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Harvard Ending Early Admissions Process


Harvard University is ending its early admissions program and moving to one deadline. Critics said the school's early admissions discriminated against high school students from poorer families and also ratcheted up the pressure on students.

NPR education editor Steve Drummond has been following the story.

Steve, good morning.

STEVE DRUMMOND: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So we know what they're not going, no more early admissions. What are they going to do?

DRUMMOND: Beginning with the students applying for the fall of 2008 in fall 2007 of their senior year of high school, one admissions deadline: January 1st. Students will apply by January 1; they'll find out in April whether they've gotten in or not.

INSKEEP: How does that affect huge competition for slots at a university like Harvard?

DRUMMOND: Yeah, right now Harvard admits about 30 percent of its students on early admissions program. It enables the top colleges to lock in students early. It also helps their rating in these popular college rankings guides.

INSKEEP: And let's talk about why colleges do that early admissions. Is it for the benefit of the college? Is it for the benefit of the students? What's this about?

DRUMMOND: Well, you can argue that it's a little bit of both. It increases their yield rate, the percentage of students who are accepted to a school that actually go there. And for the students, it also enables them to know very early on whether they've gotten in or not, whether they've gotten their first choice or not, or whether they need to go back and try another school.

INSKEEP: So why not do it?

DRUMMOND: Well, there's a lot of concern that only the most affluent families sort of know about the process. They go to the better high schools where there are better counselors to guide you through the process. And lots of poor students can't afford to make early decision agreements because they need to wait much later in the year to find out how much financial aid they're going to get. They need to weigh competing offers between schools, and you can't do that with early admissions - or at least, with most early admissions. Harvard's wasn't a binding agreement.

INSKEEP: Hmm. I want to ask you about this. You mentioned the phrase yield rate, which is a statistic people use to rank colleges, you said. And you go in a magazine, you'll find that ranking. If Harvard does away with early admissions, ends up with a lower yield rate statistic, does that mean Harvard is going to end up not being one of the top rated schools in America all of a sudden?

DRUMMOND: I think that's doubtful, Steve. And I think that's one of the reasons Harvard can probably afford to do this and hope that other colleges will follow suit. The interim president, Derek Bok, says that one of the things they're hoping is that other colleges will follow suit.

INSKEEP: Other colleges that feel more vulnerable on this point, you mean?

DRUMMOND: Could be. I mean Harvard is a leader naturally, and I think it's quite likely that by taking the first step other universities will match it.

INSKEEP: How significant is this step?

DRUMMOND: Well, for the elite sort of competitive four-year colleges, this is a big deal for students racing to get into those. But I think it's worth remembering that there are 15 million college kids out there; a lot of them go to state colleges or community colleges, where virtually everybody gets in. And for those students, I don't think this will have much of an affect at all.

INSKEEP: You said interim president. This is a guy who replaced Larry Summers, the very controversial Harvard president.

DRUMMOND: Yes. And the Search Committee I guess is still looking for a new president. But for now, Derek Bok is a former Harvard president, back now on an interim level. He's written a book - several books very concerned about this issue of equity and about who gets in and who doesn't.

INSKEEP: And so he's now making a move.


INSKEEP: NPR education editor Steve Drummond, thanks very much.

DRUMMOND: You're welcome, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Steve Drummond heads up two teams of journalists at NPR. NPR Ed is a nine-member team that launched in March 2014, providing deeper coverage of learning and education and extending it to audiences across digital platforms. Code Switch is an eight-person team that covers race and identity across the network, and in an award-winning weekly podcast.