Index measures campus efforts to create welcoming environments for religious and non-religious diversity 

 By Renee L. Bowling, Laura Dahl, and Matthew J. Mayhew 

The topic of diversity in education elicits strong feelings across the political spectrum, yet religious, secular, and spiritual (RSS) diversity is often left out of the conversation despite its importance to students’ lives. Reactions seen on university campuses in response to the Israel-Hamas war have underscored the importance for educators, administrators, and counselors to engage with this underrepresented form of diversity and its intersections with history, culture, and politics to understand how to support diverse worldview communities on campus. 

The Interfaith Spiritual, Religious, and Secular Index, or INSPIRES Campus Climate Index, measures an institution’s efforts to establish a welcoming climate for students of diverse RSS identities. Built by researchers at The Ohio State University and North Carolina State University, INSPIRES is grounded in data gathered through the Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey (IDEALS). The project first began in 2020 and is now in its third intake. It is funded by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, an organization committed to courageous multi-faith efforts.  

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Unequal Distribution

By Don Heller, Gigi Jones, and Abby Miller

The recent dismantling of affirmative action and the COVID pandemic highlighted the barriers preventing underserved, underrepresented students – students of color and those who are low-income and first-generation – from enrolling in college. A college degree is the pathway to social mobility for families trapped in the cycle of poverty. However, the rising costs of college are increasingly out of reach for many students.

Financial aid discussions have centered on simplifying FAFSA and increasing federal Pell Grants – all important – but federal student aid policies are only one funding source for families trying to determine how to pay for college. Further, Pell Grants cover just under one-third of tuition and fees at the average four-year, public college in the nation, leaving families to cover the remaining two-thirds of tuition, along with living expenses, books, and other costs. This leaves, on average, over $15,000 a year for students and families to fund, many of whom lack savings and may be living paycheck to paycheck. Institutions can also do their share to make college more affordable. Continue reading Unequal Distribution

Research Underway by Gates Foundation Partners to Better Understand Test-Optional Admission


NACAC, in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and several other organizations, is carefully exploring admission policies and practices in an increasingly test-optional or test-free environment. In a previous post, we provided an overview of the project, which is grounded in the work that the Task Force on Standardized Admission Testing for International and US Students completed in 2021.

“The task force observed that if standardized testing perpetuates or worsens inequities, and if it is to remain a part of the undergraduate admission process at all, it must receive the most stringent of reviews,” according to the task force’s report on standardized testing.

As an extension of this thinking, the committee recommended that colleges’ decisions about their test policies should “include a plan for frequent reviews.” The 2021 task force also noted that simply going test-optional or test-free will not in and of itself universally improve equity. As colleges navigate the immediate future of test-optional and test-free admission, in addition to the broader equity considerations related to college admission, they must ensure that historically marginalized perspectives are front-and-center as admission offices craft policies to adapt to a new legal and political landscape.

NACAC’s role in facilitating conversation about equitable admission practices in the current admission context is to ensure careful examination of admission policies and practices, particularly as it applies to improving equity outcomes for college access.

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NACAC’s Facilitative Role in the Ongoing Discussion of Test-Optional Admission


One of the most significant effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the college admission ecosystem was the relatively rapid and nearly wholesale adoption of test-optional (or test-free, in some cases) admission policies by colleges and universities.

Prior to the pandemic, the biggest challenge to an institution considering moving to a test-optional admission policy was the institutional decision-making thicket that could prove difficult to navigate, in part due to the inertia that can define systems and structures and inhibit movement away from the status quo. COVID-19 short-circuited the process, as colleges moved away from test requirements out of necessity: The admission testing infrastructure—high schools, for the most part—was locked down. The decision was, in many ways, made for colleges and universities as much as by colleges and universities. Now that the pandemic is receding in the distance, colleges and other stakeholders must begin the hard work of assessing whether the switch to test-optional admission will produce hoped-for improvements to equity, a process that will require careful examination.

Continue reading NACAC’s Facilitative Role in the Ongoing Discussion of Test-Optional Admission

Addressing Community College Enrollment Concerns

It is getting closer to the fall semester and your application numbers are below last year’s count.

Numerous campus administrators and staff members are concerned and offer plenty of potential ideas to reach more students.

Extending admission office hours beyond 5 p.m., adding in some weekend hours, increasing marketing, and scheduling more in-person and virtual open houses are some of the usual approaches. And crucial conversations about the numerous steps to start college or reenroll—and the importance of a “one-stop” approach to student services—are also taking place.

It’s tempting to jump right into action, implementing several strategies all at once. But by doing a bit of internal research first, you’re more likely to hit upon a solution that proves successful for your unique institution and student body.

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‘It Depends’: Responding to Common Financial Aid Questions


Students, parents, and guardians regularly ask questions about the financial aid process. Those questions begin as families work to complete the FAFSA for the first time and continue for the entire time a student is enrolled in college. Then, after graduation, students routinely seek advice as they check on upcoming student loan payments and may have new questions about graduate or professional school funding.

Although each student’s situation is unique, knowing how to respond to common financial aid questions can help you effectively advise the students you serve. Questions involving application status and refund status are very common, and the answers are rarely cut-and-dry. But even if you can’t offer students a firm “yes” or “no” — providing information specific to their situation can help ease confusion, as illustrated in the examples below.  

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4 Questions to Ask on College Tours this Summer


Editor’s note: A version of this column was first published on the Minerva Project blog.

In the United States, summer is time for a much-deserved school break, family vacations, and for many students college campus tours.

In fact, some students visit so many colleges over the summer it’s dizzying. When I was an admission counselor at a university that saw more than 50,000 visitors per year, I often asked groups of students and families at our information sessions how many schools they had already visited. Usually it was a handful or two at most. But one time a girl raised her hand and had a jaw-dropping list of 35.

This is not a knock on the college tour. It can be a valuable tool in helping students decide which school is a good fit for them. But herein lies the challenge: The more schools you visit, the more they tend to sound — and look — the same. This makes it even more important to ask the right questions when you visit.

Continue reading 4 Questions to Ask on College Tours this Summer

What’s the (hold) back?


Students who go through the enrollment pipeline process, financial aid, and other related procedures will sometimes be faced with “holds,” specifically, administrative process holds.

Administrators typically place holds on a student’s online account to urge them to act on a variety of specific tasks (much of which is guided by a federal or an institutional policy). For example, students may need to complete their financial aid documents to pay for their courses on time, pay an outstanding balance, register for classes, or finalize their admission process.

Continue reading What’s the (hold) back?

Swatch Watches & College Choices


It was the spring of 1985 and all I wanted was a Swatch watch. There wasn’t a specific one that I wanted; I just really wanted a Swatch. I had spent most of ‘84 ogling the bold plastic watches that I would see some of my lucky friend’s wear. In the mall we would walk past the glass display box in the department store on the way to the Naturalizer store for my mom’s beige work pumps. The loud colorful watches were screaming, “Look at me!” I always did. There were so many to choose from, too many. After what felt like years of asking and pleading for a Swatch, my mom finally agreed, but on one condition. 

“If you clean up the yard, I’ll take you to pick out a Swatch.” 

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Tax Filing: What You Should Know About Education Tax Credits


Two years after the world learned to use “quarantine,” “pivot,” “Zoom meetings,” and other words associated with adapting to the pandemic, some important terms that many students, families, and educators may not know much about — but have been around for a long time — are “tax credits” and, more specifically, “education tax credits.” Typically, words such as “taxes” and “IRS” are avoided unless speaking directly to a tax professional, but bringing awareness of the terms is crucial to helping families and educators learn about the benefits they offer.

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