Three things we learned when we asked the nation to redo college admissions

Late last year, we at Lumina Foundation saw a unique opportunity to rethink the college admissions process for the better.

At the time, the admissions, recruitment, and onboarding landscape was in tremendous upheaval. The SCOTUS decision banning the practice of race-conscious admissions, the pandemic-driven increase in test-optional admissions, and the pending enrollment cliff of traditional-aged students had higher education reeling at all the changes.

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News Release

Lumina Foundation announces winners of The Great Admissions Redesign Challenge

INDIANAPOLIS – In response to the evolving landscape of college admissions, Lumina Foundation has announced the winners of The Great Admissions Redesign. This challenge seeks to revolutionize the admissions process and increase accessibility to higher education for all students, particularly those not admitted in proportion to their shares of the U.S. population.

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Admissions Redesign Finalists



Implementation Grants

Illinois Board of Higher Education ($750,000)

Direct admissions for community college transfer students

IBHE will partner with the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) to implement a direct admissions program for community college students transferring to public universities and high school seniors by expanding and connecting two enacted programs: the Public University Uniform Admission Pilot Program and the state’s participation in the Common App. This project represents the first time direct admissions will be implemented statewide for transfer students.

California State University System ($750,000)

Automated admissions and verified transcript submission to the CSU system through

The California State University (CSU) is expanding their partnership with the California College Guidance Initative (CCGI) to expand outreach and support to students in high school through a series of communications and opportunities through the platform. For 9th through 11th grade students, communications will be sent to students and their families who are on track to meet CSU admission requirements and those who are not on track to provide them with support and guidance. Seniors will be offered automatic admission to most Cal State Universities and the opportunity to apply to more competitive universities. The partnership will also include the electronic delivery of high school transcripts to ease the burden on students and families to order and ensure delivery of final paper transcripts from their high school. The CSU will also be expanding its Cal State Apply online application for admission to provide automatic admissions to most CSU campuses for high-school seniors who have completed their application or are in progress of completing an application.

Northern Arizona University ($750,000)

Universal Admissions- Removing Barriers to Upward Economic Mobility and Social Impact

Universal Admissions provides an affordable and inclusive pathway for students to attain a bachelor’s degree by promoting access to higher education through partnership with Arizona community colleges. Every applicant to NAU either receives direct admission or, instead of denial, an opportunity to start their education at a community college of their choice before continuing at NAU. Through statewide data-sharing, the admissions process is automatic and seamless from NAU to the community college, and once academic preparedness is achieved at the community college, the student is guaranteed admission to NAU without re-applying.



Planning Grants

Louisiana Board of Regents ($300,000)

Connecting State Resources for Simpler College Admissions Success

Louisiana’s Master Plan for Higher Education, Louisiana Prospers, serves as the map to reach the state’s postsecondary attainment goal. Increasing college-going is one of the plan’s key components. The Board of Regents, the statewide coordinating board for higher education, aims to better serve both high school seniors and transfer students through Lumina’s “Great Admissions Redesign” project. The focus is to directly improve college admissions for high school students who are college-eligible and not college-going while building credential attainment for college transfer students. To achieve this, Regents is engaging with public colleges and universities and their systems, along with college-access-promoting organizations from around the state to build momentum around direct student engagement and support. Project partners will aid in the development of a system that leverages student-level statewide data to proactively inform college seniors when they meet postsecondary admission requirements at Louisiana’s public institutions, inform transfer students when they have completed one of the state’s new Universal Transfer Pathways, and connect that information directly to college admissions officers. Building relationships, improving actionable consumer information, and reducing administrative barriers will increase college-going, support student success, and help lead Louisiana and its people to greater prosperity.

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board ($250,000)

Texas Direct Admissions Pathway

“The Direct Admissions Pathway will be housed within My Texas Future (MTF), a one-stop advising tool for college and career planning needs for all Texans.

The Direct Admissions Pathway will allow students as early as the end of their junior year of high school to see within My Texas Future where they have been admitted among participating institutions. Students won’t have to complete or submit an application to see this information, however, once a student knows what institutions have offered direct admissions, they can complete an application in ApplyTexas, allowing institutions to determine scholarship and program eligibility.”

Washington Student Achievement Council ($150,000)

Guaranteed financial aid messaging for SNAP-eligible high school students in Washington

Reducing the uncertainty of affordability and admissions helps students and families feel more prepared to make decisions about education after high school. While the Washington College Grant (WA Grant) is one of the most generous and inclusive need-based financial aid programs in the country, many students who might qualify for the WA Grant do not complete financial aid applications. Given that most students who qualify for public assistance programs like SNAP also qualify for the WA Grant, WSAC intends to support regional partnerships in designing place-based pilots to leverage SNAP eligibility as an entry point for WA Grant access. This project will engage students, families, school districts, and higher education institutions in an innovative process of design thinking to produce effective messaging strategies. This messaging will highlight financial aid eligibility opportunities for families and their students early on in high school.

Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education ($150,000)

Design thinking and the Great Admissions Redesign

The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) will facilitate a collaborative, design-thinking approach to address long-standing barriers and untapped potential in admission and financial aid processes, including the consideration of using AI to alleviate capacity issues in admissions offices. The Lumina grant is an opportunity to accelerate progress on Kentucky’s statewide priority to streamline pathways to bachelor’s degrees for all students.

Why Redesign Admissions?

Helping more Americans earn bachelor’s degrees that position them for further learning and new careers, promotions, and higher wages is essential to meeting the nation’s talent needs. This work is especially important at minority-serving institutions and regional colleges and universities, where students of color and adult students from low- and middle-income families are most likely to start their degrees.

And yet, bachelor’s degree programs are losing students at astounding rates. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, bachelor’s-granting institutions have lost 5.7 percent of students ages 24 and younger, representing 663,000 students, and an additional 570,000 adults 25 and over. Undergraduate enrollment decreases were especially pronounced among students of color: 2022 alone saw a 4.2 percent decrease in Black student enrollment, a 2 percent decrease in Native student enrollment, and 0.5 percent decrease in Hispanic and Latino student enrollment. These patterns will only worsen when the long-anticipated demographic enrollment cliff hits in 2025.

In addition to enrollment declines, the admissions landscape is experiencing once-in-a-generation upheavals. Test-optional policies have become the norm: more than 80 percent of colleges do not require the SAT or ACT for admissions. This creates opportunities for students, particularly students of color. However, one challenge of test-optional admissions policies is the resulting drop in prospective high school student information available to college and university admissions officers. This further complicates the job of admissions and recruitment practitioners, as they have to find different ways to reach students

Many colleges and universities are also reconsidering their application requirements and review processes following recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings limiting race-conscious admissions. As colleges and universities respond, they must avoid placing increased burdens on prospective students.

While navigating this new, under-resourced environment, admissions offices are underwater, experiencing pressures and expectations as never before. Data from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources revealed that admissions department turnover rates are among the highest in higher education.

These conditions are converging to create a window of opportunity for transformational change in admissions systems that removes barriers to college access. Fixing the process can benefit all students by positioning colleges and universities to meet their needs, which in turn will benefit struggling institutions.

Making complex systems more straightforward is no easy task. Without intentional, transformational, and robust intervention, admissions systems will remain as they are or become even more complex—and more challenging for today’s students. Now is the time to invest in transformational change that will create opportunity for everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, age, income, or family status.

Great Admissions Redesign

Admissions redesign in the news

News stories on the Great Admissions Redesign challenge recently featured in Daily Lumina News. Get these and more higher-ed headlines delivered to your inbox.
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More information

For the full backstory on the Great Admissions Redesign, you can watch the webinar, see the application questions, and read the criteria for our ideal applicants on the archive page.

Applications were due October 6, 2023.
Winners were announced February 29, 2024.

See the Archive

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