From obstacle to advantage: UNLV and Kira Talent discuss leveraging holistic admissions at WAGS

At the annual WAGS conference, UNLV discussed the challenges of incorporating holistic practices in the admissions processes and shared how Kira Talent helped the university turn those challenges into advantages.

“In 2014, around 33% of our graduate students identified as minority students. Today, we’re up more than 10% with 44.9% of our fall 2020 enrolled graduate students identifying as minorities.”

This incredible increase in diversity was the focal point of Kara Wada’s presentation at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Western Association of Graduate Schools (WAGS). The theme of this year’s WAGS conference was “Graduate Education 360°: Supporting the Whole Student”, and Wada, the Assistant Dean of Admissions & Enrollment Management at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), spoke about the challenges UNLV faced in their effort to incorporate holistic practices into their admissions processes. She then shared how Kira Talent helped the university turn those challenges into advantages.

Powering holistic processes with a small team

In 2014, the UNLV Graduate College took on the task of incorporating holistic practices into the admissions process of 150 graduate programs with approximately 6,000 yearly applicants. As a small team of only one recruitment specialist and three admissions professionals, they turned to Kira to help them achieve the scale they needed.

Wada discussed how adding timed video and written questions through a Kira Asynchronous Assessment helped the different programs improve the applicant experience and reduce cost and travel barriers. Wada also touched on how, in a growing climate of test-optional admissions, Kira assessments have provided UNLV programs with a way to evaluate applicants’ non-cognitive skills and competencies.

“Over the course of the past year, we’ve seen quite a few of our graduate programs wave GRE and GMAT scores, either removing those test scores altogether or going test-optional,” shared Wada. “We’re seeing those same programs opt-in to using Kira.”

Fostering diversity in admissions 

Starting with the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Program, the university transitioned from on-campus interviews to using an Asynchronous Assessment in Kira, which allowed them to engage with a more diverse pool of applicants. 

With Kira, the DPT program has seen a 20% increase in the diversity of its enrolled cohort. 

Another program told Wada that Kira “really helps their admissions committees get beyond seeing what’s just on paper,” allowing them to see how an applicant communicates and performs under pressure.

Of that program’s incoming cohort, 70% identify as being from diverse backgrounds.

“The results that the UNLV graduate programs are seeing with their holistic admissions process are an example of the success that can be achieved by offering a more accessible way for prospective students to engage with your program,” shared Kira’s VP of Partnerships Stephanie Beakbane, who joined Wada as a co-presenter at the WAGS conference. 

Increasing efficiency for reviewers

Increased diversity is only one of the results that UNLV was delighted to see. With Kira’s intuitive, in-platform reviewing process, UNLV reviewers are getting time put back in their days.

“Departments love it,” shared Wada. “They find scoring and reviewing in Kira to be really easy to navigate and time-efficient.” 

Kira’s on-demand reviewing process allows schools to engage more faculty and staff in the process, without it interfering with their busy schedules. The added flexibility for reviewers allows programs to adopt an inter-collegiate/cross-faculty approach to their admissions review, which helps provide a more diverse range of perspectives. “And more diversity in reviewers helps build more diversity in applicants,” Beakbane added.

Read how CSU Fullerton increased cohort diversity by engaging its diverse faculty in the admissions process

Increasing accessibility for applicants

For UNLV, it was the glowing feedback from the applicants that truly highlighted the benefits of their new, more holistic admissions process. 

“I loved how easy it was to complete,” shared one applicant. “ It allowed me to complete the interview when it was convenient for me, and I’m glad I got an opportunity for them to see me and hear what I have to say, in addition to reviewing the rest of my application.”  

Building the future of admissions

Today, the future of admissions at UNLV is looking bright as more and more of their programs are deciding to leverage holistic practices in their admissions process with Kira. UNLV has grown to more than 175 graduate programs and has expanded its use of the platform, while still accommodating each program’s specific needs. 

“We’re really excited about these results,” Wada shared, “and we’re looking forward to more programs using Kira in the future.”


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