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Interim report studies admissions, academics

By Reuven M. Lerner

The Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid released an interim report, describing undergraduate admissions and academic performance, on March 6. The final report, which will be based on faculty and student opinions, is on the agenda of the April 19 faculty meeting.

According to Professor Keith D. Stolzenbach '66, chairman of CUAFA, the interim report is meant "to solicit additional input from the faculty," and is "not designed to reflect conclusions or recommendations."

Some faculty members are concerned with undergraduate academic performance, according to the report. The CUAFA report notes that students "engage in a broad range of intellectual, professional, and extracurricular activities," but are "less focused on mathematics and science than in previous years." Many incoming students seem to have problems with "basic skills" such as algebra and trigonometry, according to the report.

Stolzenbach said that the "most pointed expressed concerns" have been about first-year core subjects. While chemistry instructors reported that they were happy and saw no downward trend, the report did find concern about freshman performance in core mathematics and physics subjects. Stolzenbach added that only the Department of Mathematics has experienced a change in the "cumulative accomplishments of individual students."

According to the report, some students "believe that they do not belong at MIT" or that they "do not fit [in]." Stolzenbach said that "CUAFA is very concerned about the impact of its ongoing review of the self-image of current students," and he stressed that CUAFA is reviewing a decade, not a year, of students' performances.

On a positive note, the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science regards its third-year Computer Science majors as the "best ever," and the Physics Department "has seen no change in the quality of its majors," the CUAFA report notes. The School of Humanities and Social Science was also reportedly pleased with the "number and quality of HASS majors" and the improvement in students' writing ability.

The Admissions Office has recruited "more faculty readers" and lowered the minimum number of applications readers must evaluate, the report said. While faculty participation "has always been modest," it is now "at an undesirable low."

The report said that CUAFA has reviewed admission procedures in the past, and that reviews "will no doubt occur with similar regularity in the future."

Departments are maintaining lists of their "best" students, whose profiles are compared with current applications.Why are they doing this?

It adds that admissions take into account "national differences in standardized test scores by gender and race." Stolzenbach says that because of time constraints, the CUAFA report may continue in May or the fall.

Students are described as increasingly "civilized." This has been attributed to the "increase in the number of women students."