Low-income students to get the most out of college admissions reform

Students from low-income backgrounds stand to benefit the most from university admissions reforms, according to a new study.

Proposals to move to a new approach where students apply to college once they know their grades would not only improve the prospects of working-class students, but also enjoy the overwhelming support of the students themselves.

The majority of UK students apply for higher education before knowing the results of their A level – external exams taken at age 18. Universities make offers based on expected grades, with the offers then confirmed or withdrawn once the exam results are released in August.

This makes the UK an international outlier compared to most other countries, where students apply for higher education once they know their final grades.

But the weaknesses of the British approach were brutally exposed during the summer, when the decision to cancel exams due to the pandemic plunged university applications into chaos.

After initially insisting that students’ grades would be determined by an algorithm based on their school’s performance in previous years, the UK government retrograde in the face of widespread protests, and instead gave teachers’ predictions a bigger role in choosing grades.

This year’s debacle has reinforced calls to overhaul a system that has been in place for nearly 60 years, despite working at the expense of working-class students, who are less likely to earn a place in their university. choice over their middle class peers.

According to a study released today, a move to post-qualification applications (PQA) would both benefit working-class students and be very popular.

According to a survey carried out for the Sutton Trust, a charity that aims to promote social mobility through education, two-thirds of students believe that applying to college after they have obtained their A-level grades would be fairer than the current system.

And less than one in eight (13%) thought that AQP would be less fair than the current system.

Sutton Trust research confirms the view that university admissions, as they are now, disadvantage low-income students.

While 69% of students got places at their favorite university, middle class students were more likely to do so than their working class peers (72% vs. 63%).

And working-class students were more likely to say they would have applied to a more selective university once they received their results (16%, compared to 10% for middle-class students).

Basing college admissions on expected grades also benefits students from more privileged backgrounds, Trust research shows, with students in state-funded schools more likely to be underestimated relative to their grades. real than students in private fee-paying schools (32% vs. 26%).

And even without this year’s mess, predicted grades are a deeply flawed basis on which to make any meaningful decisions, with nearly 85% of students receiving predicted grades that turn out to be incorrect.

“The utter chaos of college admissions this year has revealed major flaws in the system which are primarily due to our reliance on predicted grades,” said Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust.

“The PQA would benefit high-performing low-income students because their grades are often underestimated. The PQA would also allow admissions to become more efficient, simpler and more equitable for all students.

A switch to PQA would have ripple effects. Students receive their results in August, just six weeks before the start of the academic year, an incredibly tight schedule for students and universities to process applications.

One option is to advance the exam schedule, so that students take their final exams and receive their results earlier in the year, allowing more time for the application process.

A better option may be to postpone the start of the higher education year to January, instead of late September / early October, which would also have the effect of giving students a four-month window to get started. other activities before resuming their academic career.

But whatever the solution, the existing application system is clearly on its last legs and has little tradition in recommending it.


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