Colleges tracking applicants’ digital activity to gauge ‘demonstrated interest’

Colleges and universities are increasingly considering students’ “demonstrated interest” when making admissions decisions, examining not only applicants’ presence at events but also their online interactions, the The Wall Street Journal reports.

Enrollment officers, for instance, increasingly keep an eye on how often—and how quickly—potential students open emails from the school or if they click through to read more. “If we ask someone for an interview, we look at how they respond, how quickly they respond or if they don’t respond at all,” Gregory Eichhorn, vice president for admissions at Quinnipiac University, said. “It helps us make a decision.”

Tracking engagement to anticipate yield

Hoping to increase yield, colleges have been looking into prospective students’ demonstrated interest for nearly a decade. The technological sophistication, however, has grown significantly in recent years. Higher education leaders say demonstrated interest is especially helpful when evaluating borderline applicants.

According to a 2017 survey conducted by the National Association of College Admission Counseling, 37 percent of the nearly 500 schools surveyed considered demonstrated interest to be of “moderate importance,” comparable to a student’s extracurricular activities and teacher recommendations but less consequential than grades or test scores.

Some voice privacy, equity concerns

Some critics find the quiet tracking disconcerting. “This feels pretty creepy to me,” said James Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media. “It raises very significant privacy concerns. It feels like surveillance and I don’t think it’s a healthy thing for schools to do.”

College access advocates, meanwhile, have voiced concerns that certain demonstrations of interest, such as college site visits, may be more feasible for applicants with a certain level of financial security. For example, a wealthier student would have the financial freedom to fly out to prospective schools or commit to a college in advance regardless of the financial aid package.

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