Colleges slash paperwork to speed enrollment -
Published Sunday, October 27, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 6:42 pm
Colleges slash paperwork to speed enrollment

It can take weeks for colleges to tell high school applicants whether they’ve been accepted, often because they’re waiting for the official high school transcript to arrive.

But drop the transcript, some colleges say, and the answer can be given in a day or two.

It’s a practice that’s still not widespread in the college admissions world, where high school transcripts have long been required to serve as official proof of a student’s grades and record of course selection. But college admissions offices increasingly are choosing to let students self-report their GPA and standardized test scores to speed up the process in an environment where colleges face stiff competition in recruiting new students.

Iowa State University dropped the transcript requirement for applicants three years ago. Doane College in Crete, Neb., recently made the change. And the University of Nebraska-Lincoln expects to make the change by 2015.

The colleges will still check the student’s application against transcripts if they enroll, and can rescind the offer if it turns out the student was dishonest.

“This is a lot of paper we wouldn’t do anything with other than shred over the course of time,” said Joel Weyand, vice president of enrollment and marketing at Doane.

There are just two numbers that matter at the Crete-based college: grade point average and ACT or SAT score. Out of 2,000 applications, only about 350 will actually enroll at Doane. It’s wasted paper and wasted time, Weyand said.

“We want to cut to the chase of talking about why Doane is the right school for them,” Weyand said.

The change won’t lower academic standards, Weyand said — just get potential students to the decision phase much faster.

Weyand said the goal will be for students to receive an admissions response within five business days, though the answer could be available as quickly as the next day.

Once a student decides to enroll at Doane, he or she still will be required to authorize the high school to send in a transcript — as has always been the requirement — to show senior grades and graduation.

Though it may seem simple, making the change requires a big cultural shift at universities, said Paul Seegert, director of admissions at the University of Washington in Seattle.

His university was an early adopter of the process more than a decade ago, and Seegert often gives presentations on it at admissions conferences. He said interest seems to be growing in making the change, which can relieve stress for students as well as admissions staffers. Counselors will now have a standardized, electronic record and students no longer have to worry about when their high schools will send in their transcripts.

“With our application now, they know we have everything we need,” Seegert said.

At UNL, incoming freshmen in 2015 will still be evaluated on their high school performance, but the information will be self-reported.

Applicants will be asked to share virtually all the information from the transcript, making it a part of the application itself.

University officials will check to ensure applicants received at least a 2.0 in 16 core classes and evaluate other criteria, and then send an answer within 24 hours, said Alan Cerveny, dean of enrollment management.

“The earlier we get a student admitted, the more time we have to talk with them about what the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has to offer them,” Cerveny said.

The change has been well-received at Iowa State, said Phil Caffrey, director of admissions, operations and policy. Admissions officials have had few problems with honesty and are no longer drowning in paperwork, Caffrey said.

“In terms of reducing the workload, it’s been an enormous success,” Caffrey said.

Students report their coursework and GPA to Iowa State as part of their application, and the university promises an answer in 48 hours.

But the change is not for everyone.

Many Nebraska colleges, including the University of Nebraska campuses in Kearney and Omaha, are not considering the change.

At Creighton University, officials say it’s a good move for regional colleges, but the transcript can give important context on students and schools.

The majority of students come from out of the state, said Mary Chase, Creighton’s associate vice provost for enrollment, and the high school profile that comes with the transcript is crucial.

“As a nationally focused institution, we may not have 20 or 30 students from one high school we know very well,” Chase said. “We have applicants coming from Hawaii to Maine.”

Creighton admissions officers want to know more about the high school — how many Advanced Placement courses are offered, average test scores, and other information — to evaluate what a student’s own performance there means.

“Having the transcript allows us to do a holistic review and puts things into a better context for us,” Chase said.

Reviews from high schools have also been mixed. Some have said thank you for the reduced course load, according to Weyand at Doane, but others don’t understand the change.

Stacy Athow, department chairwoman for counseling at Ralston High School, said she worries about taking the transcript out of the equation.

Ralston has software to generate and send electronic transcripts, so Athow said it’s not a time-consuming task. She worries that less emphasis on the transcript will mean colleges miss out on signs of a rigorous course load — and bring about an unintended consequence, if students believe colleges aren’t paying attention to whether they’re taking advanced algebra or chemistry.

“I think students will take the easier route sometimes, and it isn’t helpful when they get out in the real college setting,” Athow said.

Contact the writer: Kate Howard Perry    |   402-444-3185    |  

Kate writes about Nebraska's community colleges, state colleges and university system.

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