Higher Education Webinar: The Changing Landscape of Admissions Criteria

Thursday, September 7, 2023
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Cofounder and Former Chief Executive Officer and Editor, Inside Higher Ed


Vice President for National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

Scott Jaschik, cofounder and former chief executive officer and editor of Inside Higher Ed, leads the conversation on the changing landscape of college and university admissions criteria.

FASKIANOS: Welcome to CFR’s Higher Education Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR.

Today’s discussion is on the record and the video and transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org/Academic. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.

We’re delighted to have Scott Jaschik with us today to discuss the changing landscape of college and university admissions criteria. Mr. Jaschik was a cofounder and former chief executive officer and an editor at Inside Higher Ed, a media company and online publication that provides news, opinions, resources, and events focused on colleges and university topics. He previously served as editor for the Chronicle of Higher Education and was a former board member of the Education Writers Association. And he’s a leading voice on higher education issues, publishing articles in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere.

So, Scott, thank you very much for being with us today. There’s a lot here to cover, I thought maybe you could give us context and set the stage of the current trends in college and university admissions, as well as the role and importance of international students and scholars at U.S. universities.

JASCHIK: Sure. Thanks very much for the invitation. And it’s great to speak to CFR people. And it’s great particularly because you’re a group whose interests extend far beyond higher education. And it just goes to show, higher education is important to every society and everyone, really. So I think this is a great opportunity for me to talk to you. And mainly, I’m excited to hear what the attendees have to say about these issues. But briefly, to give an overview.

The big issue, and I want to say a few—one thing, in terms of setting the context. Admissions, talking about college admissions, can vary hugely depending on who you are talking about—by student, by institution, and so forth. So I’m going to talk, for instance, at the beginning about affirmative action. And I’ll talk about the institutions that are most affected by the recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. But then I’m going to talk about a trend in the rest of higher ed, direct admissions, and how that affects people in higher ed. And then at the end, I’ll throw in a few comments on the international students.

So on affirmative action, the big news was this summer the Supreme Court ruled six to three that colleges—that two colleges in particular, Harvard and UNC Chapel Hill, were not following the law with respect to how they used affirmative action in admissions. It was a very strong decision, a very thorough decision, but one that greatly upset most people in colleges. The general public generally is a little bit skeptical of affirmative action. But in higher ed, there is very strong support for affirmative action.

Now, it’s important to remember that this decision will directly affect maybe two hundred institutions. Now, it may indirectly affect many more down the road. I’ll talk about that in a minute. But it’s important to remember, at most colleges—you know, you read these stories every year about how under 5 percent of applicants get into Harvard, Yale, and whatever. Well, most colleges admit most applicants. And I’ll just repeat that, because it’s really important to remember. Most colleges admit most applicants. I think that is largely lost in the coverage of late on affirmative action.

And it’s really important, if you have an opportunity, to shout that out to the world. Because even if a student doesn’t feel comfortable applying to an elite college or university, it’s important to always say that there is a place in higher ed for that student, and for all students. But on higher ed, this is a big decision for higher education because most of the top colleges in the country have used affirmative action in admissions. They don’t maybe want to talk about it now, but they have used it for their admissions processes. And now they can’t. And, you know, there’s really a lot of skepticism about what it will be like.

Now, the expectations are based on the University of California, the University of Michigan, and the University of Texas, because in prior court rulings and in state votes they do not use affirmative action. And if you expect them to follow—to follow what’s going to go on, people will predict a major decline for Black students, Latino students. White students actually are not going to gain a lot. Asian students will gain. But that’s based on those past examples.

There’s a big question mark this year which is about the admissions tests that in the past were required of all students, but now they aren’t. And test-optional admissions truly took off during the pandemic, because there was a period of time when students literally couldn’t take the SAT or ACT. But a secondary reason, and arguably, I think, the more important reason, colleges dropped the test-optional—or, went test-optional, is this decision. They knew it was coming and this gives them a lot more flexibility. So do I expect to happen what happened with the University of California? I would say yes, but, because nobody really knows what the impact will be of test-optional admissions.

Now, very quickly, some other things on affirmative action to remember. Many colleges are adding essays specifically to reach students who are minority students or who have particular experiences that colleges want to have. And this is, again—remember, even if a college asks, are you Black, Latino, or whatever, they cannot use that information when they evaluate students. So that will be totally invisible to the colleges. The Supreme Court decision explicitly said that students can write about their experiences in life and how that affects them for higher ed. But the Court’s going to be watching very carefully and wants to make sure that anything that the students say is not just a way to go back to considering students differently, as the Court said, on the race and ethnicity. Also, there’s a group working to create a new system to evaluate students’ character, because character is something that many people cite but they don’t really have a way to cite it. That’s the kind of thing that we’re seeing.

Now, there are other issues too. Legacy admissions, in which colleges favor the children of alumni or relatives, that is under real tight scrutiny right now. There was nothing in the Supreme Court decision to say they couldn’t do legacy admissions, but many colleges are uncomfortable given that they cannot use the systems they came up with to help Black, and Latino, and Asian American students get into college. They are uncomfortable with legacy admissions because it primarily helps white students get into college. And that’s not something they want to do. Similarly, early decision is something that is very controversial, because it primarily helps white students.

Now what’s unknown is two things. One is the final rule, so to say, on admissions. That’s going to be decided not by anything I say or that anyone else says, but it’s going to be back in the courts. I would be absolutely certain it will return to the courts. And they will, you know, hash that out. Also, there’s the question of financial aid. Some colleges award—and this is many more colleges—award financial aid in part based on race and ethnicity. Is that legal? We don’t yet know. Some players on both sides have offered their opinions, but that will be a huge decision that will come down.

Now I want to talk about another issue in higher ed that’s going on, which is direct admissions. And if you’re not familiar with direct admissions, in direct admissions students do not apply to colleges. Students simply fill out a form, which includes their transcript, any test scores they want to submit, and roughly where they want to go to college. I don’t mean institution names, but, like, I live in Connecticut and these are the—and I want to go to college near my home. It’s important to remember, most college students go to college near their homes.

So and then after that, colleges will look at the application that they filled out. And colleges will admit those students. Now direct admissions is very popular among all the institutions that I wasn’t talking about before, because it is a good way to recruit more low-income students, who seem to really like this system. But direct admissions has primarily been used on a small scale. And that—we have to see what will happen as it goes to a larger scale. So that is something still to find out.

And then on international students, with international students most colleges very much want international students. But there are key things that may make it difficult to recruit them. One is foreign—the foreign relations, as your group well knows. I mean, you’ve got the war in Russia and Ukraine, which didn’t send a lot of foreign students to the United States, but they sent some. And, interestingly, some of the colleges in New York City have both Russian and Ukrainian students at the same college. And they are dealing with issues related to that.

But the most students have come from China. And our relations with China are, frankly, pretty bad right now, I would say. And that raises real questions about which students will come. My guess is that the top universities are not going to have a loss in foreign students, or at least not a substantial loss. But it’s important to remember, foreign students are enrolling at every type of college and university. And they may be affected at institutions that aren’t as competitive in admissions.

So that’s my rough answer to your question. Have at it.

FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Thank you so much.

And now we’re going to go to all of you for your questions and comments. And please use this as a forum too to share best practices.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

So I’m going to take the first written question from Edie Gaythwaite, professor at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida: The issue of essays is now the use of AI-generated essays being submitted. So how do you see the admissions process moving forward with this in mind?

JASCHIK: That’s a great question. And it’s something that’s getting a lot of attention right now. And I’m going to answer first for what’s going to happen this year, and then I want to talk about the future. Right now, this is making a lot of people in admissions very nervous, because every day someone does a story on—on the way AI can be used to write essays. Colleges don’t know. So they are nervous. Now, some of the services that colleges use to detect plagiarism can also be used, they say, to maybe detect the use of AI. So that’s one possibility. Others are suggesting that colleges should instead of using regular essays, should require an essay that is handwritten and was graded by a high school teacher, and to turn it in with the high school teacher’s grades. Now that’s a little—there’s something odd about that, in that that assumes that the student didn’t use AI in high school, which, you know, who knows if that’s true.

But the reason I would say not to get a huge panic this year, is that a bunch of colleges are working on the issue. I suspect that by the end of this year, they are going to have better ways to deal with AI than they do right now. So I would say, you know, watch. But remember—and the other thing I would say is to remember past examples. Remember, when Wikipedia first started? There were people saying, no college student is ever going to write his or her own essay again. They’re all going to come from Wikipedia. Well, they’re not. And so because a lot of people figured out how to use Wikipedia, and how not to use Wikipedia. So I don’t mean to sound like a Pollyanna, but there may be a better way coming.

FASKIANOS: Our next question comes from Beverly Lindsay. Beverly, please identify yourself and ask your question.

Q: Can you hear me?

FASKIANOS: We can. We can.

Q: Great. Beverly Lindsay, University of California, multicampus. Hello, Scott. Good to hear your comments.

I have something that wasn’t quite covered. Because I have been at two major research universities, actually more, but two in particular. They actually have informal legacy admits. And I would like your speculation on how that will continue. The second part of the question relates to HBCUs, particularly the ones that are known as the Black Ivies. I was at two of them. And I also know that they are concerned about having more diverse students from different economic backgrounds. Could you comment on that as well? Thank you.

JASCHIK: Sure. Those are very good questions.

So, first, on the informal legacies, which is something I have heard about. And I, in fact, did a story about a university that said it was eliminating legacy admissions, but it turned out they weren’t. They still had legacy admissions. And that’s because legacy admissions is something that colleges like to talk about with their alumni, but maybe not with the public. It strikes me that informal legacy admissions really doesn’t make sense. If you believe in legacy admissions, defend it. But informal strikes me as inappropriate, frankly.

Now, on the HBCUs, and particularly, the so-called top HBCUs, there’s interesting developments with regard to affirmative action. When California eliminated affirmative action way back when, more Californians started to go to Morehouse, and Spelman, and other very good HBCUs. And we are going to see more of this in the next year, I think. But at the same time, I would caution against assuming that HBCUs can provide the answers to everything here. Morehouse and Spelman, despite being great colleges, to not have the financial aid that Harvard and Stanford have. They just don’t. There’s not enough money there. And it’s a different kind of experience, a great experience for some students. But financially and otherwise, there are limits to what they can do.

Now, if Morehouse and Spelman could grow by a thousand students, well, that would sound wonderful. But I don’t think they can grow by a thousand students, at least not immediately. So this year, I think we’re going to be watching what goes on at those colleges. So I hope I’ve answered.

FASKIANOS: Great, thank you.

I’m going to take the written question from Todd Barry, who is professor at Hudson County Community College? Excuse me. How safe is it geopolitically for U.S. professors to teach abroad?

JASCHIK: How what is it?

FASKIANOS: Safe is it.

JASCHIK: Oh, how safe? I think it really depends on the country. In lots of countries it is totally safe, in that—you know, you have to be realistic. What is—how safe is it to teach in the United States is a legitimate question, in some parts of the country. To go abroad, there are real issues if the country is not secure, it does not have an adequate system for making sure that people are protected. And also, there are issues related to the potential in other countries for anti-American thought to happen and to be a cause of concern. At the same time, there are many countries where you will find yourself welcome. And I think it’s great for American college professors to look for those places and to go abroad. They will learn as much as they will teach. So I think that’s, you know, that’s great.


Don Habibi has raised his hand, and also written a—written a question. But, Don, I think you’ve put your hand down, but I’d love you to ask it yourself, if you could unmute yourself.

Q: OK. Yes. Hi.

Yeah, my question was triggered by the first AI question. And that is, what’s to prevent—or how do you check a student who writes a fabulous story of their overcoming adversity or their combat experience, or whatever it is that, you know, would just sort of bring them to the top of the applicant pool. And the likelihood of fact checking that sort of thing is pretty small. And I mentioned in the question that several times reporters won Pulitzer Prizes for reporting on stories, and they made them up.

FASKIANOS: And Don is—can you give us your affiliation?

Q: I’m a professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

JASCHIK: Yes, that is a real concern. And it’s not just in admissions. Colleges are worried about that issue in the essays they will assign to students to write after—you know, after they’re enrolled. There, they—some people are arguing for in-person writing. You know, in class, where the students will be forced to write it down. Now, some students say they can’t write a long, handwritten essay anymore, because all they can do is type. And I have some sympathy for them, but that’s what they’re saying. It goes back to what I said before. Colleges are working on solutions to this and going to try. I would say that a good admissions counselor should be able to see some things that come out in their applications. Also, some colleges are changing their essays so that they are more about the college you are applying to, to make it more difficult to use a copied essay.

FASKIANOS: Thank you very much.

The next question we’ll take from Melissa McGinnis, assistant director of admissions at Yale University’s Jackson School of Global Affairs: What are your thoughts on how these affirmative action issues impact graduate admissions for professional programs, not PhD?

JASCHIK: Sure. Yeah, well, I’ll tell you about both. In law schools, medical schools, business schools, it is the same thing. That there’s no expectation that this decision doesn’t apply. And they have got to redo their systems and procedures just like their undergraduate counterparts do. PhD programs actually are interesting, though, because in many colleges and universities, those decisions are done by the department level. And it is more difficult to control a department than it is to control a whole school. You know, you may have six members of the English department or whatever deciding on admissions. But they can’t use race. That’s just—and if they do they’re going to get sued. So that’s just the rules.

FASKIANOS: Great, thank you.

We have a raised hand from Sneha Bharadwaj. Excuse me if I did not pronounce it correctly, but you can correct me.

Q: OK. So my name is Sneha Bharadwaj. I’m from Texas Woman’s University here in Dallas, Texas.

I was following up on other questions you answered regarding the holistic admission process. And I’m wondering, beyond the handwritten essay, are there any talks about video interviews or uploading video prompts, where you hear from that person? And if that is something that’s in the talks or is being considered, because I think we’re all in the same boat of wondering how this holistic admissions is going to work.

JASCHIK: Right. Well, and Texas Woman’s University is a great example. It is a—it is a university in Texas that has men, for those who are not familiar with it. It is not—does not just admit women. And it’s—and in recent years, it’s become quite popular and is growing with more people using holistic admissions to get in. So, you know, to do an interview for everyone, on the one hand, it makes perfect sense. You meet the people, find out about them, find out about their interests, et cetera. But in most colleges, and I don’t know if this is true of Texas Woman’s University, that is a major undertaking, to interview everyone, even via Zoom.

And most college admissions offices will be hard stretched to interview every student. Also, there have been charges that admissions interviews favor or don’t favor minority students. They are said to favor them, if colleges want to admit more minority students. They are said to disfavor them when the students don’t have the same expertise in doing interviews as wealthier students do. And most of the wealthy students are white students. So it is something that they are looking at, but I am not sure it will work at very many institutions this year.

Q: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

So I’m going to take the next question from Kurt Schmoke, who is the president of the University of Baltimore: Which states are using direct admissions? And will this spread to other states?

JASCHIK: Great question. Nice to have a president here. And so, there are not any statewide requirements, but Minnesota is the state to look at. In Minnesota, they made it possible for any college that wanted to, to use direct admissions. And most of the colleges opted in in part. One college opted in entirely. They said, that’s the way you’re going to apply to get into that college. Most colleges, though, are doing it on a piecemeal basis, admitting just some students. And I’m curious, does the University of Baltimore—did you use direct admissions?

FASKIANOS: Kurt, if you want to unmute and respond, that would be great. We’d love to hear your experience.

Q: Sure. The closest that we have to that is dual enrollment programs that allow students to obtain X number of credits. And it usually is with the community college, some with high schools. But now I’m quite interested in this direct admissions. So I’ll take a look at what Minnesota is doing.

JASCHIK: Right. You should do that. In Minnesota, the colleges that definitely didn’t do it were the flagship University of Minnesota campus and Carleton College. You know, again, colleges that get tons of applicants don’t need to, but it was all the other colleges. And if you search on Inside Higher Ed’s website, you’ll find a bunch of stories on the players in direct admissions, EAB, the common app, et cetera. There are places you can go. Niche does direct admissions. There are places that would love to talk to you, I’m sure.

Q: Good, thank you.

FASKIANOS: I’m going to take the next written question from Kevin Collymore, who is an assistant dean of retention and persistence programs at the University of San Francisco: How will institutions handle donor gifts, scholarships intentioned for students of color moving forward?

FASKIANOS: Very carefully. (Laughs.) They will have to say that a gift cannot be used by the college specifically for minority students. In fact, some think the best way will be for colleges to work with outside groups, and to say: Don’t give us the money. Give it to the such-and-such foundation. And then that group may decide to give financial aid to minority students at the University of San Francisco, or any university. But this is very much in play right now, in that I think it’s one of the issues about which there will be a court ruling soon.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

I’ll take the next question from Mahmood Khan, a professor at Virginia Tech: Can you comment on anything that can be done about the time to get a U.S. visa? Students cannot join because they didn’t get visas on time. So I guess they couldn’t come this semester.

JASCHIK: That is a terrible problem. And it has been a big issue this year. Many of the—going back to the pandemic—at the height of the pandemic, no one wanted to come to the United States. (Laughs.) And the United States didn’t really want them. Everyone was viewed as a threat, really, to the health of others. Since then, officially, they’ve opened up. But students from certain countries report incredible delays in getting their visas. And particularly these are students trying to travel to the United States from countries where there are many Muslim students, or many Muslim people and Muslim students. And they say they’re not rejected, but they just—it just takes forever for them to fill out and to get an answer.

Now, why this is sort of—it’s subject to debate. Many of the people who work in processing visas say they are working as fast as they can, looking for the information they need, et cetera. Many in higher education view that very skeptically. And they see students who they cannot think of a good reason why that student should be denied a visa. And it just lingers. Some colleges have taken to educating students abroad for their first semester when they can’t get in. But that is something that only some colleges can do. And also, it denies the students what they’re seeking, which is a real experience at Virginia Tech, or any college.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

Beverly Lindsay has her hand—I don’t know if that’s a residual from your last question or if you had a follow-on comment. OK. I’m going to move on, then.

I’m going to take the next question from Michael Strmiska, a professor of world history at the Orange County Community College: Do you think that the ban on affirmative action in student admissions might eventually apply to academic employment? I teach in a community college with very low representation of non-white faculty and I think if the Supreme Court or other powers signaled that any diversity motivated hiring among minority faculty could come under dispute this would hamper or even halt our very slow progress toward creating a more diverse faculty.

JASCHIK: You’re absolutely right. And many colleges do use affirmative action in hiring. The court decision itself did not speak to that. However, if you look at the justices on the court today and imagine a case involving academic hiring reaching them, it is hard for me to imagine the six justices would not also object to affirmative action in hiring. And that would be very limiting in terms of who colleges have to hire. Now, there is some leeway in that academic hiring decisions are mainly made at the department level, with some administration involvement. I don’t know if that will work. But I think you’re right to see that as a potential problem ahead.


The next question is from Galia Benitez, an associate professor of international relations at Michigan State University: You began the discussion by asserting that the number of Black and Latino students was going to decline. How do you see the actual class environment for professors and for minority students already in the system or in the future who form part of a minority would be teaching and learning in a less diverse environment? In short, what would be the consequences of these new admissions rules and learning?

JASCHIK: The consequences aren’t good. We are already seeing racial incidents on campuses that sort of relate to the Supreme Court decision. And when the Supreme Court has taken up these issues in the past, they have similarly been incidents about race on campus. In terms for learning, again, I think it’s going to be very negative because students look to a diverse student body to learn, for all the reasons that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote back in 2003 still apply. Well, or I think they should still apply. They aren’t. They don’t apply because of the recent Supreme Court decision. I think it’s going to be tougher for faculty members who are truly committed on those issues.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

I think Beverly has re-raised her hand, so I’m going to try again. Beverly, I’ll give you a few minutes to—seconds to unmute yourself. You’re still muted. There we go.

Q: I don’t know what’s happening because I didn’t have another question. There may be a technical problem, but since I’m on I will ask something else.

FASKIANOS: OK. (Laughs.) OK.

Q: Scott, with reference to the international students and the international faculty, as we know in many of the tier one, AAU major research universities, and the ones also in our neighboring countries like Canada with the University of Toronto which is also a member of AAU and McGill, for example. A number of the faculty and the PhD students in particular—this is one of my areas of research—are in the STEM fields, but they’re from other countries. So how are we going to think of other ways to get diverse students, whether they’re Canadians in Canada, or Americans in the United States, to be able to pursue some of these programs in STEM fields?

JASCHIK: It’s going to be very challenging. Look, in STEM fields international students are admitted not because only—in the past, haven’t been admitted only because of affirmative action. They’ve been admitted—there aren’t enough American students of any race or ethnicity to fill those classes. There aren’t. And that is true at any university in the country, really. Now it’s not that there aren’t talented Americans, but they are not—they’re just not in the right numbers to help. And so, you know, a bunch of things. When recruiting international students or recruiting any students, it’s money. And here, the University of California, I’m less worried about than colleges that are not as high in the rankings as UC is. But, you know, it’s money. And it’s also—it’s also mission. Why you come and do that. And it’s really important that professors have good answers to questions—to both of those questions, because they are going to be asked. But, no, it’s not going to be easy at all.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

I’m going to go next to Beth Hillman. Beth, do you want to ask your question that you’ve written? Putting her on the spot.

Q: Sure. I just—I’ll read it there. So how will the new return on investment economic models influence student choices about institutions and programs?

JASCHIK: Return on investment, I don’t like the use of return on investment but I’m in a minority. And a lot of students and their parents love it. Look, return on investment is greater if you are a student in STEM at MIT than if you’re a student in English at any college or university. That’s just a fact. But to me what that misses is that in many areas the student studying English may have a perfectly good return on investment. And it’s important for colleges to publicize the actual returns that students get.

Look, students who study English, and history, and political science, and whatnot, are not, in fact, as a group, ending up working at Starbucks And they, they have the ability to get good jobs. Now, most of them, they get good jobs by not staying as a—in that field. I am a history major. I am not a historian. And most people don’t seem to really understand that. But every year people will come up with more ways to rank colleges by return on investment. I don’t really put too much in it.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

Please raise your hands if you have more questions. I see none—no more raised hands or written questions, but we’d love to hear from you.

So I do have a couple, though. I wanted to ask you a little bit about how do you think the U.S. higher education admission strategies is affecting our image in the world, our global standing?

JASCHIK: That’s a really important question. Look, most people abroad would love to attend a great American college or university. They felt that way during the Trump administration, during the Biden administration, during the Obama administration. They want a U.S. college. Now, that doesn’t mean that they favor the U.S. in terms of what the U.S. is doing around the world, but they do value American colleges and universities. There’s no doubt about that. And so, in fact, I’d say it’s a real loss that the U.S. doesn’t act with more on that, because—you know, potentially it’s a great, great reason to come to the U.S.

FASKIANOS: And what resources do you recommend for higher ed leaders and administrators to better understand how to promote equitable missions, processes, or to navigate now what’s this current landscape?

JASCHIK: Read Inside Higher Ed—(laughs)—and, you know, pay attention to the issues. If you are at an elite institution, there’s a set of questions that you have about early admissions, about legacy admissions. You know, why are you continuing those policies if they are specifically resulting in—(coughs)—excuse me—in the admission only of white students? Align your financial aid to admitting more low-income students. You can base it on income, not race and ethnicity. Totally legal. And, you know, why aren’t more colleges doing that? If you are a less-wealthy institution, and an institution of less stature, I would raise the same question, particularly about merit aid—so-called merit aid, is what I would call it. Because merit aid is really aid for those who don’t really need aid. And, you know, why do you do these policies that don’t—that don’t actually improve things in terms of your student bodies?

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

I’m going to take the next question from Todd Barry. Again, it’s Hudson County Community College: Will any of President Biden’s debt forgiveness programs be upheld by the courts? And will college rankings involve more companies to become more diverse?

JASCHIK: Companies?

FASKIANOS: Todd, do you want to just clarify that second part of your question? Thank you.

Q: Yes, thank you. Will there be more organizations that put out college rankings rather than just the two that do so already?


FASKIANOS: Thank you.

Q: Thank you.

JASCHIK: I suspect there will be. I’ve yet to find a ranking that I truly like, because I personally believe that college—the way to pick a good college is not to look at what somebody else said are the rankings of colleges. It’s just not a good way. But it may be a good way for some people to make a lot of money, so the rankings will continue. I’m sorry. I just forgot. What was the first part of that question?

FASKIANOS: The first part was—let me pull it back up—will any of President Biden’s debt forgiveness programs be upheld by the courts?

JASCHIK: Ah, yes. I don’t know. (Laughs.) The most recent of his debt relief things are being challenged. And I don’t know. I really don’t know if he’ll be successful. It depends which judges the cases are before to tell. Yet, I think I saw—I read this weekend, four million have applied for the most recent debt relief, with more expected to. That’s a lot of people.

FASKIANOS: I’m going to take the next question from Amanda Shanor, assistant professor of legal studies and business ethics at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School: Why haven’t universities used First Amendment arguments to defend their admissions policies? And should they do so in the future?

JASCHIK: I don’t think that that argument would carry the day with the current Supreme Court. I just don’t. They were—if you read the decision, if you listened to the arguments that were made, they were wholly committed to getting rid of affirmative action. It may help in the future with a different Court, but I think we have the current court for a while.

FASKIANOS: I’m going to take the next written question from Edie Gaythwaite, again, a professor at Valencia College: To build off the global conversation, do you see institutions actively recruiting international students as admission applications decline?

JASCHIK: Definitely. Many colleges—most colleges have some international recruitment strategy. Now, at—at Valencia, I don’t know what your strategy is. But, you know, many Florida colleges, they are trying to—they have a tremendous advantage in Latin America, as opposed to Europe and the Middle East. That may be something that they are trying. All types of colleges are pushing for more students. And it makes perfect sense. They should definitely recruit more.


And then we’re going to take the next question from Sneha again, from Texas Woman’s University: How does removing scholarships and merit aid impact enrollment and retention?

JASCHIK: It depends what institution you’re at. Many institutions use merit aid to get students who wouldn’t otherwise attend. And that’s just a reality. Most students are making their choice based on a combination of factors, both the academic quality of the institution and the money. And so shifting it is a risky business. Now, some colleges that are more prestigious have managed to eliminate merit aid. But the main problem for colleges that are not in the elite is that they are trying to get some students who wouldn’t come, to come. And they’re very nervous about eliminating merit aid for that reason.

FASKIANOS: And now that the—the pandemic is in the rearview mirror, have the admissions or the matriculation from international students—is that going up again?

JASCHIK: Slightly. The big study comes out, I think, in December. So we don’t know yet for this year.

FASKIANOS: Mmm hmm. Great. OK, so I’m doing a final call for questions from the group.

Oh, I think—oh, one more from Kurt Schmoke: Do you think that the Court’s exemption of military academies will undermine their rationale for ending affirmative action?

JASCHIK: You know, that’s really interesting. And the group that led the campaign against affirmative action, they are right now seeking plaintiffs at all the military academies. So I don’t think it’s going to last long. And I don’t know. The court may have left it in place because they truly believe it. But in reading the overall decision, I would have a hard time imagining them voting to uphold it anywhere.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

We have a raised hand from Dena Bateh at NYU.

Q: Yes. You pronounced that perfectly correct, thank you.

My question is somewhat related, but maybe just on an alternative tangent. And it’s something that I’m going to be doing some research on. So I do teach at NYU, but I am an administrator at another institution. And I’ve noticed—I’m in New York City, of course. And I’ve noticed the pattern of referring to students as consumers or customers has been a prevalent topic. And I can’t even tell you how that boils my blood rather than, say, learner. So that’s my research topic. But I’m wondering, how is this being addressed? You know, to uphold the standards of higher education, what are your thoughts on moving forward beyond a Google certification or just certificates that will get students who are—who have not pursued higher education to a certain point, but then they’re going to need to return? What are your thoughts on that, I think, in general will be.

JASCHIK: So I share your distaste, I guess, for calling students consumers. Look, you know, in a real higher ed environment, professors are teaching and they’re also testing students on what they’ve done, period. But there are some areas where a more consumer approach can work. I did a story about fifteen to twenty years ago about—I wanted to take an online course. And I sent off emails of my interest, didn’t say it was for journalism, to some nonprofit and for-profit places. And the for-profit places clearly saw me as a customer. And they wrote immediately—I mean, within an hour—and said, what can we do to help you? Blah, blah, blah. That spirit should be prevalent at any college, particularly that’s going to get a lot of low-income students. That’s how they will get more low-income students. So in some areas thinking about students as consumers is OK, but I hope they don’t do it overall.


I’m going to take the last question for Babafemi Akinrinade: In Washington State, minority students will number white students in a few years. Will the Supreme Court decision impact the efforts of colleges to recruit these minority students, especially as the state is worried about declining birth rates, while other states are poaching students from Washington State. And Babafemi is with Western Washington University.

JASCHIK: So it shouldn’t. Look, it’s great if Washington State has great numbers of students. They should shout out to the world. More colleges should go and recruit. That’s just the fact of life. In the United States today, at Harvard—which was in this decision—they are a majority minority institution. So it didn’t really help them out, but it can help—but lots of colleges can recruit students of all kinds, in Washington State and elsewhere.

And thanks so much for your invitation to speak today. And I hope you found it useful.

FASKIANOS: We did indeed. Thank you very much, Scott Jaschik. I appreciate it. And to all of you for your questions and comments. We enjoyed this conversation. We will be posting the video and transcript online afterwards if you want to review it and share it with your colleagues. You will receive an invitation to our next Higher Education Webinar under separate cover. In the meantime, I encourage you to follow @CFR_Academic on X, formerly known as Twitter, and visit CFR.org, ForeignAffairs.com, and ThinkGlobalHealth.org, for research and analysis on global issues.

We also have a dedicated series for students and professors, so professors can invite their students to join the Academic Webinar series. And the first one of this semester is next Wednesday at, I believe, 1:00 p.m. So I hope you will join us for that. If you haven’t gotten an invitation, please do email us at [email protected].

Again, thank you all for being with us today. We look forward to your continued participation in our program series.


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