Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Feb 05, 2023

Forbes reports that "New Data Suggest The College Enrollment Slide Is Leveling Off":


The years-long decline in college enrollment appears to be stabilizing, with freshmen enrollment increasing substantially last fall. According to a new report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) that revises earlier estimates, fall 2022 undergraduate enrollment dropped only .6% nationwide - equal to about 94,000 fewer students - compared to fall 2021.

While postsecondary enrollment remained well below pre-pandemic levels, down about 1.11 million students overall compared to fall 2019, freshman enrollment rebounded by about 97,000 students, a 4.3% uptick compared to the previous fall and cause for some long-awaited optimism among higher education leaders.

Enrollment of graduate students, which has been a relatively bright spot throughout much of the pandemic, showed a reversal. Fall graduate enrollment decreased by 39,000 students, or 1.2%, after 3.0% growth in 2020 and a 2.4% increase in 2021. The decline was experienced by all types of four-year schools.

Male undergraduate enrollments bumped up slightly (+0.2%, +15,000 students), while female enrollment decreased (-1.5%, -122,000 students). This pattern was a continuation of the trend in improved enrollments for men relative to women first noted in fall 2021.

Every type of institution saw increases in their freshmen enrollment, which reached approximately 2.34 million students nationwide. The largest percentage gains were at private, for-profit schools (6.9%), followed by community colleges (6.1%), public four-year institutions (3.9%) and private nonprofit colleges (1.8%).

The mastermind behind the Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scandal has been sentenced. The Wall Street Journal has the story:


BOSTON—William “Rick” Singer, the mastermind behind a nationwide college-admissions cheating scheme that ensnared top universities, business executives and Hollywood celebrities, was sentenced Wednesday to 42 months in prison.

He will also have to pay nearly $20 million in restitution and forfeitures of ill-gotten gains.

The hearing in U.S. District Court here marked the end to a lengthy drama for Mr. Singer that exposed the ease with which the high-stakes college-admissions process could be corrupted. The scandal, made public in March 2019 after a year-long investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service and federal prosecutors, captivated the country and inspired books and a Netflix documentary. It also raised fundamental questions about who deserves to get into the nation’s most exclusive institutions of higher education.

Mr. Singer, 62 years old, pleaded guilty in 2019 to four felonies, admitting to running a complex operation that arranged for parents to fraudulently boost their teens’ ACT and SAT scores and to bribe college coaches to flag the clients as recruited athletes, all but guaranteeing their admission to schools including Georgetown University and the University of Southern California. Payments were often funneled through Mr. Singer’s sham charity, allowing parents to take tax write-offs for the bribes.

Though he was at the head of a conspiracy that prosecutors say brought in $25 million and tainted an admissions process that was intended to be based on merit, Mr. Singer also served as a key cooperator in the federal case. The probe, dubbed Operation Varsity Blues by investigators, started with a tip from an investor involved in a stock-fraud scheme and ultimately led to criminal charges against 57 individuals.

In addition to the prison term, Mr. Singer was sentenced to three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $10.7 million in restitution to the IRS, forfeit more than $5.3 million in assets and pay a $3.4 million forfeiture money judgment.

Fox News suggests that there is far more fraudulent behavior when it comes to college admissions than that seen in the high-profile and organized Operation Varsity Blues scandal:


Rick Singer, mastermind of a scheme to help wealthy parents find a "side door" into elite colleges, was recently sentenced to prison for his activities. Singer was brought down by the 2019 "Varsity Blues" FBI sting, which also busted dozens of parents for bribery, fabricating application materials, and cheating the college admissions process.

Well, a new survey of college students and recent grads by suggests that the targets of that FBI sting weren’t doing anything all that unusual. The survey, of more than 1,600 current 4-year college students and recent graduates, finds that over 60 percent of college students say they lied on their applications.

Forty percent of respondents say they included volunteer hours they hadn’t actually completed; 39 percent listed fake job experiences, 38 percent fake extracurricular activities, 32 percent fake internship experiences, and 30 percent falsified letters of recommendation. Also, 39 percent say they misrepresented their race or ethnicity and 22 percent their disability status.

Oh, and when it came to admissions essays, a third of college-goers say they made up stories, 24 percent had someone else pen them, and 18 percent engaged in plagiarism.

More than three-in-five respondents think that lying on their application helped them get into college. In a nation wrestling with concerns about self-dealing elites, socioeconomic stratification, the costs of college, and the legality of race-based affirmative action, these results should raise red flags about the entire enterprise of selective college admissions.

After all, much rides on admission into the nation’s couple of hundred selective colleges. These institutions offer access to good jobs, graduate schools, and networks of influential alumni. There’s an underlying assumption that, whatever their imperfections, these selective institutions are doing a reasonably responsible job of ensuring that access to these opportunities is a matter of merit and earned success.

What if that’s not the case? What if the college admissions process is so compromised, due to problems in the admissions offices or the malfeasance of applicants, that these opportunities are being distributed in ways that reward corrupt or crooked behavior?
Some might say, "Students may cheat their way into these selective colleges but they’ll soon get weeded out." There’s little evidence of that. Instead, grade inflation has exploded at selective colleges in recent decades (Harvard’s average GPA climbed from 3.0 in 1967 to 3.8 in 2022). In fact, one of the very few selective colleges to address grade inflation—Princeton University—gave up in 2014, for fear of adding "a large element of stress to students’ lives."

Look, if selective colleges are going to be in the business of allocating opportunity, they need to do so fairly and responsibly. That holds double for public institutions (like state flagship universities) and also all those private colleges which enroll students who rely on publicly-provided grants and loans.

Yet, it’s pretty clear colleges can’t be trusted with that role. Indeed, not only did 70 percent of students say all of their lies passed unnoticed or uncommented upon during the admissions process but, when one or more lies were flagged, more than a third of students said there were no consequences.

The recent release and widespread use of ChatGPT (an artificial intelligence program that is capable of crafting credible prose and essays based on specific inputs) has raised concerns that college application essays might be written by computers.

Forbes has written an article regarding these concerns.


The new technology could pose a challenge for college admissions officers who increasingly have to rely on personal essays in the admissions process because many colleges eliminated standardized test scores as a requirement. This is especially true for more selective institutions that wish to “gain a sense of who the applicant is, what character traits they exhibit in their writings and what the student might bring to the institution,” says Bob Massa, principal and co-founder of Enrollment Intelligence Now, a higher education consulting firm. For most colleges, the essay is less important, because admissions officers are under pressure to admit whichever students meet the institution’s basic grade point average qualifications in order to meet enrollment goals. But it’s these applicants, where a rudimentary essay can show “demonstrated interest,” that stand to benefit the most from ChatGPT.

“For them, these AI essays would be ideal, since they are well structured and indicate students who have a sense of purpose,” Massa said. But at colleges that admit more than half of applicants, the essay is rarely a “make or break” component, he added.

Not only does ChatGPT write clear essays, but it can also conjure up its own personal details and embellishments that could up a students’ chance of acceptance and would be difficult to verify.

Cheating in admissions isn’t new, says Sarah Elaine Eaton, an associate professor at the University of Calgary and expert in academic integrity. If admissions officers want to avoid AI-generated essays in the future, they should change their assessment tools, she suggests.

“We know that there’s a fairly strong global market for people to write college admission essays,” Eaton said. “I think college admission essays are a really, really outdated way of assessing candidates and suitability for a program.”

“These [ChatGPT-written] essays are so perfectly constructed that they lack soul,” says Massa, who has presided over admissions at such colleges as Johns Hopkins University and Dickinson College. “Could I pick them out as being written by a computer? Not unless I were given three essays to read and asked to identify the one written by AI. But if I weren’t looking for it, I would likely think: well written, factual, but no heart.”

To Jim Jump, director of college counseling at St. Christopher’s School and former admissions officer at Randolph–Macon College in Virginia, GPT’s essays read like students’ essays that have been overly curated by adults.

“I probably couldn’t pick it out as having been written by AI, but it resembles ‘cliche’ essays that students write with assistance from essay consultants,” Jump says.

David Hawkins, chief education and policy officer at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, says that while GPT’s writing is clean, grammatically correct and well structured, it is likely too vague and flat to stand out in a crowded applicant pool.

Jim Jump expanded on the ChatGPT issue in his own article at Inside Higher Ed:


Will “Are you a robot?” soon be a required question on college applications? That question is raised by the recent introduction of ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence app that interacts conversationally, giving it the ability to “write.” A New York Times article describes ChatGPT (the GPT stands for “generative pre-trained transformer”) as “the best artificial intelligence chatbot ever released to the general public.” More than one million people signed up to test it in the first five days after its release.
ChatGPT poses particular challenges for those of us who love the written word and those of us who work in education. The New York Times columnist Frank Bruni asked in his most recent column whether ChatGPT will make him irrelevant. (I’d like to think not.) What happens to take-home essay assignments when you can’t be sure that the essay was written by Johnny and not his AI app?

[On the ChatGPT essays described in the Forbes article]: I found both essays to resemble cliché essays, with neither answering the prompt in a convincing way. They also didn’t sound like an essay a teenager would write, but rather an essay a teenager might write with major assistance and editing by an adult.

Nevertheless, the quality of these essays is either impressive or scary, depending upon your perspective. This seems like a major leap beyond learning that a computer could defeat a human world champion in chess.

So what are the ethical implications?

The low-hanging-fruit answer is that it is clearly unethical for a student to submit an essay written by ChatGPT. The more complicated question is whether it is unethical for a college to require an application essay or make the essay a significant factor in evaluating a student’s application. How can you use an application essay to help make admission decisions when you can’t tell whether the student actually wrote the essay?

However, alternative views regarding the impact of ChatGPT on admissions essays are offered in this article on Gizmodo:


ChatGPT writes well enough to fool scientific reviewers, ace AP tests in English and computer science — it even passed the bar exam. The bot sparked a lot of hand-wringing about an upcoming plague of cheating, and many educators are scrambling to get out in front of the problem. ChatGPT is already banned at public schools in New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, Fairfax County Virginia, and the list is only growing.

But Sam Altman, the CEO of ChatGPT’s maker Open AI, has an answer for school administrators: sorry bro.

“Generative text is something we all need to adapt to,” Altman said in a recent interview, as reported in Insider. “We adapted to calculators and changed what we tested for in maths class, I imagine. This is a more extreme version of that, no doubt, but also the benefits of it are more extreme, as well.”

Altman said he hears educators’ concerns and takes them seriously, and the company will test watermarks on GPT’s responses and other techniques to curb plagiarism. But he warns that approach is probably a lost cause.

“There may be ways we can help teachers be a little more likely to detect output of a GPT-like system. But honestly, a determined person will get around them,” Altman said. “People will figure out how much of the text they have to change. There will be other things that modify the outputted text.”

Teachers and administrators who want to stop the tech are fighting a losing battle. But there are plenty of thinkers in education who say AI doesn’t have to be an academic apocalypse.

“I think that discussion that should be more prominent is ‘how to use emerging technology’ not whether to ban that technology, because bans will never be effective,” said Akil Bello, senior director of advocacy and advancement at FairTest. “Education and instruction has to change and evolve to integrate that technology and effectively use the technologies that will be a prominent feature of the adult lives of students”

There’s a compelling argument that schools should embrace our new robot overlord, and some teachers are ahead of the curve. Cherie Shields, who teaches high school English in Sandy, Oregon, wrote an op-ed in EducationWeek about how tools like ChatGPT can be a secret weapon in the classroom.

“Teachers should work with its astonishing ability to improve student writing,” Shields said. “AI has the potential to greatly assist students in the essay-writing process. It can help generate ideas, provide feedback on writing style, and even provide templates or outlines.”

Rather than wasting time that could be spent on professional development trying to ban unbannable tech, Shields said schools should design new tests and assessments that harness generative AI as a teaching tool.

“After reading the suggested improvements, students might handwrite another essay, with no computer assistance, and implement some of the language and sentence structure learned from the bot,” Shields said. “Because the bot writes and rewrites so quickly, students can see a number of different ways their writing can improve.”

“The concerns are valid but like most innovations before it, banning new technology is at best an ineffective delaying tactic,” Bello said. “When my father started high school slide rules were going to ruin mathematical ability, when I started high school the graphic calculator and computer was boogie man. My sons have PhotoMath on their handheld computers (Samsung cell phones), and their sons will have ChatGPT.”

Higher Ed Dive has posted a feature titled "6 college admissions experts share their biggest predictions for 2023."

The University of Pennsylvania has extended its test optional policy once again:


Penn Admissions announced the extension of the current test-optional policy for first-year and transfer applicants through the 2023-24 admissions cycle.

Penn Admissions’s statement, released today on its blog, represents a continuation of the policies first implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic during the 2020-21 admissions cycle. The announcement said that applicants will not be harmed by a failure to submit scores.

In a written statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian, Dean of Admissions Whitney Soule wrote that the extension was made due to the "continued effects of the pandemic" and to make sure that Penn Admissions can "responsibly review the role of the test-optional practice."

“Students who are unable or choose not to submit test scores will not be at a disadvantage in the admissions process,” the online announcement said. “We will continue to evaluate all components of an individual’s application through our comprehensive review process.”