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UMass takes weight from race, SATs in admissions

The Associated Press
01/19/00 7:19 PM Eastern

AMHERST, Mass. (AP) -- Starting with the next freshman class, the University of Massachusetts will give less emphasis to race and SAT scores in admitting students, administrators said Wednesday.

The new process grows from worry that the school's old system of affirmative action in admissions was susceptible to court challenge, administrators say. It builds on an interim policy put in place last year.

Administration spokeswoman Kay Scanlan said the new system is apt to lower undergraduate minority enrollment slightly from the current 17.8 percent. But administrators said they hope it won't, given expanded efforts to attract and keep minority students.

"We must continue to admit a diverse student body, not only for the benefit of students, but also for the good of the campus and for the good of the economy in an ever more diverse world," said Chancellor David K. Scott.

In the new process, candidates with the highest grade point averages and SAT scores will normally be admitted outright. Candidates with the lowest grades and test scores will ordinarily be rejected.

But in a middle group, equal to about 30 percent of applicants, a point system will decide who is admitted. It will ignore SATs, which are sometimes criticized as unfair to minorities, and instead give a maximum of 75 percent weight to grades. A maximum of 25 percent weight will be given for state residency, personal achievement, and potential contributions to diversity on campus.

For example, up to 5 percent of an applicant's points can come from attending a low-income high school or belonging to a racial or ethnic minority. Another 5 percent can come from overcoming adversity in education. Scanlan said all of these factors can potentially boost minority applicants.

Overall, about two-thirds of an expected 21,000 applicants will be invited to attend. The existing cap of 25 percent on out-of-state students enrolled as undergraduates will stay in place, Scanlan said.

As it was formulated, the new policy came under attack by some minority students, who view it as unfair. The administration's announcement of the final policy came during winter break, though, when many students go home. Asif Sayani, a junior from Pakistan, predicted a stir when students return next week.

Though he approves of rewarding effort and compensating for economic disadvantages, he said such a system need not reduce minority enrollment at all. "I definitely think that we are stepping back into our past," he said.

Jennifer Teixeira, a Hispanic sophomore from New Bedford, said she is glad about the new emphasis on income, though. "If you're at a lower income school, it doesn't really matter what background you come from," she said. "You're still going to be disadvantaged."

Jim Eltringham, a white junior from Charlton, said the new system will take account of broader problems that just racism. "The easy way is not always the right way. It would be easy to set a quota," he said.

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