Back to top

CAUT Bulletin Archives

October 2011

US Admission Decisions Distorted by Preference for ‘Revenue Students’

Admissions officials admit a “clash of values” is emerging on American campuses as recruiters increasingly skip over modest income applicants with higher grades in favor of weaker performing students who do not require financial aid or who can be charged higher tui­tion fees.

A survey of 462 top admissions officials at a range of nonprofit colleges and universities released Sept. 21 by Inside Higher Ed reveals they are seeking “revenue students” more than ever before, and shifting away from academic rigor in vetting applicants.

Among all sectors of higher education, out-of-state and international students are now being aggressively recruited because they pay higher tuition fees. The survey findings show a very high proportion of admissions directors who see recruiting more out-of-state students as a key admissions strategy (53 per cent at public doctoral and master’s institutions) and recruiting outside the United States frequently focuses on those who can pay full price.

This means schools are using or moving towards using agents, who are commonly paid in part on commission, to recruit international students, even though most respondents opposed the practice.

Lloyd Thacker of the Education Conservancy, a nonprofit founded to improve college admissions, said the shift in values among admissions directors and officers for applicants with cash instead of merit was a concern.

“We need to ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing. And if we can’t answer that, we should go sell cars,” he told Inside Higher Ed.

Federal law bans the use of com­mission-based agents to recruit American students, but does not apply for overseas recruitment.

The survey results also show many admissions officers saying they are under pressure from senior administrators, trustees, development officers, and big donors to admit certain students with lower grades and test scores, including athletes and children of alumni.

“The process for admitting students has to focus on interest and ability, not the size of a person’s wallet,” said CAUT executive director James Turk. “Academic integrity is threatened when admissions officers lose sight of this important fact.”