Georgia joins growing number of states trying direct admissions

Georgia has announced a new direct admissions program aimed at increasing college access and building a highly skilled workforce, the Associated Press reports. With its new initiative, Georgia joins a growing list of states experimenting with the approach, in which colleges make admissions and financial aid offers to students before they apply.

Showing students what’s available to them

Through the Georgia Match program, the state is sending letters to its 120,000-some high school seniors alerting them that certain Georgia colleges are “holding a spot” for them in the fall 2024 class. Georgia already collects grade information for students to administer its HOPE Scholarship program and will use that data to determine which colleges appear on students’ letters.

All 22 of the state’s technical colleges and all but three of the 26 schools in the University System of Georgia are participating in Georgia Match. The remaining non-participating schools—University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Georgia College and State University—have a holistic admissions process and require standardized test scores.

Upon receiving a letter, students can request information from their Georgia Match colleges or “claim” their spot at the participating institutions, which will then receive the student’s contact information and ACT or SAT scores and follow up with enrollment instructions.

Georgia officials hope the program will increase awareness of postsecondary options. “The letter is going to reach students that never contemplated going to college or applying to college. They may have never even thought that college was a possibility for them,” Andy Parsons, the executive vice president of the Georgia Student Finance Commission, said in a briefing. “…We want them to know that there’s an affordable public education available to them in Georgia.”

Similar programs report application bump

Georgia Match is “part of a nationwide trend” toward direct admissions as one way to widen college pathways, the AP reports. Idaho pioneered the model in 2015, and programs in states such as Minnesota, Hawaii, Washington, and New York have since followed. Illinois, Connecticut, and Wisconsin also are getting underway.

Amid the growing enthusiasm, early outcomes have been mixed, prompting experts to question whether the schools offering direct admission end up being affordable or the right fit academically for students. Idaho’s program, for instance, led to an increase in first-time undergraduate and in-state enrollments—but little change in enrollment of students from low-income households. Idaho’s enrollment gains also were concentrated at two-year, open-access institutions.

Recently released results from a national pilot led by the Common Application similarly shed light on the potential impact of direct admissions. The randomized, controlled trial of nearly 32,000 students showed that students who received a direct admissions offer were almost twice as likely to submit an application to that institution; they also were 12% more likely to apply to any college. The gains were even greater for first-generation and low-income students, and members of underrepresented minority groups.

However, the researchers found that the increased interest prompted by direct admissions offers did not translate to actual gains in enrollment at those schools. They acknowledge that the baseline was already high: roughly 86% of all students participating in the study still enrolled at some college.

“It is effective in moving things, but it’s not a silver bullet in solving everything in terms of advancing equity, increasing access, and then on the enrollment end, it’s not touching that so much,” Jennifer Delaney, a professor of higher education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and one of the study authors, told Inside Higher Ed. “But it’s also not intervening at that part of the process.”

While direct admissions simplifies the college application process, the model may have limited effects on enrollment if it can’t meet students’ financial needs. Georgia officials say they hope their state’s program can address that gap through Georgia’s existing HOPE Scholarship and HOPE Grant programs.

Ultimately, there’s value in simply shifting students’ mindset, says Ben Castleman, associate professor of public policy and education at the University of Virginia. Small interventions “that lead students to change how they think about colleges as an option, whether they could get in, whether they belong, or just learning more about colleges, can result in bigger downstream changes in behavior than would be expected,” Castleman told EdSurge.

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