Annual Report, 2005-2006
Mary Fairbairn, Denis Haney, Jay Oney, David Penniston, Shusuke Yagi, Owen McFadden, Woody O’Cain, Katie Stein, Elizabeth Weith (students) and Judy Grisel (Chair).
The admissions committee continued to focus on our goal of fostering intellectual vitality at Furman by recruiting and retaining a diverse student body (broadly defined).
During the preceding year (2004-2005) the committee spent considerable time evaluating the admissions process at Furman and at a selection of peer institutions. One outcome of this exercise was recognition that by several standard measures our admissions staff is continuing to enroll stronger and stronger students. However, Furman now receives over 4000 applications, and the process of discriminating among the many excellent candidates is challenging—particularly when the outcome of such a process is focused less on a standard set of objective measures such as GPA or SAT, than it is on recruiting those who might especially promote an intellectually engaged and diverse campus.
As a direct result of the realization that factors predicting such an outcome might need to be evaluated by alternative measures, the 2006 application was modified to include a question directly aimed at this objective: “Furman University is interested in fostering a diverse community. How might your presence at Furman contribute to this goal?”
Our committee was invested in this question for several reasons and thus initially committed to read this essay from all applicants. We purposefully chose not to have any other information about the applicants such as name, sex or where they were from, and so only knew what they chose to disclose in this one essay. Teams of two committee members read and rated each of the 813 essays during the early decision period (fall term). In the relatively few instances where there were substantially different views, members discussed the essay in order to come to some consensus. These rankings were then collated and each committee member read essays from the top-ranked choices (about 100). We then met with the admissions staff and discussed each of these candidates. Many were ranked high by both mechanisms, while some were ranked highly by the committee but clearly did not meet threshold criterion by standard measures. Each student in the third group (those qualifying for admission but not at the top of the staff’s list) were then discussed individually, and out of the 446 accepted students, the admissions committee had a role in the selection of 27.
Because we receive about four times as many applications during regular decision, the process was modified this spring. Staff forwarded only questions that came from qualified applications, and that were not clear “admits”. Thus, we read all essays from the marginal group (about 600). Again, essays were read by two people but committee members were assisted by volunteers solicited at the September 2005 faculty meeting. These included Lisa Knight, Savita Nair, Jennifer Davis, Jane Love, Erin Hahn, Robin Visel, and Martha Dolge (the last is a retired English teacher and member of the Greenville community). About 100 of these were ranked high by this process, and discussed individually in a meeting with admissions staff. From this group 42 were selected for admission.
In this way, the admissions committee’s process resulted in 69 admissions of about 2200. Furman is aiming to enroll a class of 700 new students, and we expect our efforts to result in approximately 3-6% of the class of 2010 (but as of May 1, 2006 final enrollments for next year have not been determined). In collaboration with admissions staff and the office of planning and institutional research, the committee is working to develop a method for most effectively tracking those from this group who enroll next fall (through their time at Furman and potentially beyond).
The intent is to continue the committee’s involvement in a similar way next year, however a meeting is planned to review the process and consider modifications. One concern is that the narrow window between application deadline and decision (that occurs at the end of fall and winter terms) compels intensive work at already hectic times of the year. Nonetheless, faculty feel that the novelty of this process coupled with potential benefits in helping to shape the community, may outweigh the costs. Such benefits, if indeed evident, will only be realized gradually and are dependent on finding effective methods of assessment.
Finally, the committee also began work to develop an endowed fund to support meritorious international students. A draft of a letter is circulating among committee members and plans are to solicit donations from alumni who have citizenship in other countries or who benefited directly from international experiences. The committee plans to focus on this project next year.
As always, faculty input to the admissions committee is welcome. We have a blog for faculty contributions at http://facweb.furman.edu/~mfairbairn/admissions/.