Could direct admissions reduce barriers for low-income, first-gen students?

Direct admissions—or “pre-admissions,” a process in which colleges make admissions and financial aid offers to students before they apply—is simplifying the application process for some students, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. However, experts question whether the approach will actually connect low-income and first-generation students with options they can afford or the right fit academically.

Proponents of direct admissions say the process exposes low-income and first-generation students to more postsecondary options that provide a quality education at an affordable price. It can also help institutions struggling with declining enrollment reach more prospective college students and boost their enrollment rates.

“Most of us are not Harvard, Princeton, and Yale,” says Jordanna Maziarz, director of undergraduate admissions at Montclair State University, which has an acceptance rate of around 91%. “The process doesn’t need to be so difficult for students applying to the vast majority of colleges.

Related: States try preemptive admission to boost enrollment, curb brain drain >

While several institutions have long offered instant or on-the-spot admissions decisions based on applicants’ grades and/or standardized test scores, a growing number of colleges, state systems, application platforms, and technology companies are moving away from traditional applications and focusing instead on direct admission. Platforms like Niche.com and Greenlight Match are working to connect colleges with low-income and first-generation high school students across the country by inviting them to create profiles, answer questionnaires, and upload their transcripts. High school officials certify students’ credentials and send them as anonymized profiles to participating institutions, which offer admission to qualified candidates.

The Common Application also launched direct-admissions pilot programs in 2021 with three historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in Maryland, Tennessee, and Virginia. In the pilot project’s first round, around 3,300 students received a joint email from the Common App and the HBCU in their state explaining the direct-admission program. In the program’s second and third rounds, 18,000 students were offered a spot at six institutions, and 30,000 students were given direct admissions offers at 14 schools, respectively. Officials say that, so far, among demographic groups, the experiment has had the most positive impact on Black, Latine, and first-generation students.

Affordability concerns persist

Direct admissions simplifies the college application process but still may not guarantee access to higher education if institutions do not meet students’ full financial need, experts tell The Chronicle of Higher Education in a follow-up article. Although Greenlight Match says some of its participating institutions are meeting students’ full financial need, they are not required to commit to a minimum threshold of aid. Additionally, research examining the results of the nation’s first direct admissions system, which the state Idaho rolled out in 2015, found that the process led to a bump in first-time undergraduate and in-state enrollments but had minimal-to-no impacts on the enrollment of Pell Grant-eligible students, who typically come from low-income households.

“If this is a way in which students can be better seen by colleges, I’m for it,” says Alicia Oglesby, associate director of college counseling at Pittsburgh’s Winchester Thurston School. “Affordability has to be part of the acceptance.”

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