Admissions Update

A message from Laurie Koehler, senior associate provost for enrollment management, on undergraduate admissions.

Laurie Koehler
Laurie Koehler, senior associate provost for enrollment management.
October 31, 2013

Our community has been engaged in a difficult conversation about admissions practices, and to an even greater extent, about openness and trust. I would like to share my perspective on some of what has transpired, as well as on how we begin to move forward.

The Hatchet recently reported that some officials at GW had mischaracterized our undergraduate admissions as being “need blind,” when, in fact, the university’s practices are more typically known as “need aware.” Many admissions professionals were accurately describing the review of applications by GW’s admissions committees by asserting we “read need blind,” but, unfortunately, this messaging did not clarify how the process actually works for prospective applicants.  I have never felt that the phrase “read need blind”—commonly used in the industry—describes the totality of the process.

At the request of President Knapp, I have spent quite a bit of time doing my best to understand what happened with regard to the communications of our need aware practices. The conclusion I have reached through hours of conversations with current staff members and administrators, plus a review of our printed and online materials is that there was no orchestrated effort to deceive prospective or current students and their families. To the best of my knowledge, over the past five years at the very least, there were no mentions of a need blind policy in any of our marketing materials. There was also no inclusion of need blind admissions in our daily information scripts used for campus tours and presentations to prospective students and parents. I did identify occasions, including one sentence on the admissions website, when regrettably we were not as accurate as we should have been.  And I found student-centered and conscientious staff members who were not involved in the final need aware review process for the small number of applicants under need aware consideration. Thus, when asked about the role of need in admissions decisions, these staff members spoke to their actual experiences of having read need blind.

However, it is clear, regardless of intent, that we mischaracterized our practices. For that, on behalf of the university, I am deeply sorry. I cannot change what has happened in the past. What I can do is ensure that staff members, our community, and most important, prospective students and their families, have accurate information about our admissions policies. We have already taken a number of steps toward this end. First, we have posted on the undergraduate admissions website an expanded list of frequently asked questions that address not only our need aware practice, but also other key issues of interest to students and families. Next, we have made sure that our admissions staff members are fully trained and have the tools they need to speak openly, clearly, and with a full understanding of our practices.

More broadly, we have developed, distributed and posted on the undergraduate admissions website a statement of our values as an admissions staff. We will regularly revisit this document, as well as national ethical guidelines from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), to ensure that what we are doing and what we are communicating match. 

I have been grateful for the unwavering support of the President, Provost and other senior administrators, all of whom have made it abundantly clear that communicating openly about our work is the only route we should follow. 

This isn’t the only admissions topic where I have seen strong support from the leadership of the university to do the right thing. In early July, my second week of work at GW, I met with President Knapp and his senior staff to bring forth a recommendation to change our application process. Rather than continue to operate two application vehicles (the GW application and the Common Application), Admissions advocated that we eliminate the GW application altogether and instead join approximately 200 other colleges and universities as exclusive users of the Common Application. There were many anticipated benefits to doing so, including a clearer application process for prospective students, an avenue for school officials to submit forms to us electronically, a reduced administrative burden on our Admissions and IT departments, a simpler method for counting applications and an applicant pool with a stronger level of interest in GW.

The trade-off? Switching to the exclusive use of the Common Application, we would likely cause a drop in application numbers as compared to recent years.  The discussion was brief but thorough.  The questions from President Knapp and his team were thoughtful and on point. The decision was shared with me in a clear way: What mattered was not how many applications we would receive; rather, we should do what was best for prospective students and GW in the long run. No one flinched at making this call, one that I strongly believe was indeed the right decision. 

One of the reasons I decided to accept the newly-created enrollment position was for the challenges it offered.  I certainly have not been disappointed.  In addition to working on integrating both undergraduate and graduate admissions and financial aid, I wanted to bring a high level of transparency to GW admissions policies and practices. The President and Provost have consistently expressed their commitment to this as well.

GW is an outstanding university, and every single one of us has a responsibility to make it even better. Our Admissions team commits to working to rebuild the trust of the community, and in doing so, to making GW an even stronger institution.