A New “Landscape” for UVa Admissions

Credit: Bing Image creator. College landscape in the style of William Constable.

by Walter Smith

With the recent U.S. Supreme Court restricting “affirmative action” in college and university admissions, an all-consuming question in Charlottesville is how the University of Virginia might change its policies and guidelines for admitting students.

While prohibiting the use of race as a decisive factor in admissions, Supreme Court Justice John Roberts allowed for holistic reviews that took into account race as part of an applicant’s sum-of-life experiences. Harvard University announced it intends to drive a truck through that loophole. Likewise, UVa President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom, who last week proclaimed their intent to ignore the ruling as much as possible, have not only lined up a truck but are revving up the engine.

The admissions process at UVa is opaque. The administration has refused, repeatedly, to provide me data concerning students admitted for the fall of 2023 or to answer my deep-dive questions for admissions in 2022, regarding which the Admissions Office was very cooperative… until it wasn’t. In particular, the Office has not been forthcoming about its use of a tool, “Landscape,” developed by the College Board, the same people who administer the SAT exams.

The College Board describes Landscape benignly as “consistent, data-driven information to help colleges … understand an applicant’s accomplishments in the context of the opportunities available to them.” Originally, the Board developed an “adversity index” that colleges could use to give preference to applicants who had overcome hardship, but the idea created a furor, and the Board scrapped in. Landscape took its place.

As I understand it, the tool supplies two numbers for an applicant: (1) a “School” score which apparently rates the applicant against other students from the school; and (2) a “Neighborhood” score which apparently is inversely scored against the desirability of the neighborhood.

I say “apparently” because UVa has declined to confirm my understanding of Landscape or explain how it is used. It has refused to allow me to run hypotheticals on the platform, and it has refused to state if the database was used to cull the 51,000 applications for the 2023-24 academic year to a more manageable number for “holistic” reviews.

UVa, like many other “elite” schools, has dropped the SAT as a requirement. Nonetheless, roughly 30% of applicants for 2022 entering class (the last year for which Admissions responded to my requests for data) submitted their scores. Black applicants had the highest offer rate of 29% even though their Mean SAT scores were roughly 100 points lower than that of other racial classifications. Of Whites, Asian, Hispanic and Black, Whites had the lowest offer rate at 17%. “Race Unknown” had a higher rate than Whites! In a recent article in The Daily Progress, UVA asserted that it was not lowering standards and that the 2019 entering class had a Mean SAT of 1409.

Under the new admissions regime, UVA will, in theory, do a “holistic review” of its applicants. The number of applicants exploded to 51,000 in 2023 thanks to the adoption of the Common Application, which made it easier than ever for students to submit applications to multiple colleges.

How big of a staff do you need to do a true “holistic review” of 51,000 unique individuals? There must be some way to winnow the herd.

UVa repeatedly told me there was no minimum Landscape score. How, then, is Landscape used? How does UVa ensure a consistent standard for all applicants? Is it acceptable for one reviewer to use a combined Landscape score of 60 and another a score of 80? If so, how much weight are the scores given?

College Board insists that Landscape is not an “adversity index.” States the Board: “This is not an adversity score. Landscape does not measure adversity and never will. It simply helps admissions officers better understand the high schools and neighborhoods applicants come from. It does not help them understand an applicant’s individual circumstances, their personal stories, hardships, or home life.”

What good is a tool that measures the “general neighborhood and high school information,” if it says nothing about the experience of any particular applicant?

Here is the question that I think blows up the charade: If I plug the same person into Landscape and change only the school and the zip code, will different scores result?

You know the answer, and so do I, which is why UVA will not allow me access to Landscape. Perhaps the BOV will look into this question.

Walter Smith chairs the Jefferson Council committee on research and analysis.

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JC
JC
9 months ago

Great work Walter. BTW, does UNC use Landscape? JC

Walter smith
Walter smith
9 months ago
Reply to  JC

Thanks JC.
i don’t know, but it should be discoverable under FOIA. I hope UNC is more forthcoming than UVA has been.
I’ll explain the arduous route that got me this far.
For the Class of 2026 UVA bragged about its 19% offer rate and to 44% people of color.
So I asked the admissions officers how the 44% was calculated and they were quite responsive, introducing me to IPEDS classifications, which is really arbitrary but how the Feds require the reporting. For UNC and UVA the Pacific Isles is not meaningful, so you have white, black, Asian, Hispanic, multirace, race unknown and international. UVA excluded unknown and international and that is how it came to 44% of offers went to POC.
I then asked for offer rates by the IPEDS classification and got those. On a winning streak I asked for the offer rates by IPEDS class by in State, out of State, and for legacy admissions by race and in/out of State. Again, very cooperative. Then I asked for the SAT scores by all these groupings and got it. So these showed a 29% overall black offer rate and a 17% overall white offer rate, but now broken into all these groups, with a roughly 100 point mean difference for blacks (also as compared with Asian and Hispanic). I asked for the review process and got basically the initial recommendation form. I asked for the training and got a PowerPoint where it mentioned Landscape. I went back and asked there had to be some form prior to the initial cut recommendation and got a better glimpse into understanding that Landscape had two components. I asked if there was a score required for Landscape. How else can you make cuts for 50000 applicants? At this point, willing cooperation stopped. I asked for the composite IPEDS SAT scores and Admissions said it didn’t have them. How then was it able to break the scores down into all the groups it gave me? I asked for access to Landscape and was denied. I asked if it worked how it appeared to and was referred to articles on College Board. Jim Bacon and I have dived pretty deep there. Landscape is being rolled out to certain schools and they essentially have to agree to secrecy as test cases. But, for the Class of 2027 info, Admissions has forwarded everything to FOIA and FOIA says it has nothing, or I am asking it to create documents which FOIA does not require. Clearly Admissions was told ix-nay on cooperating with Smith.
sorry for the length of the response, but that is what it took, and I think Admissions must have been reprimanded for being so cooperative cuz they aren’t this year!
This is Landscape’s official self-description.
https://professionals.collegeboard.org/landscape

GRob
GRob
9 months ago

Justice Thomas: “Racialism simply cannot be undone by different or more racialism.”

Clarity77
Clarity77
9 months ago

Corruption and lack of integrity in the UVA admissions office. Ryan is setting his legacy. History will so judge him. Glad not to be in either his or Baucom’s shoes. Disgraceful.

HooDaMan
HooDaMan
9 months ago
HooDaMan
HooDaMan
9 months ago

Ending affirmative action never worked. Highly Selective Universities tried every scheme imaginable to boost minority enrollment -including very high admit rates – without success.
Enough with social engineering by college admission officers. Society has to do the hard work – at pre-K -12. This involves school choice where poor teachers aren’t protected by unions.
Lastly – to those who fret SC decision ends diversity in higher Ed – strengthening efforts to recruit socio-economically disadvantaged students achieves this and it establishes Universities as the engine of the American Dream.

HooDaMan
HooDaMan
9 months ago

The74 is an excellent source on Education. The article below has admissions data from Harvard & UNC thanks to the lawsuit. The admit rate advantage (particularly relative to grades &scores) for Blacks and Hispanics is staggering. And sadly – lower income Blacks and Hispanics did not gain as large an advantage vs wealthier Blacks & Hispanics https://www.the74million.org/article/court-documents-racial-preferences-massively-boost-black-hispanic-applicants/

MG50
MG50
9 months ago

I thought since Ryan has been there the push is for two specific groups 1) First Generation, and 2) Low-income. UVA will continue to discriminate …

James B Newman
James B Newman
9 months ago

I really enjoyed your discussion about this. Sadly, the Ryan administration will not act honorable or rationally on the issue of racial preferences. This administration is not interested in merit or achievement but only in policies that lead to mediocrity. As the Supreme Court found, this administration believes that discrimination is just fine if it does not hurt the racial class it prefers. I look forward to the reconstituted Board of Visitors being seated in the Fall. This nonsense needs to stop.

Legacy Grad 69'
Legacy Grad 69'
9 months ago

I wouldn’t defend Legacy Admissions, nor athletic preferences, nor advantage for faculty & staff offspring, nor friends & children of big donors, nor racial preferences, nor assumed socio/economic conditions. Perhaps The University should put all qualified applicants’ names in a hat and draw for a blind selection. Power for the Admissions Dept. to tilt the scale should be removed. Lowering tuition cost would enlarge the applicant pool. Scholarships could be applied after the lottery selection as needed.