The “student list” business is changing. Will this make admissions unfair?

Universities have long used reliable intermediaries to identify potential students. But what happens if a new middleman emerges?

A surge in optional testing policies could persuade more people — especially low-income and minority students — to opt out of testing, meaning colleges may not find them.

A team of researchers weighed in on the issue in a new report released Tuesday by the Institute for College Access and Success, an education advocacy group called TICAS. This book is instructive for anyone with an interest in recruiting and helping colleges generate “leads” in a large, unregulated industry. The industry “is undergoing a radical change that could trigger a crisis in college admissions,” the report said.

First, let’s review some history. The standardized testing industry has long been a major middleman for hiring. High school students taking the ACT, SAT, and Advanced Placement exams can choose to share their contact information with colleges that purchase “student list” vendors from ACT Inc. and the College Board (both nonprofits and others). (The College Board administers the SAT.)

These lists contain specific criteria about students (for example, test score ranges, high school grade point averages, and zip codes). Universities use this information to recruit them (ie bombard them with brochures and emails).

In short, the student roster is the lifeblood of admissions. But researchers believe they are problematic. Last week, TICAS released the first two of three related reports. Both say student rosters perpetuate racial and socioeconomic inequalities by allowing colleges to systematically exclude low-income and underrepresented minority students from the recruiting pipeline. how? On the one hand, colleges can use search filters to zero in on specific geographic demographic categories, prioritizing students from resource-rich high schools and wealthy areas. This could help explain why a given student hears about 30 colleges, while another student with a similar academic record only hears about a handful of colleges.

That said, here’s an important paradox: Student lists, however imperfect, play a crucial role in college admissions, the researchers wrote. According to a recent study commissioned by the College Board, students who connect with colleges through the College Board’s student search service are 23 percent more likely to apply to participating colleges than students with similar backgrounds who opt out. Nearly 20 percent of students invited to apply to college through the student search service also registered, making those who purchased contact information 22 percent more likely to enter college. These effects are twice as large for traditionally underserved students,” the study found.

Students can access the service through the College Board’s college planning website BigFuture — even if they don’t take the organization’s exams. But if a student’s name doesn’t appear in a given database in the first place, colleges can’t find them there, and sometimes nowhere. So what happens in a world where fewer and fewer college applicants take the ACT and SAT and may not know about BigFuture?

Ozan Jaquette, an associate professor of higher education at UCLA and principal investigator of the Student List Project, predicts that the pandemic-induced surge in test-optional policies will persuade a growing number of students, especially low-income and minority students, to opt out altogether test. “For better or worse, testing agencies have always been an important mechanism for college admissions,” he said. “If these institutions aren’t leaders in the student list industry, will we end up with something better or worse than what we used to be? Will a new source of student lists match the ACT when every student thinks they have to take these exams? Same coverage as the College Board had before?”

These questions bring us back to the middleman. The student list industry has long included numerous for-profit vendors selling data on potential applicants to colleges. Sources for student roster data include college search engine websites and college planning software used by high schools. EAB, a large admissions consulting firm, the entity described in the report is one of those poised to devour more of the student list market and could become This middleman. Unlike ACT Inc. The College Board sells names to colleges on a “per-leadership” basis, with EAB and other companies maintaining unique databases of student names and restricting access to colleges that pay for subscriptions and/or advising services, the report said.

The business model has raised policy concerns and federal agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission should consider regulating it, the report said. “We are concerned that, without significant government intervention, the demise of the SAT/ACT test will leave students unknowingly relying on for-profit companies that make the most of their money by simply giving potential clients names to colleges that pay for expensive subscriptions or consulting services. Profits. Equitable access to college is too important for today’s market, and this will only become more true as new for-profit players enter the space.”

It’s important to remember a few things here. First, the ACT and SAT, while less important, are still active. In addition, student lists are tools: Institutional leaders identify the admissions goals and priorities that such tools help them achieve. “If a college only wants to admit wealthy students,” the researchers wrote, “regulating student lists will not force colleges to admit poor students.”

Still, the researchers believe that the nature of the registration tools — how they actually work — matters. The choices colleges make when purchasing names, they write, “are made up of the structure of the student’s list of products—which potential customers are included in the product, the targeted behaviors that the product allows, and the targeted behaviors that the product encourages.”

In a paper published this week by TICAS, Jaquette, along with assistant professor Karina G. Salazar and data scientist Crystal Han at the University of Arizona Center for Higher Education Research, proposes an alternative to the existing student list industry: “Public Choice.” That is, a free, robust national database of students’ contact information, high school GPAs, and the courses they took.

The researchers acknowledge that their idea requires a massive collaboration between states, districts and schools, while presenting a range of technical challenges. Also, who will pay for it?

“The idea was a bit of a pie from the sky,” Jaquette said.

But he hopes it will spark more discussion about how student lists are for and against college admissions.

“Some students are going to college anyway,” Jaquette said. “For them, the student list can affect which institution they go to. But there are also students who are on the verge of going to college or not, or going to a two-year college instead of a four-year college. For colleges, identifying and connecting These students, it’s important to make these students feel needed.”

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