Promoting equity in higher education admissions is a challenge that institutions are currently facing. In order to create a diverse and inclusive environment for student applicants, it is necessary to update admissions’ organizational processes to actively combat potential biases. Our part in developing the most diverse student population possible is by working closely with college admissions offices by identifying, measuring, and removing the impact of bias and how it occurs within the communication patterns of prospective students and their admissions counselors.
The student application process in higher education admissions is one of the most crucial areas for combating bias. In a survey we conducted in Q1 of 2023, college admission professionals shared their experience and thoughts regarding their school’s DEI objectives. The survey results show that a sizable percentage of respondents feel that DEI goals are not clearly defined for either their student body (27%) or school employees (38%).
Whether it is attracting, evaluating, and admitting new diverse students or retaining current diverse students, there are many ways institutions can implement an intentional focus to eliminate bias and develop the most diverse student populations possible. Here are some methods institutions can deploy to combat bias in college admissions to improve equity within higher education for more inclusive campus communities.
1- Be aware that biases exist
To ensure that prospective students are treated with fairness in their application process, we must first realize that though conscious biases in the admissions process are easy to eliminate, unconscious biases may still be prevalent. Without this realization, it hinders diversity in institutions and gives an unfair advantage to prospective students in the application process.
Our mission is to eliminate racial bias in admissions processes by providing institutions a valuable tool to establish better standards of communication with potential minority students. By doing so, we aim to improve equity within higher ed for a more diverse and inclusive future filled with leaders from varying backgrounds and ethnicities. The first step in achieving this is understanding the many different types of unconscious biases in the admissions. Below are a few common types of unconscious biases:
Once you have an understanding of the types of biases that exist, build strategies dedicated to eliminating them such as implementing new standardized admissions criteria and understanding data from the use of technology to support those new standards. One of the most important insights received from the survey was that a whopping 88% of respondents indicated that there is a DEI champion in their admissions office, which is a great start.
2 – Use standardized admissions criteria
Using standardized criteria establishes a level playing field for all applicants. Multiple screening methods give you a more well-rounded view of candidates. Focusing on just one or two of these strategies can help, but biases can still slip through the cracks. The real strength comes from layering all of these practices on top of each other. By implementing best practices across the board, it creates an admissions process that fights against bias every step of the way.
In the survey conducted, admission professionals were asked specifically what their admissions office leadership does for DEI efforts regarding the student body. The results seem to indicate that although the school may have clearly defined DEI goals, these are less clearly defined or communicated to the admissions counselors themselves and a possible lack of accountability for meeting said goals.
61% stated that leadership provided encouragement
52% stated that leadership provided adequate funding to support diversity tactics
43% stated that leadership presented clear, defined goals
39% stated that leadership set informal target admissions numbers
A way to help standardize criteria is to establish better communication standards between enrollment managers and prospective students. But in order to do so, you must first understand your current communication process to discover potential gaps. Accessible data, such as reports on response time in email correspondences can help identify the root cause of admissions challenges.
3 – Implement helpful technology
While almost half of respondents in the survey feel that their school is meeting DEI goals (47%), the other half feel their organization is falling short. Technology can be a great resource for improving admissions equity because with help from the right software, admissions can get data to uncover unconscious biases starting with the application processes.
76% of respondents state that they would find value in a technology tool that promotes equitable communications with and improves the conversion of applicants of color.
Software like Enroll Assist by Accelerated Equity Insights measures response time rates in correspondences between admissions and student applicants based on various criteria like gender, ethnicity, and location. Understanding this data enables admissions staff to measure communication patterns. This information can help enrollment leaders uncover and resolve biases that hinder reaching admissions’ diversity goals.
95% of respondents indicate that email communications with recruits occur at least 50% of the time, with the remaining 5% being used 30-50% of the time. Clearly, this is a frequent method of communication with potential students.
When asked what their admissions office’s expected frequency of email responses to recruits, what their actual average response rate is, and what they felt would be ideal, respondents replied:
The results above indicate that help is needed in reaching their expected and ideal goals for email responses. Survey respondents would clearly benefit from a tool or system that would help them beat the expected/attain the ideal frequency rates for applicant responses.
Having analytics based on the applicants’ gender, race or ethnicity, and location by zip code readily available, can show discrepancies in delayed email response times. Identifying this potential unconscious bias overall or by counselor in a report can help pinpoint specific challenges which in turn can help admissions run a more inclusive admissions process. Enrollment managers are informed on their team’s performance with useful data points and admissions staff are empowered to deliver an equitable admissions experience for prospective students.
Promote open communication
Fostering a culture of open communication allows students to speak up when they recognize biases that others may have failed to notice. It’s also important to have various voices in decision-making roles. Building a diverse leadership team provides more perspectives and helps eliminate confirmation bias.
Build a culture of inclusion
Building an institutional culture that accepts all students as they are stifles discrimination and bias and helps retain underrepresented students. The two strategies above, promoting open communication and building a diverse leadership team, are vital components of fostering an inclusive culture. However, creating an inclusive institutional climate goes beyond management and communication.
Encourage students to feel comfortable about being themselves
Seek your institution’s feedback to ensure the culture you’re developing is truly inclusive and does not have any biases baked in. Develop programs that hear and invite all students’ ideas, recognize all students’ achievements, and support all students’ developments, regardless of ethnicity or gender.
Combating bias in higher education admissions cannot be solved by a single initiative or strategy on its own. To build equity, schools must remain flexible and constantly seek ways to improve their equity programs while applying best practices with evidence from supporting data. With continued commitment and continuous review of your practices, you can minimize the role of bias in your institution.
Contact us to see how we can help your institution today.
Mcleod, S., PhD. (2023). Fundamental attribution error in psychology. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/fundamental-attribution.html
Perera, A. (2023). Halo Effect In Psychology: Definition and Examples. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/halo-effect.html
Simkus, J. (2023). Confirmation Bias In Psychology: Definition & Examples. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/confirmation-bias.html