• Dan Freeborn

Ntl. Orgs. Commission to Reimagine College Admissions and Financial Aid Through Racial Equity Lens

Updated: Apr 2, 2021

I’ve been working in higher ed. admissions and enrollment management for eight years now and have been deeply invested in helping students navigate the application and enrollment processes to realize their educational goals. While I’m confident I hit my #wokebreakingpoint a couple of years ago, it’s becoming much harder to watch institutions being drug down into the chaos of the radical progressive agenda. The adoption of this ideology is changing the very core purpose of higher education and transforming campuses into centers of activism. They’re becoming less inclusive, encouraging self-censorship, and are establishing communities that threaten to exclude those that do not conform.

There’s something deeply concerning going on in the college admissions world right now and no, I’m not talking about the prospect that Harvard is discriminating against Asians in the admission process. However, I’ll add that if that is happening, it’s disgraceful.

I received an email on March 11 from the National Association of Admission Counseling (NACAC). The subject line read: “Reimagining college admission…and more.” It didn’t take long to understand what this was about. The first line of the email reads: “Last week, NACAC announced a major new Commission on Redesigning College Admission and Financial Aid Through a Racial Equity Lens

The announcement reads: “NACAC announces a national panel of leaders and researchers from across higher education, policy, and civil rights to develop specific proposals for reimagining financial aid and college admission systems and ultimately eliminating racial inequity in postsecondary educational access.” This was born out of a partnership forged last November when NACAC and NASFAA (National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators) were awarded a Lumina Grant to reimagine College Admission and Financial Aid processes to enhance equity. I’ll come back to the Lumina Foundation shortly.

But first I want to jump back to the when this all started. The original statement, published back on November 9, regarding the aim of the partnership between NACAC, NASFAA and the Lumina Foundation states: “The goal of the project is to disassemble and reassemble the college and financial aid processes to focus exclusively on eliminating long-standing, systemic barriers to racial and ethnic justice and inclusion. Since college access opportunity is not fairly or equally distributed, the aim will be to envision an admission and financial aid system founded exclusively on equality of opportunity. As part of the grant, the groups will convene a panel of thought leaders to consider entry challenges to postsecondary education for traditional-aged and adult students of color and examine ways in which an admission and financial aid system would be designed if racial and ethnic equity were the primary objective.” It continues with a quote from NACAC CEO Angel B. Pérez. “Each year, overly complex admission and financial aid processes discourage otherwise qualified students from pursuing higher education. The very systems created to encourage students to enroll in college disproportionally disadvantage marginalized populations,”

Some context here: asserting that overly complex admission and financial aid processes discourage otherwise qualified students from pursuing higher education has been a long-standing argument from the progressive left that merit-based admissions standards (including GPA and standardized test scores) are disadvantageous. When referring to financial aid, they’re usually talking about the financial aid verification process which is built to ensure students/families are reporting accurate tax information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) so appropriate aid packages can be produced. I have my own thoughts on standardized tests, financial aid, and the outrageous cost of tuition, but in the context or racial equity, this isn’t about the best interest of all, it’s the best interest of non-whites.

A reminder that ‘equity’ is not ‘equality’. In the context of the current social justice movement and the meaning championed by the Biden administration, ‘equity’ becomes redistribution of social and economic goods aligning with the subjective characterization of demographics (not individuals). Achieving racial equity hinges on centering around the ideas of structural racism, intersectionality, racial identity development, and anti-racism and how white privilege is embedded in our systems. This is where the issue lies. This change is unequivocally steeped in the radical agenda that is hell-bent on dismantling American systems through the divisive narrative of the Critical Social Justice movement. The problem for me is not about the people the commission seeks to help, it’s about the ideology that’s driving the change that is direct opposition to the Civil Rights act of 1964.

NACAC’s Chief Education and Policy Officer, David Hawkins, is quoted in the March 3 announcement saying “Our ultimate aim is to go beyond theories of equity for postsecondary opportunity and make specific, actionable recommendations for policymakers that can produce changes at the institutional, state, and federal levels.”

There are three priority areas that the panel will examine:

  1. The college-entrance pipeline, from student recruitment and college advising through the application process and admission criteria.

  2. Postsecondary financial aid requirements.

  3. The role of racial equity in postsecondary enrollment.

The panel aims to complete its analyses and release three sets of recommendations this summer: a guide for colleges centered around racial/ethnic inclusion, a related guide for postsecondary institutional leaders, and recommendations for federal and state policymakers for an equity-based college transition.

There are a lot of concerns to address with what’s going on here, perhaps most importantly: we have to consider who’s spearheading the commission: NACAC and NASFAA – these are the leading national organizations for admission and student financial aid policy in higher education. There’s too much to dig into in this one video, but I want to hone in on a specific concern regarding NACAC’s role in this because it’s an organization that I’ve given a lot of time to in the last eight years and have been held accountable to in my profession. Also, because I don’t have first-hand experience in the financial aid world, I don’t have enough background to speak on the implications. But if you do – get it touch. I’d love to have you on the show to make sense of all of this.

Regarding post-secondary institutional membership, NACAC is designed for regionally or nationally accredited, non-profit, degree-granting institutions and maintains a guide to ethical practice in college admission that dictates much of how institutions execute their admissions practices. The guide outlines eight core areas:

  1. Truthfulness and Transparency (which addresses publishing application processes/expectations throughout the recruitment pipeline)

  2. Professional Conduct

  3. Confidentiality

  4. Admission Cycle Dates, Deadlines and Procedures for First-Time Fall Entry Undergraduates

  5. Wait Lists

  6. Transfer Admission

  7. International Admission

  8. Application Plans (early action, regular decision, rolling admission)

Now, this guide in and of itself is not bad. Many of these are useful in helping prospective students and families navigate the college admission process and holds institutions accountable. Confidentiality, professional conduct, prohibiting bribery, all good standards that I’ve appreciated in my career in admissions and enrollment management.

Here’s where it gets messy: If a member institution is found to be practicing outside of these ethical guidelines, it’s at risk of losing its membership and rights associated. So what does that mean? If an institution is not a dues-paying member (by choice or by unethical practice), one of the biggest implications is that it no longer can be represented at national or state-affiliate sanctioned college fairs, which make up a vast majority of the college fairs in the nation.

College fairs are a up there as one of the most significant types of face-to-face activities for institutions to be involved with because they are exceptional opportunities to be seen by huge numbers of prospective students and their influencers. If you’re not familiar, college fairs are the events where college reps set up table displays and show off their respective college with flashy promotional materials and if allowed, try to lure students in with the cool freebies and giveaways. (yes some fairs even restrict whether or not freebies are ethical).

NACAC reports:

The national college fair circuit included 98 events across the country in 2019 and annually, reaches 675,000 students. In 2019, that equates to an average of almost 6,900 students per event. 1,843 different colleges participated in 2019 national college fairs. This information alone sheds light on how beneficial these events can be for institutions to gain exposure.

Additionally, there are 23 state and region-affiliated chapters that host a significant number of regional fairs. I’ve been heavily involved in the Wisconsin and Michigan chapters in the first 5 years. It is absolutely vital for admissions and enrollment departments to maintain compliance with the NACAC guide to ethical practice so they don’t miss out on this crucial component of collecting leads. Especially for small or mid-sized institutions like I’m familiar with, they can’t afford not to attend the state and regional sanctioned fairs. Missing out could shrink the prospective student pipeline by thousands and thousands of students each year.

Ok. Let’s get back to what’s happening now. This commission has an explicit mission to find systemic barriers for underrepresented racial groups and to infuse racial equity into reimagined college admission and federal aid through local, state and federal governments.

If this happens, membership to NACAC will very likely hinge on subscribing to additional new ethics related to access based on race, which, may I remind you, is independent of merit. Academic merit is not a direct reflection of race. Let’s take this further. If racial equity initiatives and guidelines are added to the NACAC guide to ethical practice, member institutions will be required to subscribe to these principles or risk losing access to hundreds of thousands of prospective students each year. In a time where enrollments, nationally are projected to continue on a downward trend, it would be suicide not to conform and maintain membership. According to recent Wiche data, the number of high school graduates, nationally, is expected to decline by about 15% in the next few years. That means the competition between institutions is going to become even more fierce and exposure to prospective students through NACAC and affiliate-sanctioned fairs is going to become even more crucial. This is a perfect example of how Critical Race Theory is becoming even more embedded in higher education. It's coercion disguised as guidance. If that isn’t disturbing enough, let’s take a look at Lumina, the organization that awarded the grant to NACAC and NASFAA to be able to form this commission in the first place: Lumina Foundation appears to be a Social Justice organization at its core - very much based around advocacy that supports the tenets of Critical Race Theory. On their home page, you’ll see right away: their commitment to racial equity, Stronger Nation: a data visualization tool that “breaks out data by race and ethnicity to highlight stark contrasts rooted in the country’s centuries-long history of slavery, segregation, and discrimination.”

The organization claims to support outcomes-based funding which, in theory, sounds good - holding colleges and universities accountable to ensuring students can graduate on time and appropriating funds accordingly. It sounds almost ideal. Colleges cannot guarantee outcomes. Period. That would eliminate the required variable of each student’s personal motivation among many others, which are too numerous to list. Like the rest of the utopia that Critical Race Theory seeks to create, this is rooted in racial equity and designed for those that are identified as uniquely disadvantaged (non-white) through “bi-partisan research”. These are not assumptions – rather claims that the folks at Lumina clearly articulate on their website. You’ll find that social justice, equity and racial training are much more prominent in their language than anything strictly related to educational areas of focus and they even go so far as to say they’re pushing hardest for ‘equity-first strategies’ and will adjust or phase out those that do not accelerate these learning gains.

They’ve invested significant time into resources on their site that teach “How to persuade people of the need for racial justice and equity.” The site includes this language: “We can’t enter the conversation at an advanced stage of the journey—we must meet people where they are. This means we shouldn’t confuse them with terms such as ‘equity,’ which means different things to different people. Or alienate potential allies by putting them on the defensive.” That sounds really thoughtful. I appreciate that. A great way to start this conversation – to begin with mutual understanding, we’ve talked about several times on this show…However, the rest of their resource page uses the word equity at least 11 times without ever clearly defining it. They assert “opportunity is not yet equal in America: It’s still decided by who you are and where you come from.” The commission is not just hypothesizing ideas or brainstorming a list of initiatives that won’t come to fruition. Listen again to the statements NACAC and its leaders made:

  1. Eliminate racial inequity in postsecondary educational access

  2. Disassemble and reassemble the college and financial aid processes with exclusive focus on eliminating long-standing, systemic barriers to racial and ethnic justice and inclusion.

  3. The ultimate aim is to go beyond theories of equity for postsecondary opportunity and make specific, actionable recommendations for policymakers that can produce changes at the institutional, state, and federal levels.

As Harvard’s admission policies are still under extreme scrutiny, the issue of racial preference in admission is no new phenomenon. The striking thing is that this commission is seeking to justify equitable appropriations in admission and financial aid that are relative to whole demographics.

NACAC is deliberately and blatantly moving to normalize Critical Race Theory in higher education through the admissions pipeline which will inevitably impact merit-based scholarship and admission, promote reckless federal spending, inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars at public institutions, enable more irresponsible borrowing, and will most assuredly be the cornerstone for the potential for racial quotas at institutional and departmental levels. This commission has the potential to shake higher ed at its core and push it over the threshold of being salvageable. Once the recommendations are made and policies start being “reimagined” it will be too late.

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