Holistic Admissions in the On-Going Fisher Era

Sunday, November 10, 2013
8:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Michele Sandlin

Managing Consultant
AACRAO Consulting

William Sedlacek

‎Professor Emeritus
University of Maryland College Park

A major aspect of strategic enrollment management is ensuring that an institution admits a diverse student group that would contribute to the campus community in meaningful ways. Institutions that implement holistic/broad-based admissions take into account a student’s interests, passions, special talents and personality instead of solely GPA and standardized test scores.

“Schools need to broaden their perspective of who they’re admitting,” said AACRAO Managing Consultant Michele Sandlin. “With vastly changing student demographics, I think [holistic/broad-based admissions are] becoming increasingly important.”

Sandlin and University of Maryland College Park Professor Emeritus William Sedlacek will be sharing their 30 years of supportive research and experience in a preconference workshop at AACRAO’s SEM Conference in Chicago to answer major questions about holistic/broad-based admissions and how to implement non-cognitive variables in the admissions process to better assess student potential and institutional fit.


What is holistic admissions, and why is it important for institutions to implement it?

Sedlacek: These days, institutions are aware of the problems connected to the traditional measures we use in accepting and admitting students. On top of that, we are now assessing students from different cultures and backgrounds that our traditional tests and measures are not suited to evaluate. We need to look at the effects of holistic and broad-based admissions in the context of traditional measures to determine its effectiveness. We’re here to talk about alternative admissions methods that have been researched and how they have been implemented successfully.

Sandlin: Schools need to broaden their perspective of who they’re admitting. With vastly changing student demographics, I think this is becoming increasingly important. Some schools we’ve worked with are caught in a cycle of raising test scores and GPA requirements for enrollment. By expanding to include holistic broad-based admissions, it helps to open the door to successful candidates.


What challenges would institutions face when implementing holistic admissions for the first time?

Sedlacek: Part of it is because we, as people, are used to tradition – and even more so, in higher education. Secondly, it’s easier to hide behind grades and test scores, but this stops the admissions process from being creative. What we and AACRAO have done through workshops is to show affordable options that work and are innovative. We have some leadership things to offer our attendees.

Sandlin: I would also add that for most institutions, the practical application is overwhelming to them, particularly with regards to staffing and technology. We both worked at institutions that have implemented holistic and broad-based admissions and we will be bringing that experience to the table.


How does the Fisher era tie into holistic admissions?

Sedlacek: The Supreme Court has upheld the idea that you can use diversity as one variable of your admissions process as long as it is supportive to applicants and your school. The Fisher case says that you can legally use other variables that indirectly focus on diversity and end up with lots of different people in your class. It supports the logic and morality of achieving diversity in a practical way.

Sandlin: Campuses are concerned about legal challenges from Fisher. In a conversation with the director at the University of Texas at Austin, admissions were following exactly what they thought was the right thing to do. My previous institution was challenged initially during implementation by some of our cultural communities because they were worried about an extra barrier to applicants. After imlementation, these challengers became stronger advocates because holistic admissions provided access to students who were successful.


What are you looking forward to at the SEM Conference?

Sedlacek: I want to make sure that other people are aware of these perspectives. This workshop further spreads the word on cutting-edge SEM topics. We’re trying to be proactive by circulating the newest ideas and practices.

Sandlin: This is a practical method to help institutions do their job and attract the kind of students they want to their campus who can be successful.