Sybil Low by Sybil Low

From state to state, universities are embracing a new approach to admissions that promises to change the landscape of higher education enrollment, Inside Higher Ed reports.

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Key Takeaways

  • The Universities of Wisconsin have introduced a direct admissions initiative at 10 of its 13 universities, with eligible high school students receiving automatic acceptance letters.
  • Ten states have now adopted system-level direct admissions, with predictions of a rising trend in the coming year.
  • Direct admissions eliminate the traditional application process, with the aim of simplifying access and addressing enrollment declines.

Unlike conventional admissions plans which require students to apply, direct admissions allow students or their counselors to compile a portfolio containing academic information, geographical preferences, areas of interest, grades, and test scores. Based on this portfolio, colleges then decide on admissions offers.

Tom Harnisch from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association emphasized the growing popularity, stating,

“This fall, [direct admissions] has been the clear trend in state higher ed policy. I think it’s really going to take off.”

Mary Churchill from Boston University’s Wheelock College of Education added,

“A regional comprehensive university is basically already accepting everyone with a GPA of a certain level anyway, so why make them apply? It’s a no-brainer.”

Broadening Horizons for Open-Access Admissions

As the admissions landscape evolves, the direct admissions approach has gained more traction. The Biden administration, for instance, has acknowledged direct admissions as a potential race-neutral means of enhancing diversity. Universities aim to reach underserved student populations, such as first-generation and underrepresented students, while simultaneously addressing state workforce needs. Taylor Odle, a researcher from UW Madison, described the multifaceted benefits:

“Direct admissions is very popular across a diverse array of states because they can market it kind of however they want—addressing enrollment declines, increasing diversity, workforce readiness or just making the process more efficient.”

Measuring Impact and Effectiveness

Though still relatively new, early adopters of direct admissions, like Idaho, have witnessed solid enrollment returns. However, the effectiveness of these programs in boosting enrollment remains to be thoroughly evaluated. Even with potential challenges, advocates of direct admissions see it as more than just an enrollment tool. As Sonny Perdue, chancellor of the University System of Georgia, mentioned,

“This is absolutely not about enrollment … We started this because we believe higher education is valuable for everyone.”

Mary Churchill also highlighted its role in raising awareness,

“It’s really an awareness-raising campaign for states that are concerned about high school graduates not going on to a postsecondary education.”

Looking Ahead: The Future of Admissions

As colleges explore the potential of direct admissions, attention is also turning to the costs associated with attending college. Taylor Odle emphasized the importance of proactive financial aid information, labeling it as the “next frontier”. Julie Amon from the Universities of Wisconsin hinted at potential affordability initiatives in the pipeline to complement their direct admissions program. As direct admissions continue to gain momentum, higher education experts anticipate more innovations and widespread adoption in the years to come.

In closing, Mary Churchill forecasted,

“State systems are just going to get more creative and more entrepreneurial, and I think direct admissions is going to be an essential piece of that.”


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