In an attempt to diversify and manage the enrollment of future freshmen classes, the University recently reformed its admissions policy.
Although no official University statement was released detailing the specifics, the change – which replaces the formulaic guaranteed admission process with a more subjective individual review of applicants – goes into effect this fall.
“This is a way of refining the (admissions) process to meet the needs of the University and the applicants,” admissions director Wayne Sigler said.
Interim University President Robert Bruininks said the policy is one step in creating a diverse student population.
“We want this to be a community of very talented young people who mirror the characteristics of our own society,” he said.
Under the former admissions policy, a student would be automatically admitted if they met requirements for standardized test scores, high school course work and an early application deadline.
The new process still focuses on a student’s academic record and standardized test scores as primary admissions criteria, but a student’s personal experiences will be weighted more heavily.
Personal experiences such as participation in advanced placement courses, work experience and overcoming personal hardships will be used as secondary factors in the review process.
Creating a diverse student body based on factors such as geographical background, exceptional talents, community involvement and work experience benefits the University by preparing graduates who will be working in a more global and diverse work force, Sigler said.
While most flagship universities have adopted a more holistic admissions policy – including 10 of the 11 schools in the Big Ten – the new process has not gone without some criticism.
Pamela Burnett, director of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at the University of California-Berkeley, said some students who were not admitted feel too much emphasis is placed on hardship factors.
Berkeley switched its guaranteed admissions policy in 1998 to a comprehensive application review, which assesses applicants by academic ability, exercised leadership and community involvement, Burnett said.
As of 2002, all but two University of California campuses use the comprehensive review.
Berkeley’s policy is not an attempt to increase minority student population, but instead is necessary to balance the increasing number of applicants and limited space, Burnett said.
But some affirmative action opponents say the review process could be a veiled attempt to increase minority enrollment without breaking the law.
Curt Levey, Center for Individual Rights director of legal and public affairs – a national organization opposed to affirmative action – said the use of a subjective review process is not questionable, but using race as a factor is.
“If this is merely a ruse and a way to get around the law as the legal heat has been increased, then it is as unconstitutional (as quotas),” Levey said.
“But on the other hand, if it is an honest attempt to take more than numbers into account and it will be applied equally to people of all races, then there’s no basis for us objecting,” he said.
In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of University of California Regents v. Bakke that race could be used as a factor in the admissions process, but the use of affirmative action quotas is illegal.
Since the Bakke ruling, several institutions have had their admissions policies legally challenged.
Most recently, the University of Texas Law School, University of Georgia and the University of Michigan have been sued for considering race or using race quotas during their admissions processes.
Kirk Kolbo, legal council for the plaintiffs in the two Michigan cases, said many universities recognize they must avoid racial quotas.
“When universities are employing those double standards, they are getting into trouble,” he said. “One of the ways to get away from that, and if you want diversity, is to look at the individual’s whole background and experiences.”
While University officials say the revamped policy is not an attempt to control who is admitted, racial background is one factor in admissions.
“We support affirmative action as a way to open the doors of opportunity, but we’re moderate in how we use it in the admissions process,” Sigler said.
Charles Samuelson, executive director of Minnesota’s American Civil Liberties Union, said it is too early to say if the University is opening itself up to discrimination lawsuits but said his organization is always keeping an eye on developments.
Doing the Math
lthough increasing diversity is one of the goals of the policy change, officials said the main purpose is to help manage students and resources.
The University receives between 14,500 and 15,500 applications each year but only has space for 5,000 freshmen, Sigler said.
Last year the University admitted more than 5,300 freshmen, its largest class in 10 years. The size of the class put a strain on students’ access to University resources, Sigler said.
An admissions counselor will evaluate each application as it is received, considering primary and secondary factors to determine the applicant admittance to his or her first college choice.
Applicants not initially accepted will be placed in a deferred group or declined admission. Those in the deferred group will be re-evaluated using the same factors once the remaining space in each college is determined.
Sigler said if an applicant is not admitted to his or her first college choice, the University will then consider the applicant’s second or third choice.
Students can appeal an admissions decision and have their application reviewed with an opportunity to include more information they feel might be valuable in the admissions process.
Sigler said the new policy is not much different than the old one, and the University will continue to accept students with top academic records.
“We’re an academic institution, and we think those other factors are very important, but at the end of the day we have to offer students admission who have a strong probability of being successful academically at this point in their career,” he said.
National higher education officials said no one has completed a national study of how a subjective review process affects overall academic success because the method is so new.
Jerry Rinehart, assistant dean and director of undergraduate admissions for the Carlson School of Management – one of the three University colleges that implemented the same admission change a year ago – said he has seen an increase in overall college applicant preparedness.
Not all major universities are convinced the holistic approach to admissions has merit.
The University of Iowa uses a form of guaranteed admissions based on class rank and completion of college prep course work, officials said.
Julie Schuster, an admissions counselor for Iowa, said the institution does not factor in any extracurricular activities in the admissions process. But if a student does not meet the required criteria, she said, officials will assess the student using a formula based on standardized test scores and class rank.
“Studies show that those students who meet the (admissions) criteria are successful at Iowa,” she said. “We don’t want to admit someone who doesn’t meet the criteria because we don’t think they are going to be successful here.”
While Sigler said any admissions process used by the University will have its critics, the Admissions office will continue to review and improve the process when necessary.
“We’re absolutely sure our processes are fair and consistent and reasonable,” Sigler said.
Brad Unangst welcomes comments at [email protected]