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My view: Changes in U.'s admissions process

By David Pershing

Published: Thursday, May 24 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Improving undergraduate student success at the University of Utah is one of my administration's top priorities. Changes in the U.'s admissions process, which will go into effect for the class of 2013, are designed to help us do just that by increasing retention, advancing academic performance and raising graduation rates.

We believe this new approach will ultimately allow us to admit more Utah residents who will succeed at the U. because we will have fewer students dropping out.

Starting this summer, we will begin holistic reviews of freshmen applications — a process followed by the vast majority of our peer institutions in the Pac-12 and beyond. Simply stated, this means that in considering eligible applicants we will look beyond GPA and ACT scores to incorporate a wide variety of factors that we know have a bearing on success in college, including depth of academic preparation in high school, as well as personal qualities — including integrity, maturity, motivation and resilience; a commitment to citizenship and leadership; respect for historically underrepresented populations; and the ability to contribute to and benefit from a culturally and intellectually diverse learning community.

As we implement our new approach, the most obvious change that prospective students and their parents will notice is the elimination of minimum GPA and ACT scores for admission.

We have concluded that when considered in isolation, these scores are not reliable predictors of student success. The benefit will be that entering freshmen will have confidence that they are well prepared for success in their undergraduate studies.

As we pursue a more comprehensive assessment approach to selecting students who will flourish at the U., our commitment to supporting the state's unique student demographic endures. Many of our students are married. Many have families. Approximately three-fourths of the U.'s undergraduates work at least 30 hours a week, many off campus.

We are also investing in more counseling and guidance services to help our students balance their commitments, stay on track and graduate on time — and we are striving to provide more on-campus jobs to keep our students close and connected to the U.

The U.'s Strategic Enrollment Plan is not about scores, it's about students and doing what's right to help our state achieve the goals of the Prosperity 2020 Plan. As the state's flagship institution of higher education, the University of Utah has a responsibility to help improve retention and graduation rates amongst Utah's undergraduates, which will enhance the state's economic competitiveness — and reduce the tax burden for all Utahns.

To do that, we want to encourage high school students to prepare well for college — to fully utilize their junior and senior years — and we intend to provide students who gain admission with the support they need to succeed at the U. — and in life.

Our goal is to ensure that the University of Utah continues to graduate generations of innovators and leaders who will make significant contributions to the economic, social and cultural life of our state, the nation and the world.

Dave Pershing is president of the University of Utah.

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