How Virginia Tech is removing barriers of entry for underserved and underrepresented students
Virginia Tech is taking steps to recruit a more diverse student body with a new application process designed to take a broader view of the applicant.
The university is shifting to an application model developed by the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, whose members include the College of William and Mary, James Madison University, and the University of Virginia.
The application is intended to be easier and increase accessibility to financial aid, with the aim of encouraging more lower-income and first generation students to apply early.
“The most important aspect of all of this is that it’s about removing barriers, not lowering standards,” said Luisa Havens Gerardo, Virginia Tech’s vice provost for enrollment management. “One of the most difficult challenges I’ve encountered as an enrollment manager who’s a true believer in access is actually translating to people that access and excellence are not mutually exclusive. It is about finding that high-potential, brilliant student and provide not only access but also the opportunity to realize that potential.”
The application will also include a new set of essay questions that give applicants more opportunity to communicate aspects that don’t necessarily show up in grades, extracurricular activities, or test scores. Tech is looking for students with a positive self-concept, a commitment toward self-development academically, and a desire to improve society that squares with the university motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). The hope is to not just cast a wider net, but to find students who are likely to return after the first year and complete their degrees.
“If you’re a student who begins with the best prep possible and you graduate in four years, that’s what’s expected,” said Alphonso Garrett, director of undergraduate diversity recruitment initiatives. “But if you are someone who doesn’t have that intensive background and you graduate in four years, it’s more of a distance traveled from where you began. The impact of the institution has more value for those students.”
The different application represents just one action taken by Tech to open its admissions process to cast a wider net for students from a variety of backgrounds. It’s also shifting its calendar to provide students an earlier notification of an acceptance decision, allowing self-reporting of transcripts to lower costs, and building more support for scholarship students beyond their first year.
“We are trying to identify any barrier in the process and remove it,” said Juan Espinoza, assistant vice provost for enrollment management.
Virginia Tech will be the first university in Virginia to allow students to self-report their transcripts and test scores. Last year, the university received about 32,000 applications and had to cancel about 2,000 because it never received test scores or transcripts.
“In a lot of cases, that’s out of the students’ control,” Espinoza said. “They’re relying on the schools to send them. Some schools charge students to send transcripts, usually $3-$12. That doesn’t sound like much, but its adds up with application fees and multiple schools. This change puts the power in the students’ hands.”
If a student is enrolled, the university will verify the self-reported transcripts to ensure accuracy. Self-reporting also speeds up the application process. Virginia Tech will offer two versions of early-application options that will allow students to receive an early decision, giving them more options earlier in the process.
The new process will also waive application fees for applicants who are military veterans, receive a free or reduced school lunch, qualify for fee waivers from standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT, or participate in a TRIO aid program for disadvantaged students. Previously, applicants had to obtain documentation from school officials before they could receive a fee waiver; the new process automates the process, removing an extra layer of paperwork.
The reinvention of the admissions process at Tech supports the strategic vision set forward by President Tim Sands, who has set a goal for 40 percent of Tech’s student body to be made up of underrepresented, first-generation, or lower-income students by 2022. Underrepresented students at Virginia Tech include Hispanics, African Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans.
Of the incoming class, 15 precent of students are from an underrepresented minority, an improvement from 12 percent last year. About 23 percent have underserved status, up from 21 percent last year. And 16 percent are first-generation college students, up from 14 percent last year.
— Written by Mason Adams