NACAC Briefs Congressional Committee After Bribery Scandal

Pictured: David Hawkins, NACAC’s executive director for educational content and policy, Daniel Saracino, retired dean of admission at Notre Dame (IN) and former NACAC president, and Mike Rose, NACAC’s director for government relations.

The recent bribery scandal has captured the attention of the media, the nation, and the US Congress.US Rep. Donna Shalala, a former president of the University of Miami (FL), hosted a Congressional briefing Thursday afternoon. The briefing was intended to inform members of the House Committee on Education and Labor and their staffs about the dynamics that led to the scandal, as well as broader concerns about access and equity in college admission.

“I thought I had seen everything in higher education,” she said. “…I realize higher education would like to isolate this — I certainly would’ve as a college president – to a small group of people who basically used money to bribe people. But it really goes down to the integrity of higher education.”

Shalala stressed that she did not necessarily see a role for federal legislation in this matter but did see a need for “broader discussion.”

NACAC was represented on the panel by Daniel Saracino, retired dean of admission at Notre Dame (IN) and former NACAC president, and David Hawkins, NACAC’s executive director for educational content and policy. Tiffany Jones, director of higher education policy at the Education Trust, and Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, rounded out the panel.

Read the transcript of Hawkins’ opening remarks:

Thank you Congresswoman Shalala, committee members, and staff for inviting me to participate in today’s briefing on behalf of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Our association is comprised of more than 15,000 school counselors, college admission officers, and other professionals committed to a code of ethics based on core values that include equity, fairness, trust, and social responsibility in the college admission process.

The occasion for today’s briefing is shocking in scope, though it recalls a familiar dynamic. We recognize that while the behavior revealed in the high-profile bribery indictments is extreme, this scandal has elicited strong currents of concern about access to higher education and the integrity of the admission process. We condemn the behavior described in the indictments and are watching closely as these cases make their way through the criminal justice system. We are also committed to working with our members as they seek to further protect the integrity of the admission process.

College admission has changed a great deal over the last century, becoming more open and transparent along the way, and it continues to adapt with each passing year. We are aware of concerns that the admission process is ‘broken,’ but the process overall, however imperfect, functions reasonably well, given the structural inequities that surround and permeate all of education.  As a result, we should examine the questions arising from this scandal carefully and deliberately. It is important to keep in mind that colleges and universities recruit and enroll millions of students every year through processes tailored to each institution involving an evaluation of academic achievement and many other contextual factors, with the aim of assembling a class that reflects the balance of priorities that each institution establishes.

It is helpful to consider a few framing points to put the discussion about college admission into context:

  • Each year, more than two million students make the transition between secondary and postsecondary education at more than 3,300 non-profit colleges and universities;
  • At four-year non-profit colleges, the average acceptance rate is 70 percent; 65 percent if open-enrollment four-year colleges are excluded from the calculation.
  • Finally, admission decisions are made with many different institutional considerations in mind. It is important that students are academically qualified, but also that the students admitted comprise a class that is of sufficient depth and breadth to sustain the institution and its goals.

Of primary concern, though, is that persistent challenges that place postsecondary education out of reach for many students remain unsolved, and this moment provides an opportunity to underscore our collective priorities for addressing these challenges. The range of policy considerations for which our members advocate is broad, including more equitable K-12 school funding; more school counselors to assist students making the transition to college; and more funding for public postsecondary education and student financial assistance.

Our hope is that we can take this opportunity to examine our collective concerns to take another step toward solving persistent challenges related to fairness and equity in higher education.

Watch a recording of the briefing.

Ashley Dobson is NACAC’s communications manager for content and social media. You can reach her at adobson@nacacnet.org.

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