Durable admissions: Holding the door open for the long term

December 30, 2018

Picture this: You’re a high school senior from Eastern Idaho. You’ve already been automatically admitted to public higher education institutions, the University of Idaho included, on the basis of your academic qualifications (our statewide Direct Admissions program at work).

But like many people from your LDS church community — and 60 percent of the residents of Eastern Idaho’s 13 counties are LDS members — you’re inclined to serve a religious mission. That can mean at least two years in a faraway place, with limited contact home, and with all your energy focused on serving your faith.

Two years later, newly returned to the Gem State from your mission, you’re more mature, more confident, more experienced. The four-year degree you’ve put off awaits … just as soon you deliver your transcripts, your tests scores, your financial information, and more — to the institution that already accepted you once.

That’s not the student-centered or culturally responsive admissions process that the University of Idaho wants to promote.

This fall a new deferred admissions policy — we call it “durable admissions” — extends the amount of time a student can defer their attendance for up to four years.

The policy affords a more reasonable amount of flexibility to those who want to live their faith on a mission, earn money through work experience, focus on family, or serve their country in the military.

Many colleges are willing to defer admission for one year, accommodating or even promoting a gap year. The state of Idaho, and U of I, are rightly more inclined to promote direct progression to post-secondary education, given the state’s low go-on rate — 45 percent of high school graduates in spring 2016 went on the post-secondary education within 16 months.

But time away is not necessarily incongruous with post-secondary attendance goals: 90 percent of gap-year students, for instance, do enroll after a year, then show superior academic performance compared to traditional students.

We picture our returning missionaries — or veterans, or working adults — exercising the discipline and problem-solving they’ve developed in their non-college pursuits to succeed once enrolled.

In fact, one struggles to arrive at student-centered reasons why an institution wouldn’t offer durable admissions. Admissions standards could conceivably change over an extended absence, but any such problem is undoubtedly overstated.

Application fees have been eliminated for Idaho students, so revenue is not at issue. Potentially a student’s academic readiness might suffer, but again, we view the maturity and experience as positives that at least offset the forgetting of some algebra — which we can certainly refresh, anyway.

The Durable Admissions policy takes shape in the context of a broader effort at U of I to create a more student-centered approach to admissions. U of I developed the Direct Admissions program in concert with the State Board of Education to streamline application to our state’s public colleges and universities.

We’ve also joined the Apply Idaho common application that collects necessary data to process admissions. We eliminated our application fees for Idaho residents and have been ardent about providing Fast Forward dual-credit opportunities.

Offering a way to delay college attendance might seem at odds with those go-on initiatives, but they’re of a piece with an approach that meets students where they are.

Durable Admissions adds another practical, incremental and culturally responsive policy to our admissions infrastructure. It asks us to view the world through the eyes and experiences of a student, not an institution.

It sends a strong message about higher education: For veterans, missionaries, working adults and others, higher education is for you, and the University of Idaho will hold the door open when you’re ready to walk through it.

Chuck Staben is the 18th and current president of University of Idaho.

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