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Univ. Of Michigan Uses Computer Program To Achieve Diversity

The University of Michigan says it has stopped using race and gender when selecting which students to admit, but it is using new tools to make sure it brings in a diverse class next fall.

Among the new factors is a demographic review that measures which schools and neighborhoods students come from and how well they are represented on the Ann Arbor campus.

The computer analysis, called Descriptor PLUS, from The College Board, uses a blend of geography and demographics to help supply background information about prospective students.

University officials were forced to change their admissions policies after voters approved Proposal 2 in November, which bans the use of race and gender preferences in university admissions.

University officials said Wednesday that they have received a record 27,000 applications from students seeking admission to UM next fall. They expect that number to be the largest among Big Ten schools for incoming freshmen.

Roughly 5,500 students are expected in the next freshmen class, although a few thousand more than that will gain admission but decide to go elsewhere or fail to take other steps needed for enrollment.

The admissions process won’t be complete for several more weeks. University officials said at a media briefing Wednesday that the admissions process is still thorough, holistic and multifaceted while remaining very selective and competitive.

“We make no bones about the fact diversity is important to us,” said Ted Spencer, a UM associate vice provost. “It always has been at the University of Michigan.”

The leader of a group that challenged the university’s former admissions policies says he will keep close watch on the new policy to make sure it complies with Proposal 2.

“It certainly raises some questions,” says Terry Pell of the Center for Individual Rights.

Pell says an evaluation based on socioeconomic factors — but not race or gender — likely would comply with Proposal 2.

Students’ files are reviewed at least twice. Some get a third review, and the toughest cases often are settled by a committee.

Student applications include standardized test scores, transcripts of class records, essays and letters of recommendation.

In using Descriptor PLUS, a database service from The College Board, university officials also have access to an analysis that breaks down students into clusters based on their high schools and their neighborhoods.

UM pays $15,000 a year for the service, which is new for this admissions cycle but was adopted before voters passed Proposal 2.

Michigan students typically have high school GPAs of at least 3.7, but other factors — some of which can be brought out through the new database program or in essays and letters of recommendation — influence whether a student is admitted.

At Wednesday’s briefing, university officials used as an example a White male student with a 3.1 GPA who has taken fairly tough classes. The student finished high in his class, is considered a school leader, is heavily involved in extracurricular activities and worked on a farm to help his family pay the bills.

His evaluation summary noted parents’ estimated income and educational level, race and gender, citizenship and other factors. Evaluators noted that the university probably doesn’t get many applicants from the student’s high school and that he lived in a high-interest, underrepresented neighborhood.

The student has been offered admission, university officials said.

“We want more kids from those types of schools that have done these types of things,” Spencer said.

–Associated Press

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