Operation Varsity Blues: Is the Admissions System Broken?

April 2, 2019
  • AACRAO Annual Meeting
  • Admissions and Recruitment
Operation Varsity Blues In a room with a little over 100 Annual Meeting attendees, a panel discussion tackled the the recent admissions scandal involving wealthy families cheating on admissions tests and bribing testing administrators and university staff. The panel included press representation; David Hawkins, Executive Director for Educational Content and Policy, NACAC; Philip Ballinger, Associate Vice Provost for Enrollment Management at University of Washington; and Tammy Aagard, Vice President for Admissions and Enrollment Management, AACRAO.

Varying perspectives
During the conversation, Hawkins noted that for the public and policy makers the "truth" is that the admissions systems is rigged or broken. This despite the fact that admissions professionals can show data that it is not. Though the process may be imperfect, data shows the profession facilitates more than 2 million transitions to higher education without a hitch.

We have a role to play
During the conversation, Ballinger noted,“This not an admissions scandal. These are people aimed at duping admissions professionals.” As a profession, we have a lot of work to do with legislatures as they come up with policy to deal with this issue.

Aagard added, “We’re very good about giving the numbers but this is very personal.” Everyone has a story about how they did or did not get in. How can we, as admissions people, tell our story?

The answer, Hawkins suggested, is for admissions professionals to remind families that "selectivity" does not equal "fit." We have to push the story of fit.

One attendee, Dr. Laura Parsons, Assistant Professor of Education, Auburn University, questioned this position.

“We’re white-washing the scandal by saying the system works,” she said, adding that that the idea of "fit" is problematic. What does fit mean? What does fit look like? Who belongs in our institution and who does not? The idea creates issues from the outset.

The session began a conversation that AACRAO will surely continue. Aagard encouraged those in attendance to keep an eye out for an email from AACRAO asking for their time, voice, and expertise as we continue this important conversation.