the selectivity piece of the report is going to push institutions to talk about values, identity, but also to talk about, what is the goal? How do we measure that?

And then, the last thing I'll mention is that I really also like that the piece around funding is not just about financial aid or direct funding to institutions or Pell, but also calling for the fact that, without more funding for high school counselors in public school buildings, we are leaving out a fundamental part of the pipeline as well. I think that the State of Arizona, which has over 900 students, one counselor for those 900 students in the caseload. We need to do something about that if we're going to set students up for success.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah. That last piece seems so important. It's one of the things that we really learned a lot when we were at the Department of Education, when I was at the Department of Education. I think we put together this college scorecard with a lot of great data, but we need counselors to be able to help interpret some of that information for students, or to help guide them along that path. I found that part of the report really interesting, too.

Just staying on the Department of Education just for a quick second, one of the things in 2016 that we were really proud of implementing was this prior-prior year, sort of FAFSA simplification, what we thought, making it a little bit easier perhaps for families to be able to fill out their FAFSA and not have to wait until their current year taxes were done. Has that made a difference, Angel? You've been on the frontlines. We hoped it would make the application process a little bit more streamlined, put more information in the hands of families a little bit sooner, make it easier to apply for aid. Did it, or not really so much?

Dr. Angel B. Pérez: I think it has made a difference, but it's only moved the needle slightly, and I think, again, what this particular report calls for is a fundamental redesign. I think probably the one thing that everyone that's ever experienced, talked about, or led FAFSA can agree on is the fact that it's extraordinarily complicated. And even though we're going to have fewer questions, it still is a very, very painful process, and a lot of the data shows that many families, particularly the families that need it the most, don't complete it because it is so complicated..

So, the more I think that ... I commend the department for moving the needle and trying to make it a little bit simpler, and also trying to implement things like prior-prior year, but the question I've always asked, and I think the report calls for as well, is what is the real information that we need to make educated decisions about admission in financial aid, and how can we do that in a simple format? And also, how do we do that in a way that doesn't put the entire onus on the student and the family and the counselor, but that maybe that data already lives somewhere ... perhaps the IRS, perhaps other spaces ... where we can retract that data without having to put so much of that onus on the student. I think that's where the future is headed.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, and I ... Oh, sorry. Go ahead, Terri.

Terri Taylor, J.D.: One, thank you, Mushtaq, for the blast from the past, prior-prior year. The other thing is, I hope that people will take this report as a call for creativity. Listening to Angel talk about it reminds me that I've heard some very forward-thinking state leaders, for example, think, "Could states stop relying on FAFSA for their own awards, aid awards?" Say, from our perspective, you qualify for this aid, and the federal aid is available too, but give somebody a carrot first. Say, "You've got this scholarship. You don't have to fill out this giant form first." I've seen some studies that say a third of adults think they don't qualify, so they're not even going to apply, even though the federal money ...

So, I think there's a little bit of a necessary evil in that there's going to be a form at some point, but are there ways to sort of make that process feel more worth it, or give people some sense of what get covered. And again, you can't follow everything through the US Department of Education, or even through Congress. There's a lot that needs to happen in lots of different places. But I think it's a good thing to say, "A lot of us are going to be fighting on stuff, but let's not hang our hat on one small thing. Let's really work on the big thing." I'm pleased to see the boldness here.

Sarah Spreitzer: Well, yeah, and I think the report reflects on that, right? That institutions and administrations have tried to take actions on these types of issues before, right? But it's just not enough, especially, Terri, to your point about domestic enrollments falling. So, we're not making enough of an impact. Can you reflect at all? We have a Supreme Court case coming up soon, right? Harvard versus Students for Fair Admissions. That's going to talk a lot about race-conscious admissions. Can you talk about this work in that context, as institutions are ... We're trying to do so much on this side, and it feels sometimes like policy and things are working against us. Can you just talk about how this report fits into that context?

Terri Taylor, J.D.: Yes. I should say, here's how that context did fit into what this report's saying, because it's ...

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah.

Terri Taylor, J.D.: I love that we've taken 17 minutes and haven't mentioned Supreme Court once. In terms of pegs that I spent too much time on Justice Anthony Kennedy's thoughts. I probably spent too much time myself.

So, there are two Supreme Court cases that are going to be heard probably in the fall, against Harvard and against the University of North Carolina, notably both challenging the race-conscious admissions practices. It's worth knowing there are a couple of things different about these cases compared with Fisher, and it's not just the makeup of the court. The plaintiffs are asking for all prior precedent to be overruled. That's different than what was asked for by Abigail Fisher. Those of us who have spent too much time looking at court cases know that Harvard was the original inspiration for holistic admissions in the '78 [Dockey 00:38:48] decision, so going after Harvard here is going right to the root of that.

And we have UNC, which, by the way, has not even gone to an appeals court yet. The Supreme Court took the quite rare step of combining the cases and not even letting the Fourth Circuit weigh in. It's worth knowing, too, Harvard and UNC won at the district court level, and Harvard won again in the Sixth Circuit, and that's because there's really strong precedent, that the way that ... small way of considering race in this.

The thing I want to say, though, is that is not the ballgame, and higher ed cannot let the conversation around college access, equity, and opportunity be defined by a small, well-funded group of people who want to see the end to race-conscious admissions. Just letting them set the scope of the playing field is wrong, and higher ed frankly needs to, yes, defend these practices. They are defensible. There are army generals, there are Fortune 500 companies, there are even church leaders who will get behind them, but I hope that as much effort as will go towards the Supreme Court, I hope even more will show up for the systemic conversation. And I think it's up to places like ACE, like NACAC, even like [inaudible 00:40:07] to sort of help create some spaces and create some cover to sort of help get our attention on the problems that most need solving.

Mushtaq Gunja: I think this is why this report came out at such a great time, right? It would be a real tragedy, I think, if we just didn't do anything for a year until the Supreme Court ruled, and then we just sort of, at that point, figure out what we're going to do. We need to be thinking both now about what might happen on the race-conscious side, but also, all of the recommendations that are in the report now are things that will ... to Angel's phrase ... move the needle, and in some cases, sort of maybe break the record player altogether and have a different sort of music system. Maybe we go to iTunes or something, I don't know. But I think we can't wait, and I think your point's really, really well taken, Terri.

One way I think that we see institutions moving, and relatively quickly, is in this move to test-optional. Angel, would you just give us a sense of what's going on there, and what effect it may have on the number of applications and who may end up enrolling?

Dr. Angel B. Pérez: Yeah, sure. I think it's important to mention that test-optional certainly existed before COVID, and many institutions had moved to test-optional, but even then it was still a little controversial, and having been myself on campuses that went through that transition was very difficult, but COVID really accelerated things, and I think it's only one-third now of institutions that are left that are not requiring the exams. So, it's just really important to note that there's a huge shift because so many institutions used to require it. A lot of the research shows that the testing certainly disadvantages the most marginalized students, and so it is a way, at least that we're seeing here at NACAC, as opening the doors a little bit wider. But I do think it is also going to be a trickle-down effect of having a conversation about, "So, what do we use to measure students and to think about predictability for college success?" So, I think that's the next piece in the report. It certainly addresses that, and is a call to action there.

But I would also say, Mushtaq, because oftentimes this is not picked up by the media, there's also a small but moving test blind movement as well, where it's not optional, they just won't consider it. They won't accept the test. The University of California has moved test blind. Places like Cal Tech, for example ... which I think surprised people, as a math, science, and engineering institution ... had done that as well. So, you may see a little bit more movement in that direction in the future as well.

Terri Taylor, J.D.: And what I really like about what Angel just said is that it sort of shows why it's important to understand all the interrelated elements here. If we make things test-optional, then it really matters who's making the decision. It really matters who the applicants have met before, who they've seen before, whether there's been anti-bias training as people are sorting through the information that they have. After all, looking at qualitative information about somebody's admissibility is different than quantitative. That doesn't mean one's good or bad, but it does mean the decisions have to be different, and the systems in which they fit have to be different.

I think we've seen some early steps toward systemic change, and I'm looking forward to seeing how some of that continues to be even bigger change. Not to make it harder for certain people to get in, but for us to be better at looking for potential wherever it is, and helping raise up talent wherever it is, and hopefully these systems will, yes, have a huge impact on our students of color and our adult learners, but it may also help us be better at just assessing everybody's who's applying, and making it less easy for it to be gained by people with more resources. That's my big hope for where things end up.

Sarah Spreitzer: Thanks. Thanks, Terri, and that kind of tees up my question for, we talked about test-optional changes, and the upcoming Supreme Court decision. Angel, do you have any predictions of what admissions is going to look like in the next five years, the next decade, if everyone carries out the recommendations within this report? What will admissions look like in the future?

Dr. Angel B. Pérez: I certainly don't have a crystal ball here at NACAC, even though I'd love to have one, but I am optimistic ... it's why I do this work ... and I do think we are at a particular moment in time. I have not felt, at least in my 22-plus years doing this work, more willingness right now to do something different. I just feel like, between the pandemic, racial reckoning, the decline in students ... And by the way, I would add to Terri's point, not just the 10-year decline we've seen, but the one that's coming, which is a greater crisis that we need to be thinking about and addressing ... that more institutions and systems are interested in change.

So, I would hope that a fair number of the recommendations in this report in the next decade are implemented, that admissions staffs are more diverse, that they are well trained, that institutions are more creative, that they are more open to rethinking what they require, but even more importantly, what is the goal? Is selectivity the goal? Is prestige the goal? And that, as a result, institutions are leading the conversation, and not organizations like US News and World Report, or Moodys or others who obviously have a huge impact on the behavior of institutions. So, I'm optimistic that, if that is the case, then the doors will open wider for students in the future.

Terri Taylor, J.D.: And I think it's worth knowing that almost everybody who works in admissions and financial aid is in it because they cared about opportunity, or they experience an opportunity themselves, or maybe they just needed a job and they got into it and they're like, "Oh, wow! This is actually helping real people." That's why I feel kind of optimistic; because the people in the systems want to see the systems change, because it's why they got involved in the first place. And it's sure going to be hard, but I think the fact that so many people are rooting for folks to make changes here, and open-minded about how many different things could be good ... I don't know, I think the world needs optimists because there's a lot of bad stuff happening, and the idea of being in a place to help more people access opportunity, that, to me, feels like a thing that could help people feel good about what they're trying to do.

Mushtaq Gunja: Well, I definitely think we should wrap on an optimistic note. I think you're so right, Terri. Our financial aid officers, our admissions officers, these are people who are doing it for the love of the game. They are not doing it because they're making tons of money, they are doing it to make an impact on society and on these students. I love this report. I really encourage all of our readers to go into the show notes and please download and at least read the executive summary, which is super readable. You have excellent editors, whoever did all of that hard work.

Angel, Terri, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Please don't be strangers, and we hope that we will be able to see you soon.

Sarah Spreitzer: As always, podcast friends, you can check out earlier episodes and subscribe to dotEDU on Apple, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. For show notes​ and links to the resources mentioned in the episode, you can go to our website at While there, please take a short survey to let us know how we're doing. You can also email us at to give us suggestions on upcoming shows and guests. And a very big thank you to the producers who helped pull this podcast together, Laurie Arnston, Audrey Hamilton, Malcolm Moore, Anthony Truhart, Hisani Stenson, and Fatma NGom. They do an incredible job making this happen, and making Jon, Mushtaq, and I sound as good as possible. And finally, thank you so much for listening.

About the Podcast

​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major public policy issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page.

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