An Accomplished, Accessible Tenure for Goucher College President José Bowen

College Students in Class

It’s worth taking a moment from our posts about best-practice marketing and branding for schools, colleges and universities to celebrate a success story in our own Baltimore backyard.

Last week, Goucher College announced that its president José Bowen would step down at the end of this academic year after five years as president. In his letter to the Goucher community, he explains his desire to return to teaching, research and music and to work on his upcoming book, A New 3Rs: Using Behavioral Science to Prepare Students for a New Learning Economy, about what Bowen calls “the 3Rs of Relationships, Resilience and Reflection.”

His Goucher tenure includes accomplishments of which any college or university president would be proud: increased enrollment and diversity, a new curriculum, new and renovated facilities, launching a $100 million campaign and a 0% tuition increase. This past August, Goucher also announced that it is eliminating several major and minor academic programs, including math, physics and music, to reduce costs and refine its academic program.

Bowen, though, should be rightfully proud of his achievements, particularly one that he introduced in 2014: the Goucher Video Application. Instead of test scores, a written application, and transcripts, Goucher applicants can submit a short video expressing who they are and why they would be a good fit for the college. As the first college or university in the U.S. to accept a video as the formal , primary admissions submission for evaluation – Goucher also accepts the Common Application – Goucher celebrates the  iGeneration’s enthusiasm for and skill in content creation. This unique enrollment marketing strategy is partially responsible  for Goucher’s increased enrollment from 1449 students in fall 2013 to 1480 in 2017. Bowen, who was a first-generation college student, is committed to increasing access to college, and this was an innovative step.

While he was not at Goucher when the college made the submission of ACT and SAT scores optional in 2007, I imagine he remains deeply proud of being one of the now-1,000-plus colleges and universities with test-optional admissions. (One of the most recent is research giant, the University of Chicago.) Last April, two administrators at the University of Washington and Bates College, respectively, produced a study comparing data from 28 test-optional colleges and universities and almost 1 million applicants over multi-year periods with peer institutions that require testing. What the study concluded is that standardized admissions tests fail to “identify talented applicants who can succeed in higher education — and that applicants who opt not to submit scores are in many cases making wise decisions.”  The study also found that institutions with a test-optional policy saw applications rise in the years following the announcement of the policy. And they saw gains in the “numbers of black and Latino students applying and being admitted to their institutions.”

I found it interesting, but not surprising, that the study revealed that while first-year grades were slightly lower for “nonsubmitters” (the study’s lingo for those who did not submit test scores), those students graduated at equivalent rates or even slightly higher rates for some institutions than those who submitted test scores. The study does not suggest that the test-optional policy caused more diversity at the colleges, but it does underscore what has been a growing trend in education and one that Goucher’s Bowen embraces: potential cannot be measured by a test.

My own daughters were fortunate to have excellent test-taking skills. Many students do not, which is not a reflection of their academic skill, desire or potential. For many families, the cost of these tests is a denial itself to college access.

I applaud Bowen and Goucher for adopting progressive enrollment policies and innovations. By allowing potential students other options to show their authentic self in a creative way, to share what their goals are and express how they will add to the campus community, I believe that our institutions can bring out the best possibilities in every student.

Kalix Marketing wishes José Bowen all the best for his next chapter.

Jonathan Oleisky is the president of Kalix Marketing.

Read another reflection from Jonathan Oleisky here:

Leadership Lessons from Master Leaders

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Jonathan Oleisky

Jonathan Oleisky

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