AMHERST, Mass. - The University of Massachusetts is moving to modify some of its admissions and financial aid practices in light of changing legal views on affirmative action nation-wide, according to an announcement by Joe Marshall, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment services.
Marshall said: "UMass Amherst has a long-standing commitment to diversity but we recognize that a new climate exists. We are looking at some short-term and some long-term approaches to dealing with the changing times."
In the past, especially after the so-called Bakke case in California in the late 1970s, many universities used race as a significant factor to be considered in the admissions process in order to foster a more diverse student population, Marshall said. UMass followed this practice with a goal of recruiting an incoming first-year class of qualified students who reflect the diversity of graduating seniors from Massachusetts high schools. With the recent legal interpretations in mind, Marshall said, "Now, when we consider which applicants to admit, we will use a much broader array of permissible criteria for achieving diversity."
The same will hold true for certain scholarships, which, in the past, could be awarded mainly on race and ethnic criteria. "We will broaden the definition of diversity for these scholarships," Marshall said.
Chancellor David K. Scott said: "The University is committed to its tradition of promoting diversity in its many dimensions among its students, faculty, and staff." While the context of diversity has evolved over time, Scott said, "As a land-grant public institution the University has a responsibility to promote access to higher education by under-represented groups, and we will continue to try to achieve that goal."
Scott said: "In the first few decades of the University, very few women were admitted. And, it was only after World War II and the GI Bill that the campus became accessible to students outside the traditional age of 18 to 22. Very few students of color were admitted until after the revolutions in education and the civil rights movement of the 1960s."
He said: "As the country''s ideas of diversity continue to evolve, so do the admissions policies necessary to reach our goals. Today, diversity encompasses many dimensions, including cultural, racial, geographic, and socioeconomic backgrounds."
Marshall said admissions applications will be changed to include more variables besides race and ethnicity, such as economic status and first generation to attend college. Other steps will be taken to try to increase the "yield" of students of color.
"Yield" is the number of students who are admitted and who chose to attend. Currently, Marshall said, the yield for students of color with high academic profiles is 22 percent, compared to 27 percent for non-minority students with high academic profiles.
These steps will include involving the faculty more closely in reaching out to students as they make their decisions about where to matriculate; enlisting alumni volunteers to call and assist applicants; increasing informational receptions for applicants; and increasing the number of applicant "readers" in order to expedite the acceptance notification process.
Longer-range efforts will look to increasing scholarship funds and opening the application process to a broader range of students; reviewing scholarship criteria to ensure broader inclusion; and developing an admissions procedure that would decrease emphasis on SAT scores along with developing a ranking system to weight GPAs and SAT scores, and considering essays a critical ranking point.
Scott said he is personally strongly committed to maintaining a diverse campus. He said he especially wants to do more to reach out to potential students from low-income families. He said: "It is well known that there exists a high degree of correlation between SAT scores and family income. At the national level, each $10,000 of income adds 20 points to the SAT score." An admissions policy that focuses largely on standardized tests will exclude students from low-income families who have not had the same opportunities to develop their potential as their more well-off and better supported peers, he said.
He said: "A failure to help these students obtain a quality education will lead to a continuing educational deficit, and to a less vibrant future for the economy of the commonwealth. Our challenge now is to find new approaches which will allow the University to achieve a diverse student body that demonstrates the full range of human potential and which will be consistent with current legal interpretations."
Scott said the commonwealth must "launch a crusade" to identify and support middle school students who need help to develop their potential. He said the University stands ready to form a partnership with state government, business, and other educational institutions to invest in at-risk students. He said: "While the University has a variety of ad hoc outreach efforts to middle- and grade-school students, we need the equivalent of a Marshall Plan for education in the knowledge age. Like the Marshall Plan, it will not be cheap, but the gain for society, for the economy, and for the vitality of the workforce will be enormous. A failure to address these issues will be even more costly both in financial and human terms."
Scott said he will appoint a task force with national representation to explore the broad context of diversity and education. He said the charge to the task force will be to: "look at the moral imperative of dealing with the cumulative effect of past injustice; look at the cultural imperative of creating a vibrant intellectual atmosphere; and look at the economic imperative of educating students with the special tools that will be needed in the diverse, pluralist world of the future."