Intelligent students decrease

Correction appended

While record-high numbers of academically prestigious freshmen are enrolling at Ivy League colleges, fewer smart students are choosing to attend GW, according to a report presented at last Friday’s Faculty Senate meeting.

The report, “The Decline in Elite Freshmen Admissions,” highlights aspects of this rift including fewer freshman recipients of National Merit Scholarships, a 6 percent drop in early decision I applicants and a 15 percent drop in early decision II applicants for fall 2008 admission.

“Faculty members who have read the report are both surprised and concerned,” said Donald Parsons, a professor of economics and chair of the Faculty Senate’s educational policy committee. “The few administrators who have given an opinion seem skeptical that the phenomenon exists at all.”

Members of a Faculty Senate committee commissioned the report in response to a $1 million cut in funding for merit scholarships in its 2007-2008 operating budget. High tuition and cuts to available merit aid caused concern for some administrators. They worried GW might seem less attractive to academically prestigious students. Many of these students took advantage of GW’s generous merit scholarship awards in previous years.

Parsons said he has been circulating the report to professors and administrators as a means to stimulate debate about GW’s current policies.

“Only the administration can address issues of resources,” Parsons said. “GW has a long tradition of ‘top down’ governance. Although that may be changing under (University President Steven) Knapp, under the last president, faculty ‘surprise and concern’ over an issue of educational quality was not something that would affect policy.”

Margaret Soltan, an English professor who blogs on higher education, said the University is failing to attract, or failing to keep, the best students who apply to GW.

“If GW has (the money), it should certainly spend like a drunken sailor on scholarships for our best students,” Soltan said. “But I get the feeling GW doesn’t really have these resources anymore – at least not in the way it once did.”

GW was not among the 98 colleges and universities with at least 20 National Merit Scholars among the classes they admitted last spring. The trends for National Merit Scholar enrollment is “almost entirely driven by the amount of internal funds devoted to National Merit Scholarships,” meaning GW is not spending enough on merit scholarships, the report said.

“It is important for schools to attract students with strong academic records,” said Cheryl Beil, assistant vice president for academic planning. “This group would include National Merit Scholars, but is not limited to merit winners.”

In the early 1990s, when GW was aiming to increase its students’ academic profiles, Beil said the University made a concerted effort to recruit National Merit Scholars. This effort led to a “bi-modal class.”

“At one end was the high SAT scorers made up of National Merit Scholars (and at) the other was the bulk of GW students at that time, with lower SAT scores,” Beil said, adding that GW faculty found it difficult to teach to this group because the differences among them were so vast.

But other professors are not bothered by the trends detailed in the report.

Professor Barbara von Barghahn said, “I have been teaching art history at GW since 1974. Quite honestly, many of my very best students have not been ‘elite’ freshmen.”

This article has been changed to reflect the following correction (April 17, 2008):

The Hatchet erroneously reported that the University commissioned the report, “The Decline in Elite Freshmen Admissions.” Members of a Faculty Senate committee commissioned the report.

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