Money. Race. Privilege. Class. Inequity.


Now is the Moment to Disrupt the College Admissions Process
Here Are Some Ideas Curated by the STEM PUSH Network

By David Boone, Jan Morrison and Davin Sweeney

STEM Push Network logo
The STEM PUSH Network (Pathways for Underrepresented Students to Higher Education Network), one of the NSF INCLUDES-funded Alliances, uses a networked improvement community approach to transform college admissions. The STEM PUSH Network aims to:
  • Develop a pre-college improvement community within the National STEM Ecosystem
  • Develop an accreditation system for STEM pre-college programs 
  • Provide an equitable, evidence-based metric to higher education institutions to consider participation in accredited STEM pre-college programs for admissions purposes 

        Keep reading below for their recent blog on disrupting the college admissions process (or check it out here). Then, watch the STEM PUSH Network and the STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice webinar where three college admissions experts discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled standardized tests, making now the ideal time to push for radical change in the college admissions process to make it a more equitable system designed for the needs of students of color, those from low-income backgrounds, and other minoritized groups. 


        The world of college admissions is under the national microscope in a way that it has never been examined before.  

        With scandals involving celebrities using their wealth and influence to gain access for their children, to COVID-19 pausing standardized testing, there has never been a better time to work for systemic change in the college admissions process. 

        The STEM PUSH Network (Pathways for Underrepresented Students to Higher Education Network) is working to transform the admissions process by providing an alternative, evidenced-based metric that gives real weight to out-of-school time, pre-college STEM programs in admissions decisions.  

        Through communications, advocacy, and hands-on work with pre-college STEM programs and other community-based partners, the STEM PUSH Network is raising awareness of existing inequities and providing tangible pathways for ushering lasting change. Read more about the work of the STEM PUSH Network and watch an introductory video here 

        The work in front of us is daunting. Changing traditions, interrogating values and assumptions and disrupting what has become so entrenched will take time, courage, and resolve. 

        “Higher ed is both really successful in this country, but also really immune to change and unregulated from our federal government policy perspective.” - Eric Waldo, Executive Director of Reach Higher, VP for Access and Equity, Common App 

        We are determined. In addition to our work to create an evidence-based alternative admissions metric, we have already sparked meaningful conversations with national admissions experts and developed action plans for what you can do now to join the movement for change. 

        The following set of action steps have been compiled from a series of conversations with STEM PUSH Network leaders as well as national college admissions experts.  
        1. Shift the conversation. Move the conversation beyond standardized tests and start talking about work students do that shows their abilities far more than what can be measured on standardized tests. Recognize that standardized tests measure only a narrow set of skills, while you may work with students on projects or initiatives that go far beyond just that slice of valued outcomes. Don’t be afraid to discuss and promote your work and initiatives and how they engage students.
        2. Recognize inherent, legacy and hidden bias. Narrow measures of students’ abilities will likely be fraught with deep bias. Be committed to understanding this and taking initiative to change what could be “legacy” bias that has carried over from previous times. This legacy bias, which could be ingrained in processes and procedures, may no longer represent the institution’s intent.
        3. Interrogate assumptions, criteria and questions. The assumptions that have been used to build the questions for how students are admitted to college likely contain bias that will disadvantage certain groups of people. Do not be afraid to question the question and suggest different ways of thinking about what matters for college admissions and how those qualities might be measured.  At the same time, it is critical for institutions to consider what they are trying to achieve in building their freshman class. Questions about what the freshman class should look like, be able to do and what knowledge, skills and dispositions are necessary for this.
        4. Work in your sphere of influence. Be sure to exercise your influence in the areas where you operate. Identify where your voice and thoughts will carry immediate weight and be sure to speak loudly and often.
        5. Use research and data. Use research, data, curiosity and intellectual rigor to poke holes in assumptions and demonstrate how racism is baked into traditional college admissions processes. The data will put you in a powerful position to dispel myths that are so rife about how minoritized students perform in college and about the process of college admissions itself.
        6. Follow the conversation. Join the STEM PUSH Network by following us on LinkedIn and Twitter 


          David Boone, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and a member of the STEM PUSH Team 

          Jan Morrison is the founding partner of TIES, the Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM and is a Co-PI of the NSF INCLUDES STEM PUSH Network.  

          Davin Sweeney is a former University of Rochester admissions counselor and current college counselor in New York City.