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Harvard report calls for college credential shift

The college admissions system should encourage applicants to emphasize their concern for others, dedication to family, and devotion to their interests, according to a new Harvard report that recommends a shift away from traditional measures like test scores and advanced classes.

The report, announced Wednesday by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, describes measures intended to “reward those who demonstrate true citizenship, deflate undue academic performance pressure, and redefine achievement in ways that create greater equity and access for economically diverse students.”

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Among the proposals is one that advises colleges and universities to weigh family contributions — caring for sick relatives or working to support a household, for example — alongside academic achievements when evaluating whether students are well-suited for college studies.

Other ideas include moving away from long lists of extracurricular activities and trips to exotic locales in favor of meaningful community service near home.

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Richard Weissbourd, a senior lecturer on education at Harvard, said the report “sends a strong and clear signal that a lot of colleges are looking for kids that are passionate, spirited, and engaged learners.”

“It’s not about long brag sheets. It’s not about racking up accomplishments,” Weissbourd said. “It’s about being a caring person from day to day and being meaningfully involved in school.”

Weissbourd is also co-director of Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project , which produced the report along with The Education Conservancy and will work with colleges, parents, students, and high schools to put the recommendations into practice.

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Those involved with admissions say the report reflects some of the changes in thinking that have taken place in recent years. But it also sets an ambitious agenda for changing long-time practices.

Officials from colleges around the country signed onto the report, including large public research universities, elite religious schools, and small liberal arts institutions. Among the New England signatories were admissions leaders from Harvard, MIT, Boston College, Smith College, College of the Holy Cross, Amherst College, Yale University, Dartmouth College, Brown University, and Brandeis University.

High school leaders, including at Milton Academy, also signed on.

The range of participants was encouraging for those who are hoping to see continued change in the field.

Mike Wasserman, Massachusetts executive director for Bottom Line, an organization that mentors at-risk students during the application process and throughout college, said that the report appeared to hammer home some points he’s long held true.

“The most important piece that I see in that is acknowledging all of the family and community responsibilities that the students who are working with us have,” said Wasserman. “I think it adds equity, but I think it also acknowledges a lot of the skills that young people from cities like Boston have that have been overlooked.”

Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this article. Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com.
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