Grades Only Part of Picture for New UW Admissions Plan

Nick Perry, Seattle Times, Oct. 6

Beginning this year, the University of Washington will no longer automatically admit top students based on their high-school grades and test scores.

The university is ditching a statewide student-ranking system called the Admissions Index, which it relied on to admit about half its students. The university is also getting rid of an internal system called the “grid,” which ranked remaining students on a combination of academic and personal factors.

Instead, university staffers plan to read and review every one of the 16,000 annual freshmen applications to come up with a “holistic” assessment of each candidate. Besides academic performance, they will consider factors such as whether a student has overcome personal or social adversity, their leadership skills and their extracurricular interests.

The changes are in line with a national shift by competitive public universities. The shift was prompted in part by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2003 that universities could consider race or ethnicity as a factor in a comprehensive admission review, but could not award points for it in any admission formula.

Using race as an admissions factor has been illegal in Washington since voters passed Initiative 200 in 1998. A UW official said the new system would not consider race, but would take socioeconomic factors into account.

“It’s a very big shift,” said Philip Ballinger, the UW director of admissions. “The basic difference is that there is no grid anymore, no Admissions Index, no database, no pointing this or weighting that,” he said. “It will allow us to create a full context to understand what a student has done and to know something about a student’s family, history and the opportunities they have or haven’t had.”

But Tim Eyman, a co-sponsor of I-200, said the changes are a “sneaky, underhanded attempt” by the UW to skirt the initiative and give preference to students of color.

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The extra work reading applications is expected to cost $200,000 per year, money the UW plans to largely recoup by raising application fees from $38 to about $50. The university plans to add three permanent staffers and hire 20 graduate students part time to help read the applications.

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