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Wisconsin Regents Consider Rewriting Admissions Policy To Include Race, Income


A proposed rewrite of the freshmen admissions policy for the University of Wisconsin System would de-emphasize class rank and give greater weight to nonacademic factors such as race and income.

The plan, to be considered by the UW System Board of Regents on Thursday and Friday, would also no longer encourage prospective students to take the ACT college entrance exam instead of the SAT. Instead, ACT or SAT scores would be given equal consideration.

The admissions change would follow a national trend in which university officials are increasingly considering factors such as income, race, work experience and leadership skills. They say academic rankings alone often fail to predict which students will succeed in college and they prefer this more individualistic review.

But conservatives sharply criticized the proposal after it became public earlier this year. They have questioned whether the policy would shut out academically qualified students in favor of minority and low-income students.

UW system officials say the changes are minor and reflect current practices at the system’s 13 four-year universities and its 13 two-year colleges. They say the changes are meant to increase diversity and bring the policy in line with court decisions saying race can only be considered in admissions as one of many factors.

The regents’ action would set a framework that UW institutions would use as they create their own, more specific, admissions policies, says spokesman Dave Giroux.

“It is a policy that lays the groundwork for a comprehensive review of each applicant,” he says. “We want to make sure we’re looking at the whole student. But in the end, academic performance and achievement will still be the single biggest factor.”

The plan would de-emphasize the applicants’ class rank, which a growing number of high schools have eliminated in recent years. The current UW admissions policy emphasizes class rank over other factors, but Giroux says a rank can be misleading because it ignores the classes a student has taken and competition in the school.

The new policy would require admissions officers to consider college preparatory courses, GPA and/or class rank, followed by test scores.

It would also open the process to other factors. According to a draft, those include student experiences, special talents, whether the applicant is a veteran or nontraditional student and “whether the applicant is socioeconomically disadvantaged or in an historically underrepresented racial or ethnic group.”

The current policy says officials may consider race and other factors only for students who appear likely to succeed but whose academic credentials alone aren’t good enough to win admission.

The elimination of the ACT as the preferred entrance exam reflects that UW schools already generally accept both the ACT and SAT, according to a memo to the regents.

“It’s just bringing the policy up to current standard,” says Giroux.

— Associated Press

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