November 2023 Newsletter

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down affirmative action, effectively barring colleges and universities from considering race in admissions. The decision was among the biggest higher education stories of the year, and institutions quickly got to work exploring other methods to account for the experiences and backgrounds of students of color in their admissions practices.

But as significant as the ruling is, it is just one of many forces currently reshaping college admissions. It’s a new frontier, and students must take stock of these changes.

Perhaps the most pressing development is the recent overhaul of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students and their families typically begin filling out the FAFSA in October, but this year’s application will not be available until December. That’s because the form is undergoing a major revamp. The new FAFSA will feature fewer questions, redesigned financial need formulas, and revised aid eligibility. It’s critical that students and their families take the time to learn more about these upcoming changes and be prepared for the new FAFSA when it’s finally rolled out in December.

Of course, some students and institutions have already made up their minds about the fall. Early decision plans—in which students commit to attending their top-choice institution in exchange for better odds of being admitted—are growing in popularity. At the same time, these plans are under increasing scrutiny, with critics arguing that they disadvantage students from lower-income backgrounds who often need more time to compare admission offers and financial aid packages. Policymakers in states like Massachusetts and New York have proposed legislation that would ban early decision admissions.

Those bills have also targeted the practice of legacy admission policies, which have drawn renewed attention following the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have called for an end to the practice, with President Biden saying that legacy preferences “expand privilege instead of opportunity.” Last week, Senators Tim Kaine and Todd Young introduced a bipartisan bill that would prohibit accredited institutions from offering “preferential treatment” in their admissions decisions.

Meanwhile, more and more colleges and universities are opting into direct admissions programs, in which students can sidestep the typical admissions process and receive an offer from an institution without even applying. Instead, students complete academic profiles that can be shared with a variety of colleges, which then make snap enrollment decisions based on whether students meet certain requirements. Earlier this month, the Common App announced that 200,000 students would receive offers of direct admission from 70 colleges and universities.

The factors schools consider when making their admissions decisions is also evolving. A large number of colleges and universities have gone test-optional in recent years, for example, with more than 1,700 institutions no longer requiring SAT or ACT scores in their applications this fall. A decade ago, more than half of four-year colleges placed “considerable importance” on test scores, while about half viewed high school grades as equally important. Today, just five percent of four-year colleges emphasize test scores, and three-quarters believe grades are of considerable importance. It’s a marked shift that shows just how quickly and dramatically the world of higher education admissions is changing.

No matter what complexities lie ahead, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is as committed as ever to advancing the academic aspirations of our Scholars.

Warm regards,

Seppy Basili


News for High-Achieving Students

  • As noted above, a more streamlined version of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is expected to debut in December. While the new FAFSA features some welcome changes, the delay in implementation presents many difficulties for schools, students, and families. Nerdwallet offers tips for dealing with the FAFSA’s delay here.
  • The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association has released a new report that examines how FAFSA’s overhaul will affect Pell Grant eligibility. The report found that the formula changes will lead to a significant increase in the number of students eligible for the Pell Grant. The report also breaks down the expected expenses that students in particular states, higher education sectors, and specific demographic groups may incur in 2023-2024.
  • The ACT scores of this year’s graduating high school class are the lowest in three decades, according to the test’s administrators. Average scores in reading, science, and math were all below expected benchmarks. With the COVID-19 pandemic beginning as the class of 2023 was in their first year of high school, the low scores are seen as evidence of the virus’s continuing impact on education.
  • The Carnegie Foundation and ACE announced that the methodology behind the respected Carnegie Classification of Institutions in Higher Education has been revised. Of particular note: the new metrics for designating the venerated R1 status for research universities. The changes, which will debut in 2025, aim to simplify the overly complex formula and to better reflect the contributions of a wider range of institutions—including historically Black colleges and universities. No HBCU has ever achieved R1 status.


What We’re Reading

Fast Company – LinkedIn exec reveals exactly how AI is changing hiring and recruiting 

University Business – With Gen Z students loving non-degree pathways, here’s how higher ed leaders can adapt 

Diverse: Issues in Higher Education – Report: Number of Black Students in Community College IT Programs Remains a Concern

Forbes – Here’s A Winning Strategy For Hiring Early Talent: Help Them With Their Student Loans 

Fortune – How businesses can partner with colleges to create diverse entry-level pipelines after affirmative action reversal 


Cooke Foundation Highlights

The Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship application is now open and will close at midnight on January 11, 2024 in your local time zone. This national scholarship opportunity is available for the nation’s top community college students seeking to complete their bachelor’s degrees at four-year colleges or universities. The award, which is last dollar funding after all other institutional aid, can be worth up to $55,000. Here are some ways to spread the word about the Cooke Transfer Scholarship. View the program flyer here.

In this moving video, 2015 Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholar Natasha N. Piñeiros, M.Ed., who now works at the Foundation as a Dean of Scholar Support, shares what the Cooke Scholar community means to her. For any transfer students or high school seniors applying for scholarships right now, we encourage you to listen to her advice. “As a Dean of Scholar Support who has also been a Cooke Scholar, I know firsthand the benefits of being awarded the Cooke Scholarship, and it goes way beyond the money,” Natasha says.

Last month, we celebrated the 111th birthday of our benefactor, Mr. Jack Kent Cooke, on October 25. Mr. Cooke, who passed away in 1997, left behind a legacy of resilience and ambition through the Cooke Scholar community. Every year, Cooke Scholars and Staff celebrate his birthday to honor his gift of educational support. Read about his life and vision for the Cooke Foundation in this blog post.

November is Native American Heritage Month. To celebrate, we interviewed 2023 Cooke Transfer Scholar Kelly Parsley about her upbringing in Cherokee Nation, as well as her dreams to become a doctor. Kelly studies biology at University of Tulsa, and wants to practice medicine in Oklahoma to treat patients that also come from a low-income background. She and her five children, who she parents as a single mother, live on the University of Tulsa campus.