'Rethinking Admissions' at Wake Forest University

I participated in a panel about the pros and cons of college rankings.

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I attended Wake Forest University's Rethinking Admissions conference, and it proved to be a highly worthwhile event. The conference has its own blog, which gives a detailed play-by-play take on what happened.

The last session revolved around the pros and cons of college rankings. There was agreement on the point that rankings are here to stay because they are part of the American culture and that prospective students and their parents do need the ability to compare colleges. But there was disagreement on how much harm these rankings do to the admissions process and applicants. There was also a discussion about the need to develop Web tools so students and parents could choose weights and variables to produce their own college rankings based on their particular preferences. U.S. News is studying the idea of developing such a personalized ranking tool, which would be an additional feature to the regular rankings on our America's Best Colleges website.

The ranking session featured lively presentations by Jeffrey Brenzel—Yale's dean of undergraduate admissions—and Richard Vedder, an economics professor at Ohio University, former member of the Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education, and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. Vedder helped create Forbes magazine's annual ranking of colleges, which made its debut last summer. The New York Times article "Yale vs. U.S. News" gives a very good summary of the discussion.

The conference overall covered these topics and others:

  • What role should standardized testing play in admissions practices?
  • How valid are standardized tests as a predictor of college success?
  • What are the pros and cons of using a holistic approach to admissions decisions?
  • Do interviews really work in terms of college admissions?
  • How well do high school GPA and class rank predict college grades and graduation?
  • What is the best way to craft a student body for academic excellence and social diversity?
  • Will going to a test-optional admission increase economic and ethnic diversity of a class by broadening the applicant pool?
  • Wake Forest's experience in admitting its fall 2009 entering class, the first under its new test-optional admissions policy