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 put in that position and you know you have a talent to student in front of you and you just can't bring him to your campus. And so that's where it all started. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come in to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect e Tou 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 Bloomfield College. Adam, welcome to the show, direic, thanks for having me. Appreciate it. I'm so excited to have this conversation today about the accessibility, the enrollments and the academic benefits of test optional admission decisions. But before we dive too deep into that, Adam, can you get the listeners a little bit better understanding of both Bloomfield College and your rule? They're sure so 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 metropolic city and New Jersey, Newark, best known for the airport. You know, we serve a very interesting student body. I mean and we have about two thousand students were you know, majority of our students are first time full time college students of traditional age. We're minority majority. About half of our students are of African American descent and we're about thirty percent has been in Lutino and that number is growing pretty rapidly. Another thing that makes us pretty unique is 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 over the last several years so, which extremely low. We have a seventy percent tell eligibility rate, which is by far...

...the highest rate or four your institutions in New Jersey and really makes us a bit of an outlier nationally in terms of institutions that are not open in a mission and serve a population that is seventy percent or more pelle eligible. There's only a handful of colleges out there that do that. So we take, you know, our mission very seriously and it's certainly one of access. From an emission standpoint, I'm always saying no, we're looking for reasons to give students a chance. So we're working with underrepresented student populations and, you know, we're trying to find those students that have the motivation to see at the college level. So, you know, rather than, you know, being a selective institution where we're trying to find, you know, reasons or ways to really shape the the funnel and increasing the selectivity of the institution and maybe even the profile the institution, were much 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. In terms of my role as vice president for Roman management, I oversee the operations of admissions, financial aid and marketing at the college. I've been at the college for about fourteen years now. I actually came up on the emission side, so I started, you know, as an emissions counselor on the road doing everything did it for several years. I pretty much held every role on the admission side and I've been at the vice president level now for about six years. Awesome, Adam, you mentioned how many of your students come from households with high financial need, seventy percent being pel eligible. Why is standardized testing in general a consistent barrier for this population? Yeah, I think it's really a matter of economics, you know. I just don't think students that are coming from, you know, from low income families, are able to afford test prep. You know they can't afford it, the prisoner of views of the world and and so right there you can have an uneven playing field between students that you need to take the...

...sat in order to get in the college that can't afford test prep, and then also students, again, students that 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's certainly an aspect of, you know, practice and familiarity with the exam that go along with good test scores. I think we can all admit that at this point. And then I think, you know, this is really change and this is some certainly something that's happened in New Jersey. Is when I started in two thousand and three and I was on the road, I was working 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 Jersey thing, but I imagine that, you know, as these towns and school districts are defunded and rising costs, I mean at the first thing to go are these extracric activities and those are essentially gone with the schools that I work with. So without those that additional free help, you know, it becomes a huge barrier for low income students to be able to really get comfortable with with standardized testing but, you know, beyond that, to do well on it. 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 test scores 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 we were deciding whether we wanted to go test optional or not, it was really me that was the one that was on the fence for years. I mean this is a conversation that we've had for several years of boom field and my biggest issue was, you know, we deal with a lot of, you know, large public, some would say overcrowded, high schools, you know, and the curriculum at these high schools, not to mention the transcripting at these high schools, because in New Jersey we don't have standardized transcripting, which is also a problem. But the curriculum...

...varies from school to school, from district to district, and it could be widely and so that has a huge impact 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, like that warm blanket, you know, that gives us a another, you know, attribute of a student from an academic standpoint that says whether or not they may or may not be college ready, and it was always kind of that safety blanket for us and in recent years, you know, I've looked at it a 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 I took 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 biggest thing for us was, I mean it was clear that sats as a standalone attribute had almost zero correlation with Student Success at Bloomfield College. And the way we determine that was, you know, one of our biggest barrier because of the student population in which we serve is really the first semester academically. You know a lot of our students are not ready for the college atmosphere, to schedule, the time management, and so that first semester is hugely important, probably more important than students coming from other demographics or other institutions. And so we found that the direct correlation between first term performance and then ultimately an ability for a students persistent eventually graduate in a timely manner was almost completely geared toward their academic performance in consistency at the high school level. So they if they were consistently getting bees or higher in their core college prep and honors course work at the high school level. That was translating almost directly to their performance in the first term and it was pretty shocking how close these students, once they were kind of segmented out of our total population of our freshman class, how close they were performing to high school and...

...the students they were getting had a three 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 bit had a higher likelihood of dropping to maybe a two point six, but we're still 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 really comfortable 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 their performance in consistency in high school. There are now more than one thousand four year nonprofit colleges that offer test optional admissions decisions. You mentioned that it's something that 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 way a bloomfield? Yeah, I do. I just started getting sick of my stomach by rejecting students with a three point five high school GPA and low or no Satra acts course because I knew they can do the work. And in my 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 they can they could probably do the work at the vast majority of colleges and universities in this country. And yet because of our admission standards and having an sat or act requirement, I was not able to admit those students and and I think that you know having had to do that, you know, hundreds of times 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 way that we can help the students. And you know, again it all goes back to mission. I think the reason why my campus was receptive to the idea when it was presented, and you know, it wasn't easy to get it, to make it happen, but...

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

...with all those things you would hope that your yield would increase, you get earlier to pods, see your class earlier, and if those things happen, then you know, this could be a wild success, but it also could be, you know, work dealing with small samples this early in the process. So it could just be kind of trend. This an early trend, but nothing that really pans out. But you know, I'm really excited to see, you know, what kind of 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 to go well beyond that this year. On my goal was to increased applications by about ten percent because of test optional and that's just based off of talking with peers that have made the move and to see what a kind of the press and getting the word out has happened to them. But we may be closer to twenty percent increase in applications and you know, I don't think it's any surprise that as of right now, twenty percent of our applicant pool has come in under a no test policy, meaning that they've on the application, they've said that they're not going to submit their test courts and they don't want them considered. Almost half of the students have gone with the gave us the College of the options decide whether the go tests or non test and what's better for them. So it's a tremendous amount of students that, you know, have kind 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 concerned your next incoming class may be less academically qualified than prior years? Yeah, Firstpike is definitely not the word I would use. I mean, it took us a good two years to make this happen. I mean these are conversations that go back a while in terms of, you know, presenting this, but we did at the right way. You know, we went through faculty governance. I went to the Faculty Committee on a roll and management and that's how we presented it to the full faculty. You know, I had the support of, you know, my vice presidents and whom I work with the president the board of trustees, and we...

...even, you know, we went out to students and ask them, you know, what they think and what they what they would have wanted as part of their emission process, and I think that, coupled with having the data to back up the decision, you made it a relatively easy process and there was some certainly some back and forth and 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 Satra Act to kind of go along, you know, as kind of a check and balance or what the emission team was doing in terms of bringing suited to knowing that. You know, a lot of schools that we work with have, you know, inconsistent or or challenging curriculums in terms of how we evaluate them. So it was an interesting discussion, but it was always very collegial and, you know, I was really, you know, pleasantly surprised, you know, when it was all said and done, how enthusiastically the faculty adopted that the test optional policy. Awesome, awesome. Any next step? Advice for institutions who maybe listen to this and can empathize with your kind of Pitt in the stomach feeling, feeling like you're you're rejecting students that would succeed here and looking for a different way how to best start that conversation on their own campus. I mean, I think the best way to start it is certainly just to dive into the data first. That mean look at the look at what's driving your emission numbers, look at with driving yield, look at what's driving your attention and graduation figures, and try to determine what way high school curriculum, the type of high school GPA, standardized testing, leadership, whatever those things are, and see what what the weight is for each and how 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 some conclusions fairly quickly about whether or not...

...this is something that could possibly work on your campus. And then you can obviously, you know, dive really deeply into the into the data to see if something that can work for the population 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 community and the decision making process. The worst thing you could do is try to push this through without getting buy in from your faculty, buying from of your board of trustees, you know, and buy in from the cabinet, certainly buy and from the president of the institution, because you know it's a big move and it could really change, you know, the way the emission structure at an institution is going to be for several several years and it's going to take a lot of work to analyze and assess the success and or lack of success for a program like this. And so there's going to be a lot of people involved, everybody, institutional research, you know, through you know alumni. So I mean, I think the last thing you want to do is 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, and I think we handled this really well, is we made the decision well before the start of the recruitment cycle. I found it really interesting that, you know, after her we made the decision. Obviously I started, you know, looking at google new seeds and seeing what other schools are doing and the timing they were using, and I thought it was really interesting that several schools, you know, announced these things kind of mid cycle or well after the start of an emission cycle. Now overy schools a little bit different in terms of when the recruiting students. So obviously that makes sense. I mean, we know we essentially recruit on an eighteen month calendar, the middle of your junior year, early junior year, probably at the earliest for the most part, just the type of institution that we are, and other schools that are recruiting, you know, eighth and...

...ninth graders, and so it's a little bit different for them. But you know, if you're on a calendar like us, I mean you just have to get ahead of that. So you have to be able to spread that word well ahead of when year recruitment cycle starts, and I see a lot of schools that I think you know are similar to us, that are doing that a little bit late. So I would just make sure that you're cognizant of the timing and winch in which you roll this out, just so it's certainly in line with your emission cycle and recruiting needs. But I mean it's and I think just from a personal standpoint, this emission cycle has been the most fun I think I've ever had in my career. Yes, there's in terms of, you know, looking at 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 have this sense of pride of being able to go out there to a high school and announce that, you know, we've moved the test optional on and I think it's getting a really good response from school counselors and certainly from, you know, our students of parents who, you know, always a plot. You know, we bring it up at an open house, we bring it up on a campus tour. It's one of that you can see the smiling faces 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 that we 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 is a full rollout. But will assess it and if it works, fantastic and we're going to roll with it and if it needs to be tweaked, we will 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 we would have to, you know, shift again, and that's kind of what we do in this admissions world and and we try to find the best way to represent the institutions and to help our students and we think for us right now, this is the way to do...

...it. Love it, such great stuff, Adam. But what's the best place for listeners to connect with you they have any followup questions? Sure, I mean the best way to reach me. 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 if they have any questions, they certainly can. At Adam Underscore Castro at Bluefield DOT eedu 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 educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve 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. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show and Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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