Persistence of Special Admissions Students at a Small University

Article excerpt

Introduction

A substantial amount of research has been done on persistence in higher education across the country. However, Tinto (1987) pointed out that it is important to do institution-specific research in an attempt to better understand the makeup of students leaving a particular school. According to Tinto "Though one might observe that a given type of student has, over the enterprise in general, a higher rate of system departure than do other students, it does not follow that this applies equally well to institutional departure or in each and every institution of higher education. Only institution-specific studies can determine whether this is the case" (p. 25).

A national perspective on the general persistence issues is provided by a 1996 study by Alexander W. Astin. Astin reported a graduation rate of 39.9% after four years of undergraduate study. This figure represented a seven % decline over the last 20 years. After six years of college study the graduation rate rose to 44.9%. This study began in the fall of 1985 and included a sample of 75,752 students attending 365 baccalaureate granting colleges (Astin, 1996).

The special admit process varies in universities; the one universal feature is that admissions standards are less than those for regularly admitted students. At some institutions, the majority of minorities admitted enter through a special admit process. For example, in the California State University System, 70% of African American students and 38% of Hispanics enter through the special admission process (Guthrie, 1992). And, according to Hunziker (1987), about half of all African American students who entered the University of California, Davis were admitted by special admit; about 25% of Hispanics were also special admits. Hunziker also found that of those students who had been admitted under the special admissions category, about one in two whites and Asians graduated, compared to only one in three African American and Hispanic special admit students.

In this study at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), from 1987-1990, 620 ethnic minority students were admitted to the institution. But only 46(7.4%) of the total minority admits entered through the special admit program. During the years of this study, 8.9% of the total undergraduate student population was ethnic minority. Of the total number of special admits (N=465), 13.1% of the special admits were ethnic minorities.

During this same time period, 4,978 Caucasians were admitted to UNR, 303 (6.1%) of whom were admitted through special admissions. Although the percentage of minorities admitted by special admit at UNR was slightly higher than the percentage of Caucasians admitted through special admissions, it was substantially lower than in both the University of California and California State University Systems. Also of note is that the number of minorities who graduated from UNR was not substantially lower than for whites. In this study ethnicity could be determined for 349 cases; of those, minorities graduated at a rate of 24%; whites graduated at a rate of 31%.

The University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) is required by Board of Regent's policy to admit students who do not meet admissions requirements. Students admitted under the special admit policy are those who do not meet the regular criteria for admission. These students may petition, in writing, to the Director of Admissions and Records within 10 days of receipt of the denial letter. The Director of Admissions or a special admissions committee reviews the petition and makes a determination of admissibility. The maximum number of applicants who may be admitted each year under this special program may not exceed 6.% of the total freshman enrollment at UNR the previous fall semester. Criteria for special admission include: (a) evidence of academic potential, (b) personal motivation for success, (c) special talents and abilities, and (d) improvement trend in recent academic scholarship (UCCSN Board of Regents Code, 1995). …