UMass Amherst Provides Additional Data on Admissions Practices at the University

AMHERST, Mass. - The University of Massachusetts Amherst has released additional data illustrating the changes that have been made in its admissions practices for the class entering this coming fall. A Task Force is being formed to develop new procedures for Year 2000 and beyond.

Each year, the admissions office processes around 20,000 applications. To assist in evaluating the applicants, for the past five years and currently, applications are separated into six categories. A number of factors are considered in assigning applicants to these categories. These include quantifiable factors such as SATs, GPAs, and high school class rankings, as well as essays and recommendations. While quantifiable factors weigh more heavily in categories 1-3, essays and recommendations weigh more heavily in categories 4-6. In other words, the degree of subjective and deeper analysis goes up in categories 4-6.

Chancellor David K. Scott said: "Although many critics dislike the use of categories, particularly since they involve, among other criteria, GPA and SAT scores which are seen by some as unfair to minorities and students of low income families, it is essential to have some classification scheme in order to deal in a systematic way with 20,000 applications." However, for the future, he said, "We are interested in finding and using additional approaches of measuring human potential and creativity."

Scott also said that personal characteristics such as leadership qualities, family background, and race, all may be considered when applicants are assigned to various categories. "These personal characteristics can tip the balance in assigning an applicant to a specific category," he said. "In using race as one factor in achieving diversity, this part of the admissions process conforms to the principles of the 1978 Bakke decision."

After each applicant is assigned to a category, the acceptance process begins.

In the past, Scott said, virtually all applicants in categories 1-3, minority and non-minority alike, were accepted. The same holds true this year.

For applicants in categories 4-6, in the past race was also used as a significant factor in making offers of admission. This year, race is not being used in this component of the admissions process. Instead, this year, virtually all applicants in category 4 from Massachusetts are being admitted, minority and non-minority, while almost no applicants in categories 5 and 6 and no out-of-state applicants in category 4 are being admitted.

Scott said only about 13 percent of high school seniors are on track to attend college, and each year at UMass minority students from categories 1-3 make up only about 11 percent of the entering class, even though virtually all minority (and non-minority) applicants in these categories are accepted. Given this fact, Scott said, in order to approach the campus’s goal of admitting a first-year class that reflects the diversity of all high school seniors in the state, not just college-bound seniors, it has been necessary to admit a disproportionate number of minority students in categories 4-6, all of whom met Board of Higher Education standards, he noted. "Within the current pattern of students who apply, are accepted, and enroll, our goal could not be achieved," he said.

Scott said: "We instituted a bold, aggressive policy in 1994 to make the campus racially more diverse. The plan was a compassionate and reasonable one to help address inequities in our society and at the time it was implemented it was more in concert with general directions legally than it is today."

Scott also emphasized that at all times, now and in the past, campus admissions practices have always conformed to the standards set by the state Board of Higher Education. "We have always met the Board’s admissions standards," he said.

However, Scott said, "We try to stay abreast of evolving legal practices. The Boston Latin case brought the issue into sharp focus in Massachusetts and the other states in the First Circuit. We feel our current approach of using multiple factors to make the initial classification of the applicant pool is in line with current legal interpretations."

Also, he said, on-going review showed that the former bold policy was not as successful as the campus administration had hoped. He said a growing awareness that retention and graduation rates were lower than expected for all students, coupled with the new legal climate, pointed to the need to chart a new course. "All things considered, we felt we were compelled to modify our approach," he said.

Scott cited the entering class of 1994 as an example: in categories 1-3, the persistence rate (the percentage of entering students who had either graduated or were still actively enrolled eight semesters later) for both minority and non-minority students was about even, at approximately 70 percent. But, in category 4, the persistence rate was 50 percent for minority students, and 62 percent for non-minority students. In categories 5 and 6, the persistence rate was 42 percent for minority students versus 50 percent for non-minorities.

"We need to improve our retention," Scott said. "We need to find ways to better support our students. Now that we know the outcomes, to continue our past practices without better support would be unfair to the young people involved." This is the reason, Scott said, for the coming year, "We are putting our emphasis on supporting students in category 4, and on enhancing our retention efforts in general."

In conclusion, Scott said the University remains committed to its goal of admitting and graduating a student body that represents the racial diversity of high school seniors in the Commonwealth. However, he said, "We must find new and better ways to reach our goal, which is of the utmost importance for the Commonwealth. If we and other institutions fail, the Commonwealth will also fail."