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Harvard Education Press hosted a panel of four higher education experts who discussed reforms to college admissions last Thursday.
Harvard Education Press hosted a panel of four higher education experts who discussed reforms to college admissions last Thursday. By Joey Huang

Four higher education experts discussed during an online event last Thursday how colleges and universities should reform their admissions processes to maintain a diverse student body, including ending athlete preferences.

The panel, which was hosted by Harvard Education Press, featured Gary A. Orfield, a professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles; Julie J. Park, an associate professor of education at the University of Maryland; OiYan A. Poon, co-director of the College Admissions Futures Co-Laborative; and Richard J. Reddick, a professor of educational leadership at the University of Texas at Austin.

This discussion comes nearly four months after the Supreme Court ruled effectively to end the use of affirmative action in higher education admissions. The ruling sparked a national reckoning over university and college admissions, including the use of legacy, donor, and athlete admissions preferences.

The University launched an internal review of its admissions practices in late July. In an interview with The Crimson in October, Harvard President Claudine Gay said “everything is on the table” as Harvard weighs changes to its admissions policies.

The panelists began the event by discussing the implications that the Court’s ruling may have on the economic diversity of incoming college classes.

“Admissions is set up in a way where you have basically almost a two-track system,” Park said. “You have one for students who can be full pay and then you have one for students who need aid.”

Park also took aim at preferences for recruited athletes in college admissions.

“Another big issue is archaic standards that some institutions continue to cling to,” she said. “One big example is the continued privileging of athletics in admissions, kind of up and down across the spectrum.”

The panel also discussed the necessity of partnering with high schools to build an ecosystem that sets students up for success in college. Orfield, in particular, recommended partnering with public schools to bridge disparities in access to higher education.

“We need to have a much different relationship with public schools,” Orfield said. “The public schools are not preparing students adequately for college, particularly students of color.”

“We have to think about working with public schools to make sure that there is a path to college in our public high schools — and that would include good counseling, and the appropriate courses and support systems,” he added.

Poon said while the primary and secondary school system is “certainly reproducing inequalities,” she doesn’t believe that higher education leaders are absolved of responsibility when it comes to maintaining diversity in college admissions.

“I worry that higher ed leaders are just going to be like, ‘Well, not on me. It’s a K-12 issue. Go fix that,’” Poon said.

Reddick said that closer relationships need to be formed between educators in primary and secondary schools, and higher education administrators.

“We’re all on the same side of the table,” Reddick said. “We should be working in concert.”

Orfield ended the panel by encouraging universities to reach more students of color who may think they will not be welcome at institutions of higher education in the wake of the Court’s ruling on affirmative action.

“We need to get a really strong message to the students that, ‘we want you, we need you, we will support you,’” Orfield said.

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