A common admissions practice may favor the wealthy, study finds

An upcoming research paper argues that the demonstrated interest standard used by some admissions offices favors wealth applicants, writes Scott Jaschik for Inside Higher Ed.

Many selective colleges and universities use a metric known as demonstrated interest in their admissions standards. Demonstrated interest is determined by the number and type of actions taken by a prospective student that indicate the chances of them attending the institution if admitted, writes Jaschik. For example, calling the admissions office with questions might increase an applicant's demonstrated interest score, as would visiting the campus for a tour.

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But an upcoming Contemporary Economics Policy research paper argues that although the demonstrated interest standard increases admissions yields, it also inadvertently favors wealthier applicants, writes Jaschik.

Demonstrated interest is a pillar of college admissions. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 16.9% of four-year colleges and universities say it has "considerable importance," and 33.3% say it has "moderate importance" to their admissions standards. And colleges have a logical reason for placing so much emphasis on demonstrated interest. According to the forthcoming study, the standard does help colleges increase their yield rates.

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However, the applicant behaviors that demonstrate the most interest happen to also be the most costly for the student. For example, campus visits are highly valued, but low-income families may not be able to pay for the transportation and accommodations associated with a campus visit or take time off work for travel, writes Jaschik.

The researchers recommended some policy changes to level the playing field for lower-income applicants. Colleges could subsidize campus visits for lower-income applicants, suggests Chad Meyerhoefer, an economist at Lehigh University and one of paper's authors. Colleges could also incorporate a family income measure into their demonstrated interest formulas, he argues (Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 7/27).  

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