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Following heightened interest in the college admissions process nationwide, The Daily sat down with University of Michigan admissions officials to discuss the various pieces of the University’s process. The following interview with Erica Sanders, director of undergraduate admissions, and Kedra Ishop, vice provost for enrollment management, has been edited for length and clarity.
The Michigan Daily: In light of the Varsity Blues scandal, there has been heightened attention on the college admissions process nationally. We would like to ask a few questions to clarify some of the lesser-known pieces of the process at the University. Please explain what happens to an application on the University’s end from the time the applicant presses submit to late August, when the incoming class arrives on campus.
Erica Sanders: Once the students submit the application, we receive the application electronically. And the student then receives reminders to submit all the required documents: so the transcript, official submission of test scores (and) we require a teacher and a counselor letter of recommendation. And then once those documents are received, then we will start the evaluation process.
So first, we process the app and then it goes on to evaluation process, all of our applications are evaluated at least twice. And within that process, the first evaluation is done randomly, we have about 100 external staff members that go through between 25 and 50 hours of training yearly, depending on how many years they’ve read for the office in the past and what has been the pattern of their read both speed and accuracy so that we’re able to ensure that everyone basically has the same level of competency with evaluation as they’re reading files. Once that initial read is done, they are assigned randomly — so they don’t read for any particular territory or volume of application, so that there isn’t a bias towards, ‘Oh I want all of my students to be read more favorably,’ they’re read randomly.
The second evaluation is done based upon a territory management system, and so our staff basically are split into in-state, out-of-state and international territories that they become far more familiar with. So they have more expertise in regards to this whole system, the grading system and curriculum choices that students may have available. If it’s in state, we visit the high school … we visit 500 schools in state and over 500 schools out of state. We don’t travel internationally, but we do have faculty that visit internationally that actually do provide some of the recruitment aspects for our population of students.
Once the applications are evaluated, that information is all captured electronically so each of the evaluators can't see the others evaluation. And within that evaluation, we’re looking at the academic core, which would be academic preparation in the form of course grades, trend in grade performance (and) curriculum selection, so what was available in context at the high school and what the student took advantage of. What typically, students might take atthat high school. We obtain information from the counselor recommendation if available, or the profile sheet that they'll provide from the school, and different additional information that the student provides about information, things that they’re involved in. So extracurricular activities, leadership, awards and honors. And then there’s writing component, so the student has four different writing opportunities to say more about themselves and really help to give us information about how they would differentiate themselves in our process.
Once it’s all completed, both the first and second evaluator, that information aligns in our system so that a third evaluator if there’s a concern or question might evaluate the application again, or might go to a faculty committee. If there’s another question about the application. That information is then recorded. And at a point later in the process, we do have an enrollment management group that really looks at where we are in the process and how many students we need to offer admission to in order to make the class. So that then goes into that group where they really provide their direction for me and my team to say, how many students do we need to admit at this point in time in the process to enroll a class of 6600 students, and then we released decisions to students. So students will be offered admission, some population, the student population may be deferred for further information, or down the line in the process where we’ll have more information about the overall applicant pool and a final decision later. Or we may, at that point, tell students that we’re not able to offer admission and may encourage them to consider transfer opportunities to the institution.
TMD: The Wall Street Journal recently noted that in the wake of the scandal, many schools have kept with their “trust, don’t verify” ideology of reading applications. Has the University made any changes in its admissions processes in light of the scandal to protect the sanctity of the admissions process?
Sanders: I think we’re always, every year, looking to think about the process in terms of are there ways in which we can improve, so we’ve certainly looked at the information that’s been released so far from other institutions, about ways in which they’re tweaking their process, but also noting how it may different from already very complex process that very much has a strong attention to detail, and multiple reviews, where if there’s an inconsistency, maybe a student doesn’t list an activity or does list an activity on an application, but teacher and counselor don’t really hone in on it or say anything about that activity, but the student is really indicating a high level of involvement, that might be something that we might follow up on. … If it’s something that seems regular standard, that we might see that it might not draw attention to it, we wouldn’t necessarily follow up.
All students sign something at the end of their application — no matter what application apparatus they’re using — indicating that the work that they’re submitting is truthful and it is their own. So, if at some later point we find out that there’s some information that wasn’t true, we then follow up with the student, but we do place the responsibility on the student to be truthful and honest. And certainly if there are discrepancies that come to light somewhere in the process, we do follow up on them.
Kedra Ishop: We have a strong crime and conduct policy … (and) one of the benefits of that policy is that we have a mechanism where if there is something that comes to light during the process — or after the process — we have a set of campus policies that are able to address it. And that includes students that have been enrolled for two years — if something comes to you, comes to mind after that, we have a policy on the table to address it.
TMD: Early numbers for the incoming class of 2023 show the average ACT score and the number of applications are up, while the acceptance rate has decreased. Tell us about the class from an admissions perspective. In what ways has the University made strides in selecting the new class, and where is there still room for growth?
Sanders: As application volume continues to go up, you’re going to see less variation in test scores, typically we’re going to see more students that maybe their scores have gone up for a number of reasons. And so as you think about it, it also does provide the opportunity to go beyond that, because you start to see averages within the class that are just, gosh, a lot of the students have really great test scores, but what else are they bringing to the table?
And so that focus, focus and emphasis, they talked about on what did they select in terms of their course selection? What are they adding to the class in terms of leadership, extracurricular activities, awards and service, how they really articulate in their essays, why Michigan is a good fit, what they’re interested in studying in Michigan, become the places that allows the flexibility to focus most of our time and effort in the evaluative process and shaping a class that really fits with the mission of the institution, because we have such a great class of students who are applying each year. So it’s that shape, and honing of what we’re looking for in the process where we spend the bulk of our effort, not necessarily on that test score. The test score helps to verify what we may see in the academic record, or help us really determine if there's support that we may need to provide that based upon where they attended school … and that allows us really to determine the kind of support mechanism we can put in place. So the test scores really give us that kind of information rather than an outcome or decision for the student.
Ishop: Michigan kind of sits in a remarkable place where our applicant pool, admitted pool … and enrolling student body doesn’t have a lot of variation in terms of their test score and GPA credentials. … We’ve been in this space for a long time where we have to look for far beyond that. Because we have many more students even in the applicant pool that near beat our average enrolling student body.
TMD: The University uses the new adversity index from the College Board and was part of a pilot of the new program this year. The passage of Proposal 2 in the State of Michigan meant public universities could not look at gender, race or national origin in the admissions process, though this new index is viable under the ruling because it does not explicitly look at these factors. How has this new index impacted the admissions process at the University? What impact, if any, has the index had on the reading of applications and the incoming class?
Ishop: We were a member of the pilot, and the pilot was just doing a historical analysis, looking back at how some of the environmental context dashboard data correlated with the work that we had done in the admissions office, we are just now moving into a process where the ECD — the original context — dashboard information will be used in the admissions process. So it hasn’t been used in the past. It’s coming into our upcoming fall review process. …
The validity is for us as institutions is that it takes information that we’ve paid a lot of attention to already. … We’ve always been utilizing a lot of this information. The environment context dashboard makes that information consistent. And it makes it available in places where perhaps schools, because they’re focusing their attention on other areas, aren’t able to provide some of the robust community and school information that other schools may be able to provide. So it’s not that it’s new for us, it’s not that it’s different, it just gives us a consistent tool of information for all schools. And it’s not a point of a score in the way when we think about test scores, and that it’s individualized to a student. It’s about the context from which that student is coming information that’s always been important to us, that we get from profiles and other things, that we ask of students and schools to submit.
TMD: As a University that has students coming to Ann Arbor from across the country and internationally, your team must do a lot of recruitment. How does recruiting differ between certain populations, such as in-state versus out-of-state, or students from rural districts versus urban and suburban ones?
Sanders: As we visit high schools, part of reviewing what opportunities students have available to them in the schools is really important, but also trying to really inform “Why Michigan?” for those students as we’re visiting with them. … There’s a lot of opportunity that certainly as a student who’s local, yes, you may know something about the city of Ann Arbor, but you likely don’t know as much about the breadth and depth of everything that’s available at the institution. Same will be true of our students, depending on whether they’re from the Upper Peninsula, or from another region of the state or an urban area, where the thought is maybe they’ve only visited Ann Arbor for a sporting event or a specific event on campus and don’t necessarily know all the opportunities that are available. So as we go into the high school, some of it becomes trying to inform ourselves from the things that we may learn from high school profile, about the kind of community the student is coming from, so that as we’re talking to those students, we can speak to their needs, what they might be looking for in a community, like Ann Arbor or the University that we can address during that high school visit.
Ishop: Recruitment is not just about visits. It’s also the many other ways that we contact students, and in particular, when we’re honing in on issues of socioeconomic diversity, students coming from smaller communities or rural communities or out state communities, or urban communities or native communities. We have recruitment materials … (and) they’re very specific, so that we can talk about not only academic fit into the campus, but also how they can find their home on the campus and see themselves at a place like this. So targeted information about affordability.
TMD: An analysis from The Daily found the number of transfer applications decreased from this year to last year. Are there any reasons for why this could be? Does the University see this as an issue, and, if yes, what steps is the University planning to take to address it?
Sanders: It was a slight decline, and what we would say is typically we don’t look at anything that we notice the numbers as a “trend” in one year. But we also recognize in the state of Michigan, there’s some demographic shifts in terms of the number of high school graduates. … But for us, we also look not only at that application rate, because applications really aren’t the driving force here, but we look at qualified applicants. And we’re seeing that that’s very consistent for us, but we also noticed that we had more students enrolled. So for us, it’s not necessarily just the application volume, especially for transfer students. … For us, this year was a win because we saw students getting better information, the alignment of those credit evaluations, that the schools and colleges have worked very hard on trying to ensure the students have good information about how their credits will transfer in is helping them make good decisions that will ultimately mean that they’ll complete their degree.
Ishop: We don’t drive applications for the purposes of getting applications. And so particularly in the transfer space, where it’s important that a student understand how their credits will transfer to us how that will allow them to move through the institution, there’s a lot that happens prior to an application for student to decide if this is kind of the right path for them. … If you look at that trend line over the years, you’ll see some big, big spike in about 2015-2016 has been because our partners in the colleges and schools have taken a look at their transfer credits and have made new alignments and new partnerships with community colleges around the region … so that’s provided a pathway for more students to be able to seek admission here. But there’s a lot that happens in conversations to make sure that applicants that this is a good fit, and the transfer student in particular, because so much is dependent on the ability of their credit and whatnot to transfer that, maybe a little indicative, but it’s not an effort to get more applications for the sake of more applications — that’s just more students to deny. And we also know that strong applicants make for strong admits and they come. So we’re paying attention to a very different trend line than really focusing on applications.
TMD: Now in its third year, the Go Blue Guarantee has been hailed as a catalyst for the enrollment of low-socioeconomic students at the University, has one of the highest average incomes of all the colleges nationwide, according to the New York Times. How has the marketing program impacted the admissions pool in recent years, as well as the overall campus community? What are the next steps for this program?
Ishop: We’re excited to be moving into what we consider to me the second full year of the Go Blue Guarantee. It was announced in the summer of 2017 for implementation in the Winter of 2018, which was really bringing all of our current student body who needed to be bought up to the Go Blue Guarantee.
But the premise of the of the GBG, it’s a catalyst for enrollment, but its first to help families and students understand that this is a place they should consider applying, and even more so that they should be thinking about this as a place they should consider that they should be applying to. They should be taking the right kinds of courses and making the right kinds of decisions well in advance of the college admissions process. … We wanted to be talking to that student, bright students who were making choices about algebra in the eighth grade and having to decide whether they push themselves a little bit, or taking the AP classes. So it’s, as Erica had mentioned, with the transfer lines, we have to look at this over the long haul … we look at is to see if we have changes in the applicant pool, even the immediate after applicant pool, even though we know this will take some years and early data has shown that from the first year to the second, we had a nice increase in low income students applying to the University. And we’ll keep working in that space, helping to identify the right students that are that so that we can bolster the applicant pool, which then gives the admissions office the opportunity to make those admissions decisions.
A previous version of this article published online and in print had grammatical and editing errors. This article has been reviewed and re-edited to more clearly and accurately present quotes from Sanders and Ishop. We regret the errors.