ETS’s Commitment to Advancing Equity & Access in Admissions

By Joanna Gorin

Although much has changed in graduate education over the years, access and equity remain primary challenges that need innovative, comprehensive solutions. We hear from many in the academic community about their efforts to improve access and equity through a focus on critical points in the student journey, such as recruitment, admissions, enrollment and retention.

As a mission-based nonprofit company, ETS has invested in research and advancements in expanding opportunities for all learners throughout our 70-year history. It is our obligation to engage in candid — and sometimes tough — conversations and to work with the academic community to find collaborative solutions that advance fairness in the admissions process and beyond.

Because increasing diversity and quality of admissions in higher education is one of the most pressing educational challenges we face, ETS has undertaken a set of projects to study and develop admissions processes and evaluation methods that can satisfy the need to increase diversity while also considering the realities of the conditions that admissions officials are operating under, including time and resource constraints, high application volume, and the challenge of making predictions about applicants’ future success. More precisely, these projects are focused on examining traditional approaches to application review and developing alternative approaches that work to tackle the issues of equity and access as part of  a truly holistic admissions process. From examining the cognitive, social, and emotional skills that are most predictive of success in graduate school to researching admissions practices that help to identify qualified, yet historically underrepresented students, our research centers around one central question – how can we increase graduate equity and access in ways that are efficient, practical and effective? Our progress so far has been encouraging, and we are looking forward to sharing our research on an ongoing basis as it is completed.

It is our obligation to engage in candid — and sometimes tough — conversations and to work with the academic community to find collaborative solutions that advance fairness in the admissions process and beyond.

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As part of a research effort to learn more about graduate admissions practices and holistic file review, ETS researchers interviewed faculty and staff involved in admissions at 58 programs across the United States. Drawing on the findings from this effort, we created Connecting Graduate Admissions Practices with Goals: Questions to Consider, a discussion guide that supports faculty and administrators who are interested in having the same kind of thoughtful engagement about graduate admissions practices on their own campuses. We offer similar guidelines on the appropriate use and interpretation of GRE scores and other best practices for a truly holistic graduate admissions process on our website, www.holisticadmissions.org.

Beyond our research, ETS is actively working to advance equity and access in graduate education through several other initiatives. For example, our rigorous fairness and validity processes involve a diverse team of experts who routinely analyze test questions to ensure they do not unduly benefit any one group. We provide in-depth training for everyone involved in developing or scoring test questions, as well as appropriate accommodations for all examinees such as alternative test formats and extra time.

Furthermore, ETS is home to the Policy Evaluation and Research Center (PERC), which conducts and disseminates research on educational issues related to public policy that spans a continuum from early childhood through graduate education and early career. PERC’s purpose is to focus on topics that are prominent on the agendas of national, state, and local governments and educational institutions, apply research findings to inform policy and program ideas for educational improvement, and publish and disseminate reports that increase understanding of education challenges and identify potential solutions. Their reports focus on closing achievement gaps for underrepresented populations, addressing challenges in achieving national postsecondary degree attainment goals, and investigating factors that adversely affect student performance at all levels. PERC also regularly convenes symposia that bring together leading scholars and practitioners to engage the public in addressing complex challenges in education.

Through these efforts and more, ETS is working hard to address the challenges inhibiting the progress of access and equity. We consider it part of our duty and mission to actively listen to our community and mobilize our resources to help us investigate and address issues of equity and access and better achieve our shared goals for the graduate admissions process.