• Scott Snider

Why Ponte Vedra Students Face a Harder & More Expensive Road to College

After the country had begun to gradually move past using affirmative action for admissions purposes many years ago the College Board implemented a program called Strivers. This program tried to help students who came from less fortunate socioeconomic backgrounds and included race as a datapoint. If the student exceeded their expected average score by over 200 points on the SAT, they were labelled as a striver. This helped many students with minority backgrounds since they were often expected to score less. The program was faced with tons of scrutiny and was eventually scrapped, mainly because it took race into account.

20 years later the College Board circled back to improve on their previous intentions through what is known as the Adversity Index. The new index is more in-depth and avoids any inclusion of race as a datapoint. It attempts to help students standout to colleges who may have overlooked them due to the fact that they came from an underprivileged background. The scores are currently being used by 50 colleges and is set to be used by 150 this year. The following year it is planned to be used by all colleges, and major schools such as Yale already view it as a powerful tool for their admissions process. Yale has nearly doubled its low-income and first-generation college students to about 20% of admitted students through implementing use of these scores from the College Board.

The score itself looked to take into account multiple factors across the environment of students’ neighborhood, family, and high school and then provide that information to colleges. The previous adversity score which was given used a scale from 1 to 100. The actual way the score was calculated is kept proprietary and the scores weren’t even being reported to the students themselves. That is until recently that families spoke of their outrage with the idea of the adversity score.

The College Board agreed that they may had overstepped in their ability to simplify someone’s background with a single numerical score, so as of recently they have decided to make small amendments to their adversity scores. They still stand behind their choice to try and amend the inequality that seemingly was perpetuated through SAT scores as seen in the graph, but they made the following changes to try and better the outcome.

One, they will begin to reveal scores to students and families. Two, they are now reporting individual scores for the neighborhood and for the school adversity scores separately. Lastly, they are going to alter the process in which the score is determined. Overall though the idea and principles that the College Board were trying to push are still being implemented.

With these changes occurring the question becomes who cares? How does this affect me? The reality of it is that upper middle-class areas like ours in Nocatee, FL are put into a hard situation when it comes to getting accepted into colleges of their choice. The Wall Street Journal recently quoted assistant vice president for academic affairs at Florida State was quoted saying “If I am going to make room for more of the [poor and minority] students we want to admit and I have a finite number of spaces, then someone has to suffer and that will be privileged kids on the bubble,”. And that’s coming from FSU, nonetheless upper echelon schools that certain students may be striving to attend outside of the state. This kind of pressure being created from different sources such as the adversity score has placed students, parents, and guidance counselors alike into finding outside help in terms of getting students into their school of choice. This is the kind of pressure that pushed parents into falling victim to the recent college admissions scandals out in California that were so publicized. In turn parents have turned to hiring tutors, test prep assistance, independent educational consultants, and even athletic recruiting aids. The need for extra help is adding to the already exceedingly high price of attending college making the idea of saving on the cost of college that much more important.

Whether or not you view these scores as an overall positive or overall negative to the admissions process, the reality is they exist and make it harder for students from this area to get into the schools of their choice. The extra help to get into college is well worth it, mainly because it can open more doors from a college selection standpoint and opens more doors to scholarships and other money from schools. If a SAT test prep counselor can boost your score from a 1300 to a 1330, not only will it increase your chances of getting accepted to the University of Alabama, but it can yield you over $20,000 extra over the 4 years of undergraduate education if you came from high school with a 3.5 GPA or higher. Those are extremely meaningful dollars especially when trying to balance paying for a student’s college education versus saving for other goals such as retirement.

Ian is a managing partner of Mellen Money Management, a fee-only, independent financial planning firm locally based in Jacksonville, Florida. In a nutshell, Ian helps clients plan for the financial impact of major life events, so that they are prepared for life's biggest moments. Such an approach has helped his clients live a more fulfilling life. Mellen Money Management’s financial services include investment management and comprehensive financial planning. While their specialty is all things college -- they help families pay less for college and young professionals tackle their student loans. It is their mission to end the student debt crisis one client at a time. To do so they believe the cost of college cannot be solved in a vacuum and that financial trade-offs, like saving for retirement, must be prioritized in a way that one goal doesn't come at the expense of the other.

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