Students who apply to GW will soon be able to automatically declare themselves as public health majors.
In a series of new admission policies, officials said they plan to increase the number of students enrolled in the Milken Institute School of Public Health by allowing more current students to transfer into the school starting this fall and enabling prospective students to apply directly as a public health major starting fall 2019. Faculty said the new policies, which will be finalized this summer, align with a growing interest in public health at GW.
Officials said the new policies have been in the works for about a year and were developed by a steering committee of more than 10 Milken faculty. Officials said they are considering instituting more introductory courses and hiring more teaching assistants to maintain the faculty-to-student ratio as the number of students in the school increases.
Sara Wilensky, a member of the steering committee and director for the undergraduate program in public health, said the new policy will help the school continue to expand and meet a growing student interest in the public health major.
Enrollment for public health majors has jumped from 107 students in 2013 to 1,036 in 2017, according to institutional research.
“We’re hoping to expand the program externally, getting more people from outside GW to come and be a public health major,” Wilensky said. “And we’re looking to expand internally by being able to accommodate the demand that we’ve seen.”
While the new policy targets incoming freshmen for fall 2019, Wilensky said the school is working to accommodate internal transfers for current students interested in switching to public health by lowering the GPA requirement.
Currently, students interested in applying to be a public health major have to maintain a 3.0 GPA and have a minimum of 45 credit hours by their first semester of sophomore year, and freshmen are not eligible to transfer into Milken.
Wilensky said the new GPA requirement and admissions process will be finalized over the summer.
“We want to be able to expand in a way that adapts to what the enrollment needs are,” she said. “Every year, we always have to turn away many interested students, we just have too many applicants for this major.”
Nationally, more than 10,000 public health students earned bachelor’s degrees in 2015 compared to fewer than 1,500 degrees in 2003, according to a 2017 study conducted by officials from the University of Illinois, University of Chicago and GW.
Wilensky added that as a result of the new admissions policy, officials anticipate increases in class sizes for introductory courses, which currently have 33 seats, and will also add more seminar-style upper-level electives focused on service learning. She said officials will add more opportunities to obtain credit for field experience and independent study in 2019 to compensate for the admissions boost.
Michael Lu, a member of the steering committee and senior associate dean for academic, student and faculty affairs in Milken, said officials want to ensure the program still provides individualized attention despite the expected increase in enrollment.
“A lot of this depends on the kind of demand that we get over the next two years in terms of how fast we can grow and to make sure that we have sufficient resources to continue to support the high-quality experience that students get,” Lu said.
The steering committee will also review the new admissions policies and the expansion of the major throughout the summer based on student and faculty input about the policy change, Lu said.
“We want to make sure that we continue to support what’s really working for the program,” he said. “We want to keep their ability to continue to provide the best teaching and the best environment for learning for the students.”
Current students in the program said they support the new admissions policy because it will benefit incoming students who know they want to study public health, but they said officials need to maintain small and tight-knit classes that are currently a strength of the program.
Outgoing Student Association President Peak Sen Chua, a public health major, said the new policy will attract a wider range of applicants because more students interested in public health will consider GW.
Chua said as the policy is implemented, officials must work to maintain the quality of the program by hiring additional faculty who have both teaching and field experience.
“Keeping in mind the expanding program – coinciding with additional measures to ensure the quality and experience is kept to a really high standard like it is right now – more students will be able to learn about public health and our community,” he said. “I think this will positively affect not only our University – but the world – when students step out of GW.”
Sage Wylie, a junior public health major, said she likes the idea of freshmen being able to apply directly to Milken because it allows them more flexibility to complete requirements and explore the public health major, but she is skeptical about the quality of the program and class sizes if more students are accepted.
“One of the best parts about Milken is the small class size, and I fear that might be lost if the admissions process is easier and more people are let into the major,” Wylie said. “I can’t imagine a lot of my introductory classes as big lecture-sized classes, but I think that’s what might happen if this admissions policy takes hold.”
Lauren Peller contributed reporting.