Lists to Find Students Are ‘Structurally Racist’

A series of new reports from the Institute for College Access & Success argue that the lists that colleges and universities purchase to identify prospective students “are structurally racist and classist.”

TICAS partnered with a team of researchers to analyze the student lists purchased by dozens of universities from 2016 to 2020 that were obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. A forthcoming report in the series will provide policy options to regulate the student list business.

Ozan Jaquette, lead researcher for the project and an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles; University of Arizona assistant professor Karina Salazar; and data scientist Crystal Han used public records requests to get a glimpse into the decisions public universities made about student lists.

The research team requested records related to student lists from all public universities in California, Illinois, Minnesota and Texas. The final report doesn’t report results by individual universities.

The requests focused on lists bought from the College Board, ACT and the National Research Center for College and University Admissions.

The first report in the series is a primer on the student list industry, while the second report focuses on lists produced by the College Board and the search filters used. Common filters used by universities, including GPAs, SAT scores, states of residence, ZIP codes and student race or ethnicity, can exclude low-income communities and students of color, researchers said in the report.

A College Board spokesperson disputed the report’s findings in a statement, saying that the lists benefit students, particularly those from underrepresented groups, who are more likely to apply to college when contacted by a college or university.

“Colleges, universities, and scholarship programs that use Search agree to strict usage policies that stipulate they cannot discriminate against any group of students, and Search can only be used to share information about educational opportunities,” the statement says.

TICAS president Sameer Gadkaree said in the release that the report raises questions about student privacy and what information should be used in college recruitment and admissions.

“The fact that colleges and universities can [home] in on prospective students in ways that could worsen racial and economic divides should raise alarms for students and families, as well as policy makers,” Gadkaree said.

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