The recent Blue and Gray staff editorial on February 18 claims that admissions standards have been lowered and that students are being admitted who may be “detrimental to the academic and communal integrity of the institution.” This is not true. The statistics and supporting documentation are available for anyone to see. We are proud of the job we do in Admissions as we continue to attract a diverse, competitive, and well-rounded freshman class each and every year.
It’s difficult not to take your editorial personally because I’m invested in UMW. I began my freshman year at Mary Washington College in 1990. It wasn’t perfect, but I loved it. After I graduated in 1994, I took a one year temporary position as an admissions counselor and never left. I’ve done just about every job in admissions from tour guide to publications to operations and became director two years ago. My desire to continue the great tradition we have here of exceptional students, high academic standards, and an engaged thriving community is what I strive for every day.
First and foremost, we do not admit students who we do not believe will succeed at Mary Washington. The last thing we want to do is set a student up to fail. The student suffers academically, emotionally, and financially while the university suffers by not retaining the student.
There is also no reason not to be proud of number of new students at the start of the year. Other schools like Virginia Tech and George Mason also celebrated their largest enrolling classes. At the time the official UMW census was taken in November, the number had slightly decreased to 972, which is quite similar to the class of 2011 with 982. This also reversed a trend of decreasing enrollment: 955 (2012), 944 (2013), and 856 (2014).
2014 was a tough year. While applications were up, the number of enrolling students dropped. We did not hide this as the editorial claims. The writer continues claiming “the school has increasingly been lowering the standards of admission.” Differences in class size are not correlated with the quality of the class but are impacted by many factors. These include but are not limited to the size of the applicant pool, the availability of financial aid, or even campus construction. The basis for admission has remained largely unchanged. UMW will not admit students who do not demonstrate qualities that indicate they are prepared for the rigorous academics of this university.
The writer continues with “where are the statistics that show the accepted GPA and SAT scores of incoming classes?” Over the past four years, the average high school GPA of the incoming class has actually gone up: 3.48 (fall 2012), 3.51 (fall 2013), 3.56 (fall 2014), and 3.56 (fall 2015). There has been a slight decline in average SAT scores, but one reason the University elected to initiate a test-optional pathway is that college success has been shown to correlate much more strongly with daily high school performance than with performance on standardized tests.
Also of note, this past year, we had a record number of students admitted to and enrolled in the Honors Program. These are our strongest students academically and they represented 10% of the entering class in 2015. Standards have not been lowered and this information is available in print and online.
We did experience some decline in freshman to sophomore retention over the past few years (this data is shared publically, every year), but this can be attributed to many factors. The really good news here is that after three consecutive years of modest decline, freshman to sophomore retention rates improved this year, bringing the rate back over 80%.
Also, our fall-to-spring retention for first year students who started this fall 2015 is almost exactly the same as the rate from last year. Our percentage of new students who were put on probation after the fall semester, also on par with last year, leads to the same conclusion: there is no indication that this class will be any less successful than last year’s class. Claims were also made about the character and personality of the admitted class.
There simply is no statistical evidence that the Class of 2019 has a higher percentage of students, either struggling academically or behaving in ways inconsistent with the community values of the University. Drug dealing, unfortunately, happens at even the most selective universities in the United States, as recent stories in the news suggest. The University of Mary Washington has both legal and disciplinary means of addressing these problems, and as a member of this community, I hope and trust that any evidence of such activity is being reported to appropriate authorities.
Admissions is not “blinded” by our largest freshman class, nor are we “hiding” statistics. The Entering Class Profile is published annually on our website. I encourage you to check it out.
http://www.umw.edu/admissions/undergraduate/checklist/entering-class-profile/ I, along with the entire Admissions team, take tremendous care in the application review process with the goal of enrolling the best class we can possibly enroll.
Melissa Yakabouski ‘94
Director of Undergraduate Admissions