American Renaissance

UMass Makes Diversity Investment, Jun. 21

AMHERST, Massachusetts (AP) — The Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action prompted a year of hard work at the University of Massachusetts.

While the decision upholding the use of race in university admissions meant few changes at most selective schools — many said they already conducted the holistic review of every application that the court wanted — UMass fell in another category.

Like Ohio State and Michigan’s undergraduate programs, UMass still relied on a points system in admissions, which boosted applicants’ scores based on race, among other factors. The systems allowed the schools to ensure a critical mass of minority students, and to make quick decisions on at least some of their thousands of applicants.

UMass said it was already changing its system, but had to accelerate the process after the ruling.

“The initial response was, ‘How in the world are we ever going to do this?’” said Stephanie Chapko, who oversees operations in the UMass admissions office.

The answer was it took long hours on nights and weekends for admissions staffers to implement a more thorough review process. And, despite sharp stage budget cuts, UMass hired retired faculty and recent graduates to read applications.

At Michigan, the undergraduate admissions office spent an extra $1.8 million to hire new staff and revamp its application (the court upheld the less-rigid admissions processes used by Michigan’s law school in a related ruling). Ohio State brought in 10 new application readers and will hire more next year. All three schools spent more on recruiting.

The three schools were among the last still relying on admissions formulas, but their experiences may still provide useful lessons for others.

In terms of workload, admissions staffers’ burden at Michigan and Ohio State eased in one way, though not one the schools intended: applications fell by 3,000 at Ohio State to about 17,000 last year, and by nearly 5,000 at Michigan to just over 21,000. Apparently, when the schools expanded their applications to solicit more thorough information, it dissuaded some high school seniors from applying.

Applications from blacks fell by about 500 at both schools, a slip the schools attribute partly to negative publicity and misunderstanding about their changes. Ohio State expects an incoming class next fall that’s 6.5 percent black, compared to 8.5 percent a year ago.

At UMass, applications rose overall and among Hispanics, and they were steady for blacks.

All three schools like their incoming classes. At UMass, some students who might have slipped in last year thanks to the formula didn’t cut it this year — a more thorough review picked up a senior slump or another red flag. Others got in after the more thorough evaluation revealed a sparkle that might previously have been missed.

“It makes our job more interesting and more pleasurable,” Chapko said. “You start to gain a real appreciation for these kids.”