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COUNCIL 2001-2002 Year-end Committee Reports

Admissions and Financial Aid

April 27, 2002

Scheduled for discussion at Council on October 2, 2002

Charges: The Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid has cognizance over matters of recruitment, admissions and financial aid that concern the University as a whole and that are not the specific responsibility of individual faculties. It is also responsible for recommending changes in policy to University Council. In addition to this overall charge, the Committee was given three specific charges this year:

  1. Evaluate the effectiveness of the pre-freshman program as a tool to permit more aggressive recruitment and retention of talented students who may be at academic risk.
  2. Work with the administration to develop a system for sharing admissions data with the Committee.
  3. Review the allocation of financial aid funds as it influences the University's competitive status in enrolling admitted students. Given the increases in aid     offered at some of the Ivy schools, can the University contemplate increasing financial aid for non-North American students?

Committee Membership: Dennis DeTurck (chair), Evis Cama, Terry Conn, Suzanne Kauffman Depuyt, David Freiman, Gregory Guild, Daniel Hammer, Ehud Lavi, Laurie Grevner, Thomas Kimberly, Justin Mazur, Jessica Merlin, Kristin Miller, Hilal Nakiboglu, Sharon Pepe, Arnold Rosoff, William Schilling, Warren Seider (fall only), Willis Stetson, Afnan Tariq, Terri White and guest Bernard Lentz. A previous Committee recommended that Bernard Lentz be named an ex officio member of the committee, a recommendation with which the current Committee concurs.

Background and Process: The Committee met several times each semester, and each time received status reports from Dean Stetson of Admissions and Director Schilling of SFS. Subsets of the full Committee met to discuss charges 1 and 3 above.

The Committee's deliberations about the explicit Council charges and other issues that arose during the year occurred within the following background. Penn is an excellent, popular school. In large measure it owes its popularity with undergraduate students and with those who recommend colleges to undergraduate students to the substantial and highly successful efforts of the Admissions Office. By almost any empirical measure (SAT scores, average class rank, number of applications, [except for a slight drop this year, which was not endemic to Penn], selectivity, yield…), Penn is doing exceptionally and increasingly well. This is reflected in media publications as well as the high regard in which we are held by students, prospective students (visitations by high school underclassmen are substantially up this year) and their parents.

All debates about changes in admissions policy must take into account the fact the mandate that the size of each undergraduate class remain constant, and that Penn's resources for financial aid are not as large as those of institutions with which we are often in direct competition. Harvard and Princeton continue to make headlines by offering more and more attractive (i.e., loan-free) financial packages to aided students, and our Student Financial Services does remarkably well at keeping us in the game by creative use of its more limited resources.

Acknowledgments: The Committee relies heavily on the expertise of the Dean of Admissions, Willis Stetson, the Director of Student Financial Services, William Schilling, and the head of the Office of Institutional Research and Analysis, Bernard Lentz. We are indebted to them for their patient explanations of admissions and financial aid processes, and for the data they have been able to provide concerning our students. The committee also gratefully acknowledges the excellent administrative support provided by Kim Hoover.

Discussion: The Committee's deliberations focused on the following points:

Admissions policy: Penn does not simply accept the strongest students academically. As is the case at all elite universities, our Admissions Office takes geographic diversity and many other factors into account. Such factors require balancing the strength of individual applicants with the overall strength of the "community" of students in each class. Given the constraint of fixed class size, Penn has reached a rough (but dynamic) equilibrium that is generally accepted and respects the prescriptions of the University administration and faculty (as documented for example in the 1967 "McGill report" and its subsequent revisions).

Our discussions with many constituencies (alumni, athletes, college house staff, deans, engineers, humanists, scientists, Wharton) have reinforced the notion that tampering with the admissions process would not be in the best interest of the overall Penn community, even though it might serve the interests of particular subgroups. We do encourage, to all reasonable extent, greater participation in the admissions process by faculty from the four undergraduate schools. This participation can take the form of sitting in on and participating in the actual admissions meetings, or by creative ways of recruiting admitted students with specific academic interests.

Charge 3:

The need-blind admission of North American students, combined with very constrained financial resources (compared to Ivy peers) requires a diligent, creative, and aggressive approach by Student Financial Services. It is remarkable how well that office determines need and appropriately mixes grant, loan, and work aid in order to compete successfully with other institutions (at both the upper and lower tiers). At this point, it seems that the biggest problem is simply a lack of sufficient funding for undergraduate financial aid.

Last year's Committee recommended commitment to the goal of admitting qualified students from beyond North America on a need-blind basis, and to demonstrate this commitment by providing financial aid to twelve additional international students in the class of 2006. No deliberate action on this motion was taken either by University Council or by the Admissions Office. However, this year the Admissions Office has admitted several more (and more needy) international students, even without such a deliberate mandate. The issue as to whether to change the policy in favor of more need-blind admission of non-North American students remains open, although this year's committee is also favorably inclined toward it.

Charge 2:

Last year's Committee recommended the creation of an admissions database that would contain information relevant to Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid and be updated yearly. However, it has become apparent that what is needed more is updated information technology equipment and software in the admissions, financial aid and registrar's offices. The Committee understands that such upgrades are either in the works or already underway, and we recommend that important criteria be compatibility of the systems among the three offices, and the ability to perform real-time searches and queries on the data to the extent possible.

Charge 1:

The Pre-Freshman Program can only be the first component of a system that supports at-risk students throughout their Penn careers. PENNCAP (administered by Academic Support Programs) and its cousin CAAP (administered by DRIA) are successful examples of such comprehensive support systems.

The charge to our committee was vague about the population to whom an expansion of the system would be directed. Two examples of such populations come to mind: "special-admit" athletes and students from underrepresented minorities (especially from the Philadelphia region). At present, it does not seem feasible to expand the existing Pre-Freshman Program significantly for either group. The current Program succeeds beyond academics in that it offers its students a friendly, gentle introduction to the Penn/Philadelphia environment, and a chance to "network" with other first-year students as well as a select group of upperclassmen. This aspect would likely suffer in a greatly expanded program.

One could contemplate a more aggressive and longer-term (one or two years) Pre-Freshman program that would recruit students from Philadelphia (especially public school students) to commit to attend Penn, and for Penn to commit to them provided they successfully complete a rigorous Penn-preparatory academic program taught by Penn faculty during their senior (and perhaps junior) year(s) of high school. VPUL's Upward Bound program is a significant step in this direction, and we encourage the University to contemplate applying more resources (and its own faculty) to further this effort.

Early Decision: The proportion of students admitted to Penn early decision has been increasing steadily. Given this, and the media's recent attention to the issue, we feel that next year's Committee should be charged to consider, in cooperation with the Admissions Office, what are appropriate targets for the proportion of the entering class admitted early decision.

  Almanac, Vol. 49, No. 6, October 1, 2002