28: Test-Optional Admission Decisions at Bloomfield College w/ Adam Castro

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Adam Castro, Vice President for Enrollment Management at Bloomfield College, discusses the potential accessibility, enrollment and academic benefits of test-optional admission decisions.

It breaks your heart when you're putin that position and you know you have a talent to student in front ofyou and you just can't bring him to your campus. And so that's whereit all started. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, thebest professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their collegeor university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or toolsand resources, you've come in to the right place. Let's get into theshow. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect eTou podcast network. I'm Arek Oleson, AVP of marketing at Helix Education,and we're here today with Adam Castro, vice president for Enrollment Management at BloomfieldCollege. Adam, welcome to the show, direic, thanks for havingme. Appreciate it. I'm so excited to have this conversation today about theaccessibility, the enrollments and the academic benefits of test optional admission decisions. Butbefore we dive too deep into that, Adam, can you get the listenersa little bit better understanding of both Bloomfield College and your rule? They're sureso blooms college is a small private for your institution up in northern New Jersey, not too far from New York City and right next to a major metropoliccity and New Jersey, Newark, best known for the airport. You know, we serve a very interesting student body. I mean and we have about twothousand students were you know, majority of our students are first time fulltime college students of traditional age. We're minority majority. About half of ourstudents are of African American descent and we're about thirty percent has been in Lutinoand that number is growing pretty rapidly. Another thing that makes us pretty uniqueis we serve a very high need student population. From a financial as stirpoint, our average household income has ranged between twenty six thousand and thirty thou overthe last several years so, which extremely low. We have a seventy percenttell eligibility rate, which is by far...

...the highest rate or four your institutionsin New Jersey and really makes us a bit of an outlier nationally in termsof institutions that are not open in a mission and serve a population that isseventy percent or more pelle eligible. There's only a handful of colleges out therethat do that. So we take, you know, our mission very seriouslyand it's certainly one of access. From an emission standpoint, I'm always sayingno, we're looking for reasons to give students a chance. So we're workingwith underrepresented student populations and, you know, we're trying to find those students thathave the motivation to see at the college level. So, you know, rather than, you know, being a selective institution where we're trying tofind, you know, reasons or ways to really shape the the funnel andincreasing the selectivity of the institution and maybe even the profile the institution, weremuch more rooted into a mission of access and that's something that we're very,very proud of. But it also makes it unique and it brings on,you know, several challenges, which I'm sure we'll talk about today. Interms of my role as vice president for Roman management, I oversee the operationsof admissions, financial aid and marketing at the college. I've been at thecollege for about fourteen years now. I actually came up on the emission side, so I started, you know, as an emissions counselor on the roaddoing everything did it for several years. I pretty much held every role onthe admission side and I've been at the vice president level now for about sixyears. Awesome, Adam, you mentioned how many of your students come fromhouseholds with high financial need, seventy percent being pel eligible. Why is standardizedtesting in general a consistent barrier for this population? Yeah, I think it'sreally a matter of economics, you know. I just don't think students that arecoming from, you know, from low income families, are able toafford test prep. You know they can't afford it, the prisoner of viewsof the world and and so right there you can have an uneven playing fieldbetween students that you need to take the...

...sat in order to get in thecollege that can't afford test prep, and then also students, again, studentsthat you know can afford then they're taking multiple, multiple classes, private tutoring, whatever it may be, that's giving them a leg up, because there'scertainly an aspect of, you know, practice and familiarity with the exam thatgo along with good test scores. I think we can all admit that atthis point. And then I think, you know, this is really changeand this is some certainly something that's happened in New Jersey. Is when Istarted in two thousand and three and I was on the road, I wasworking with a ton of test prep courses, ectricular activities in the high schools,you know, after school programs that were focus just on test prep,where they had teachers, that they had volunteers doing those type of things,and those of all but dried up. And this maybe just a New Jerseything, but I imagine that, you know, as these towns and schooldistricts are defunded and rising costs, I mean at the first thing to goare these extracric activities and those are essentially gone with the schools that I workwith. So without those that additional free help, you know, it becomesa huge barrier for low income students to be able to really get comfortable withwith standardized testing but, you know, beyond that, to do well onit. And I think you know that's become even more apparent recent years.And now talk about why you believe there's a much better academic correlation than testscores to ensure a student will be academically successful of Bloomfield and what that is. Yeah, well, I think this is also depending on the school.It depends on the school, depends on the student population. So when wewere deciding whether we wanted to go test optional or not, it was reallyme that was the one that was on the fence for years. I meanthis is a conversation that we've had for several years of boom field and mybiggest issue was, you know, we deal with a lot of, youknow, large public, some would say overcrowded, high schools, you know, and the curriculum at these high schools, not to mention the transcripting at thesehigh schools, because in New Jersey we don't have standardized transcripting, whichis also a problem. But the curriculum...

...varies from school to school, fromdistrict to district, and it could be widely and so that has a hugeimpact in our ability to evaluate whether or not a student is college ready.Now, the sat or the Act has always been that second indicator, likethat warm blanket, you know, that gives us a another, you know, attribute of a student from an academic standpoint that says whether or not theymay or may not be college ready, and it was always kind of thatsafety blanket for us and in recent years, you know, I've looked at ita little bit differently and and I really wanted to dive in the data. So I mean, that's exactly what I did. I mean I Itook my assumptions and I kind of threw them out the window and I said, let's just see what the data tells us. And I think the biggestthing for us was, I mean it was clear that sats as a standaloneattribute had almost zero correlation with Student Success at Bloomfield College. And the waywe determine that was, you know, one of our biggest barrier because ofthe student population in which we serve is really the first semester academically. Youknow a lot of our students are not ready for the college atmosphere, toschedule, the time management, and so that first semester is hugely important,probably more important than students coming from other demographics or other institutions. And sowe found that the direct correlation between first term performance and then ultimately an abilityfor a students persistent eventually graduate in a timely manner was almost completely geared towardtheir academic performance in consistency at the high school level. So they if theywere consistently getting bees or higher in their core college prep and honors course workat the high school level. That was translating almost directly to their performance inthe first term and it was pretty shocking how close these students, once theywere kind of segmented out of our total population of our freshman class, howclose they were performing to high school and...

...the students they were getting had athree point one in high school, getting a three point one, you know, in their first term. For students are head of a two point eight. You know, may have dropped. You know, we're a little bithad a higher likelihood of dropping to maybe a two point six, but we'restill academically okay after that first term and they would were able to persist.So I mean, I think it was just making sure that we got reallycomfortable with the data and once we started to really pair out what was happening, it became really clear that we are looking, I'm probably waiting attributes,a little bit incorrectly and that we need to look much more heavily at theirperformance in consistency in high school. There are now more than one thousand fouryear nonprofit colleges that offer test optional admissions decisions. You mentioned that it's somethingthat had been on your mind and been weighed for the last three years.Do you remember the initial impetus that made you start even considering moving this waya bloomfield? Yeah, I do. I just started getting sick of mystomach by rejecting students with a three point five high school GPA and low orno Satra acts course because I knew they can do the work. And inmy gut I knew that the student in front of me, you know,that was getting a's in, you know, honors biology or taking, you know, AP Computer Science Courses, but couldn't perform on our standardized test score. I knew they could do the work at books coach and I knew theycan they could probably do the work at the vast majority of colleges and universitiesin this country. And yet because of our admission standards and having an sator act requirement, I was not able to admit those students and and Ithink that you know having had to do that, you know, hundreds oftimes over the years. If only got to the points where I said,we have to look at this more deeply in to see if there's a waythat we can help the students. And you know, again it all goesback to mission. I think the reason why my campus was receptive to theidea when it was presented, and you know, it wasn't easy to getit, to make it happen, but...

...it was from day one. Everybodywas receptive because we have an access mission and and people feel verily strongly aboutthat. And certainly you know when you're talking about allowing high performing students theability to go to college, even though they struggle for standardized testing, thatreally falls in line with an access mission. So that's how how we were ableto get it going. And but it really was that simple. Imean, you know, it's it breaks your heart when you know you're putin that position and you know you have a talented student in front of youand you just can't bring him to your campus. And so that's where itall started. You spoke of your access mission missionally, test optional admission decisionsabsolutely makes sense in terms of access, in terms of ensuring diversity amongst yourclass. Do you believe that it also makes sense in terms of overall inRoman growth, making sure that you are enrolling students deliberately who will be ableto persist and succeed a bloomfield. Well, that's what I'm banking on. SoI'm hoping that this move for us, and that's exactly what happened and Ithink we're seeing some interesting things on the in emission side with this cyclebeing that we're, you know, this is the first time that we're admittingstudents that not a test optional basis for fall two thousand and eighteen. Youknow, a couple of things that we're seeing early on, as we seemon a whole, of more engaged accepted student pool. So the students thatwere admitting seem to be more engaged. We have a higher tendance rate atopen houses, campus tours and URCP rate for except the student day that's comingup. We have earlier deposits than we typically get, which, you know, obviously, from my perspective, is fantastic. We even have, youknow, higher fastest submission rates and higher open rates on our emails to acceptthe students that in years passed. So I really think this is opened usup to a population that may, we may not have been serving before,but maybe even, you know, more engaged than our typical student student bodyin years past. So it's going to be really interesting to see how itplays out because obviously, you know,...

...with all those things you would hopethat your yield would increase, you get earlier to pods, see your classearlier, and if those things happen, then you know, this could bea wild success, but it also could be, you know, work dealingwith small samples this early in the process. So it could just be kind oftrend. This an early trend, but nothing that really pans out.But you know, I'm really excited to see, you know, what kindof happens from here. I mean right now. I mean you know,typically we receive about thirty six hundred freshman applications a year. We're going togo well beyond that this year. On my goal was to increased applications byabout ten percent because of test optional and that's just based off of talking withpeers that have made the move and to see what a kind of the pressand getting the word out has happened to them. But we may be closerto twenty percent increase in applications and you know, I don't think it's anysurprise that as of right now, twenty percent of our applicant pool has comein under a no test policy, meaning that they've on the application, they'vesaid that they're not going to submit their test courts and they don't want themconsidered. Almost half of the students have gone with the gave us the Collegeof the options decide whether the go tests or non test and what's better forthem. So it's a tremendous amount of students that, you know, havekind of opted into this program and I think that's really driving, you know, the kind of these early indicators, which I couldn't be more excited about. That's awesome. Have you had to personally deal with any faculty pushback concernedyour next incoming class may be less academically qualified than prior years? Yeah,Firstpike is definitely not the word I would use. I mean, it tookus a good two years to make this happen. I mean these are conversationsthat go back a while in terms of, you know, presenting this, butwe did at the right way. You know, we went through facultygovernance. I went to the Faculty Committee on a roll and management and that'show we presented it to the full faculty. You know, I had the supportof, you know, my vice presidents and whom I work with thepresident the board of trustees, and we...

...even, you know, we wentout to students and ask them, you know, what they think and whatthey what they would have wanted as part of their emission process, and Ithink that, coupled with having the data to back up the decision, youmade it a relatively easy process and there was some certainly some back and forthand and I told the understood because I think the faculty, just like me, we're very used to having that second academic, you know indicator being SatraAct to kind of go along, you know, as kind of a checkand balance or what the emission team was doing in terms of bringing suited toknowing that. You know, a lot of schools that we work with have, you know, inconsistent or or challenging curriculums in terms of how we evaluatethem. So it was an interesting discussion, but it was always very collegial and, you know, I was really, you know, pleasantly surprised, youknow, when it was all said and done, how enthusiastically the facultyadopted that the test optional policy. Awesome, awesome. Any next step? Advicefor institutions who maybe listen to this and can empathize with your kind ofPitt in the stomach feeling, feeling like you're you're rejecting students that would succeedhere and looking for a different way how to best start that conversation on theirown campus. I mean, I think the best way to start it iscertainly just to dive into the data first. That mean look at the look atwhat's driving your emission numbers, look at with driving yield, look atwhat's driving your attention and graduation figures, and try to determine what way highschool curriculum, the type of high school GPA, standardized testing, leadership,whatever those things are, and see what what the weight is for each andhow it's really impacting a students ability to persist and ultimate graduate your institution.And I think once you have that baseline, you'll be able to start making someconclusions fairly quickly about whether or not...

...this is something that could possibly workon your campus. And then you can obviously, you know, dive reallydeeply into the into the data to see if something that can work for thepopulation at large or these are select students that could certainly benefit from this.Then, as we just talked about, I mean I think from day one, if this becomes some serious conversation, you have to include the campus communityand the decision making process. The worst thing you could do is try topush this through without getting buy in from your faculty, buying from of yourboard of trustees, you know, and buy in from the cabinet, certainlybuy and from the president of the institution, because you know it's a big moveand it could really change, you know, the way the emission structureat an institution is going to be for several several years and it's going totake a lot of work to analyze and assess the success and or lack ofsuccess for a program like this. And so there's going to be a lotof people involved, everybody, institutional research, you know, through you know alumni. So I mean, I think the last thing you want to dois kind of keep it a secret while you're going through, you know,the research and developmental phases for the program. And then what I've seen, andI think we handled this really well, is we made the decision well beforethe start of the recruitment cycle. I found it really interesting that,you know, after her we made the decision. Obviously I started, youknow, looking at google new seeds and seeing what other schools are doing andthe timing they were using, and I thought it was really interesting that severalschools, you know, announced these things kind of mid cycle or well afterthe start of an emission cycle. Now overy schools a little bit different interms of when the recruiting students. So obviously that makes sense. I mean, we know we essentially recruit on an eighteen month calendar, the middle ofyour junior year, early junior year, probably at the earliest for the mostpart, just the type of institution that we are, and other schools thatare recruiting, you know, eighth and...

...ninth graders, and so it's alittle bit different for them. But you know, if you're on a calendarlike us, I mean you just have to get ahead of that. Soyou have to be able to spread that word well ahead of when year recruitmentcycle starts, and I see a lot of schools that I think you knoware similar to us, that are doing that a little bit late. SoI would just make sure that you're cognizant of the timing and winch in whichyou roll this out, just so it's certainly in line with your emission cycleand recruiting needs. But I mean it's and I think just from a personalstandpoint, this emission cycle has been the most fun I think I've ever hadin my career. Yes, there's in terms of, you know, lookingat the numbers, seeing the trends, you know, seeing the application increases, seeing how excited the admission staff are to not have those, you know, heartbreaking rejections that we discussed earlier and just, you know, they havethis sense of pride of being able to go out there to a high schooland announce that, you know, we've moved the test optional on and Ithink it's getting a really good response from school counselors and certainly from, youknow, our students of parents who, you know, always a plot.You know, we bring it up at an open house, we bring itup on a campus tour. It's one of that you can see the smilingfaces and the sense of relief on many of our students of parents faces.So I mean that's always great as well, but it's been a really fun ride. I really just hope it, you know, from a assessment standpoint, it pays off for the institution, but you know, it's something thatwe were all behind and we certainly thought it was worth, you know,a Beta test, and I mean this is more of a big test isa full rollout. But will assess it and if it works, fantastic andwe're going to roll with it and if it needs to be tweaked, wewill certainly, you know, pross that bridge when we come to it.And if it's if it's total failure, I mean that's you know that.I don't think that's going to happen, but it's certainly possible and then wewould have to, you know, shift again, and that's kind of whatwe do in this admissions world and and we try to find the best wayto represent the institutions and to help our students and we think for us rightnow, this is the way to do...

...it. Love it, such greatstuff, Adam. But what's the best place for listeners to connect with youthey have any followup questions? Sure, I mean the best way to reachme. I'm really active on twitter at Adam Castro E. to you,is where you find me there. If anybody wants to email me directly ifthey have any questions, they certainly can. At Adam Underscore Castro at Bluefield DOTeedu awesome. Thanks against so much for joining us today. Adam.Here's really my pleasure. Thanks for having me on. I really appreciate it. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educationsdata driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universitiesthrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second editionof their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions cansolve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom. Playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. Toensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show and Itunes oryour favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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