Are Higher Education Programs Failing to Practice What They Teach?

By: Tyler Hallmark, The Ohio State University 

It has long been discussed among higher education researchers how to ultimately translate research into practice, evidenced in the American Educational Research Association’s upcoming 2020 conference theme “The Power and Possibilities for the Public Good When Researchers and Organizational Stakeholders Collaborate.” However, in a review of Higher Education programs, it seems that these programs often fail to heed their own advice, as they continue to base their graduate admissions on standardized tests which their own faculty would very likely deem biased. 

As a graduate student at The Ohio State University, I was ecstatic to hear the recent news that my Higher Education and Student Affairs program had decided to do away with the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) requirement for graduate admissions. As a scholar of Higher Education, I have seen the research that demonstrates – time and again – that the GRE is biased against economically-disadvantaged students, students of color, international students, and women.  

In fact, we’ve had such evidence since the 1980s, warning that the GRE is a poor predictor of success in graduate school and a poor measure of the critical skills associated with scholarly and professional competence. Researchers have pointed to various explanations of these shortcomings, including biases in test questions and lingering stereotype threat for underrepresented groups. Among the top recommendations for scoring higher on the GRE are to hire a private tutor or attend pricey GRE-prep course, both suggestions which are out of the realm for students who do not have the money to fork over. 

Yet, the very programs that are conducting and teaching such research continue to ignore such evidence. In a review of U.S. News and World Report’s Top Higher Education Administration Programs (a ranking system that itself remains deeply flawed on several accounts), it is clear that, of the 20 nationally-ranked programs, only one program does not require the GRE for any of its Masters or Doctoral programs – The Ohio State University, which only recently announced its removal of such requirements. An additional five programs do not require the GRE for their Masters programs, but still require the GRE for their Doctoral programs. 

It is hypocritical for us, as Higher Education scholars, to expect others to listen to our research when we fail to enact our own changes. Even in the cases of providing “holistic review processes,” research has shown that faculty continue to place an overwhelming stake in GRE scoresundermining espoused diversity goals. It’s no wonder that students of color remain underrepresented in Higher Education programs – with only 14% of Masters students, 13% of Ed.D. students, and 10% of Ph.D. students identifying as students of color. These trends continue in the broader field of higher education, as higher education administrators of color remain underrepresented at-large. 

Some faculty and administrators may argue that this article does not apply to their program because they simply don’t place much stake in the GRE. However, even requiring for the GRE to be submitted puts low-income students at a disadvantage, as they struggle to afford the test and the costs to send scores to different institutions across the country – creating unnecessary burdens and barriers for potential students. 

For higher education and student affairs programs to truly be equitable, it is time we listen to our own research and do away with GRE requirements that continue to disadvantage underrepresented students. It’s time for us to practice what we teach. It’s time for #GRExit

Tyler Hallmark (he/him/his) is a Ph.D. candidate in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program at The Ohio State University. Originally from Oklahoma, he received his B.A. in Communication from the University of Colorado Boulder and his M.S.Ed. in International Educational Development from the University of Pennsylvania. Tyler is a proud member of the Cherokee Nation, a first-generation scholar, and a recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship. His research seeks to hold institutions accountable for the success of less-privileged populations and to expand understandings of place and space in higher education attainment. 

%d bloggers like this: