Category Archives: Admissions

Ryan: Supreme Court Ruling Will Not Diminish UVa Commitment to Diversity

by James A. Bacon

If the United States Supreme Court rules in June that colleges and universities may no longer use race as a factor in admissions, the University of Virginia will continue to “do everything with our legal authority to recruit a student body that is both extraordinarily talented and richly diverse across every imaginable dimension including race,” said President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom in a statement issued to the university community.

Arguments before the Supreme Court are now underway on legal challenges at Harvard and the University of North Carolina to block racial preferences in university admissions. Such policies, the plaintiffs argue, violate the Constitutional prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race.

Ryan and Baucom said they are committed to “serve the Commonwealth and beyond by making a UVA education as accessible as possible for all, including historically underrepresented students.”

While there is broad support across the political spectrum for recruiting Blacks, Hispanics and other racial minorities to UVa, there is considerable disquiet about setting numerical goals for minority representation, which, for all practical purposes represent targets to be achieved. UVa assiduously tracks the racial make-up of its student body, faculty, and staff. Continue reading

How UVa Offsets Bureaucratic Bloat

by James A. Bacon

College Simply‘s 2023 Best Value Colleges in America ranks the University of Virginia as the 2nd “best value” among public colleges and universities in the United States in 2023. The best-value distinction is conferred upon institutions that provide students the most academic prowess for the money (defined as net tuition after financial aid to the student).

When critics of UVa governance accuse the university of supporting excess administrative overhead, a common response is: If UVa is so bad, how come it’s the second-best value among all public institutions?

That’s a fair retort and well worth exploring. In this column, I suggest that UVa has restrained the highly visible and politically sensitive metric of undergraduate in-state tuition not through budgetary belt-tightening but by pursuing two strategies: (1) maintaining a favorable ratio of students who pay the full freight versus those who require financial assistance, and (2) increasing enrollment for out-of-state post-graduate students who pay higher tuition than in-state students. Much if not all of UVa’s perceived superior value comes from tuition-and-admissions engineering. Continue reading

How to Degrade Academic Excellence, Lesson #1: Make SATs Optional

In Bacon’s Rebellion, Jim Sherlock makes a novel point that I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere. The University of Virginia and other elite higher-ed institutions are thriving in an age of declining student enrollment because they are perceived as elite. That perception depends in large measure upon the fact that some of the smartest, highest-achieving students in the country go there. However, by extending the decision to make SATs and ACT scores optional and substituting subjective admissions criteria, UVa is admitting a student body marked by a greater variability in academic aptitude. It remains to be seen if the decline in academic exclusivity will undermine its reputation as an elite institution. But it very well could.

How will UVa reconcile the tension between subjective admissions criteria and its pretense to be an exclusive, elite academic institution? Will it accept a higher attrition rate of less academically prepared students? Will it bolster lower-achieving students with intense tutoring and academic support? Will it steer the lower-achieving students into “gut” courses and majors? Or will it lower academic standards and embrace grade inflation?

Given the acceleration of grade inflation at UVa in the past five years, Virginia’s flagship university appears to be settling for a policy of incrementally compromising its standards of academic excellence. The obvious advantage of this approach is that it is hard to detect and easy to deny, and the results won’t be evident until the current leadership has retired or moved on.


UVa Law Rejects U.S. News Ranking Methodology


by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia School of Law has announced that it will no longer cooperate with U.S. News & World-Report in compiling its ranking of top law schools. The school currently ranks No. 8 in the country.

Here’s the reason given by Dean Risa Goluboff: “As they currently stand, the U.S. News rankings fail to capture much of what we value at UVA — facilitating access to legal education and the legal profession for students from every background; fostering the free exchange of ideas within a community of joy, humanity, and trust; providing top-notch teaching by accomplished faculty; supporting public service; and launching our graduates into the stellar career paths of their choosing.”

I’ll leave it to others to comment upon the law school’s commitment to “fostering the free exchange of ideas” and probe the meaning of the modifier that such an exchange should take place “within a community of joy, humanity, and trust.”

I’ll focus instead on Goluboff’s commitment to facilitating access to legal education for students “from every background.” Continue reading

In Higher-Ed, Diversity = Affirmative Action

More blue M&Ms, please

by Allan Stam

A couple of years ago, in a conversation with another dean at the University of Virginia, I was asked about my views on the ever-expanding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion enterprise. I explained that I was not a fan of the diversity movement and affirmative action. When asked why, I explained that my preference was for merit, and merit alone, to determine the allocation of scarce resources and in particular, admissions and employment spots. The conversation then turned to what the effects might be of basing admissions decisions solely on merit.

“Would you be OK with the student body being 40% Asian?” I was asked.

“Of course,” I responded. “But if you feel that UVA, as a public institution, should have a student body that represents Virginia’s population, then be explicit about that, and adopt quotas. I wouldn’t be happy with that, but at least we wouldn’t be hypocrites.”

My partner in the conversation, being of a legal mind, then observed, “You know we can’t do that, adopt quotas. Quotas are illegal.” And therein lies the rub.

Diversity, as practiced in American higher education, in general, and at the University of Virginia in particular, is a fraud. The word ‘diversity’ is a linguistic dodge to enable universities to sidestep what lawyers refer to as ‘strict scrutiny’ of the legality of affirmative action. Affirmative action, as a term, is a euphemism for race-based discrimination. So, Diversity is a double dodge. Continue reading

Optional SATs Are Here to Stay

These numbers combine media English and math SAT scores. Data source: State Council of Higher Education for Virginia

by James A. Bacon

There are two broad trends driving change in the admissions policies of higher-ed institutions these days. The first is the declining number of students enrolling in colleges and universities. The other is the increasing philosophical commitment to increase demographic diversity, which in practice means admitting more “under-represented minorities.”

Arising from the second trend is an attack on standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT exams, which were designed to predict student success in college, as racist because they reflect subtle bias against minorities and create inequitable outcomes. Indeed, the very concept of using objective, meritocratic, non-race-based criteria has been criticized as inherently racist.

The last thing elite higher-ed institutions want to do is speak honestly about their intentions. Openly abandoning the meritocratic ideal or establishing racial quotas would create a furor. Instead, admissions offices create proxies for race/ethnicity such as raising the percentage of “first time” students (students who are the first in their family to attend college), or favoring applicants who overcame personal adversity, or recruiting students from a wider range of neighborhoods.

In the effort to engineer preferred demographic profiles of the student body, admissions officers find that mandatory SAT scores are an embarrassment.  Invariably, when median SAT scores for racial/ethnic groups are published, they show that Asians have the highest scores by far, suggesting that their bar for admissions is much higher than for other groups. Conversely, Blacks and Hispanics have lower SAT scores, indicating that their bar is much lower. SATs, once used to open up elite schools for Jews and minorities, now are viewed as an obstacle to social justice. Continue reading

The New Racial Calculus in UVa Admissions

by Walter Smith and James A. Bacon

On March 20, 2022, The Cavalier Daily student newspaper trumpeted the fact that the University of Virginia set a record low acceptance rate, offering slots to only 9,534 applicants, or 19% of the nearly 51,000 total. Of particular note, 52% of the offers went to “students of color” — up from 41% the prior year.

Only a little more than half of students who get accepted to UVa wind up enrolling there, so it’s not known what the ultimate composition of the entering class will be. But it is possible that entering first-year students will comprise the first class in which a majority of students are comprised of racial/ethnic minorities.

That would be no accident. In 2020, UVa recruited a vice provost of admissions, Stephen Farmer, whose most heralded accomplishment at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill had been  setting records for recruiting first-generation students and students from underrepresented minorities. At the time, UVa’s Racial Equity Task Force had recently articulated the goal of building a student body that “reflects the racial and economic demographics of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

An analysis of acceptance numbers, provided by the University of Virginia and summarized in the table above, shows that UVa admissions this year clearly favor African-Americans, in-state students, and legacy students. If you are an in-state African-American applicant whose parent is an alumnus, your odds of getting accepted are roughly four times that of an out-of-state White applicant with no family connections. Continue reading

UVa Vice Provost’s Tough Job: Recruiting More Blacks to a “Racist” University

Stephen Farmer

by James A. Bacon

Pity poor Stephen Farmer. The newly appointed vice provost for enrollment at the University of Virginia has a thankless job: fulfilling the goal of admitting more African Americans and Hispanics, even as Virginia’s flagship university has inadvertently branded itself as a racist institution.

Farmer’s appointment was highlighted in the most recent issue Virginia, the UVa alumni magazine. A UVa alumnus, Farmer was recruited from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he was vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions. With a record of attracting more first-generation students and students from underrepresented minorities, Farmer has made “remarkable contributions to the shape of the class,” says Provost M. Elizabeth Magill.

Taking charge of both undergraduate admissions and student financial services, Farmer will build new strategies for attracting applicants and supporting students’ financial needs. “There’s a real logic in bringing them together,” Magill said. Continue reading