Admissions pilot project eyes ‘hidden talent’

Senators supported a Western pilot project to ease grade standards for a select cohort of incoming Arts & Humanities students in an effort to help the hard-hit faculty.

“Given the enrolment pressures on the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, and the precipitous drop in not only its enrolment, but also its applicant pool, I was asked to consider a way to look at students with an additional option for entry,” Janice Deakin, Provost and Vice-President (Academic), told Senators Feb. 12.

The pilot project calls for up to 30 incoming Arts & Humanities students to be admitted to the university in a range between the institution’s acceptance cutoff of 83.5 per cent and 80 per cent. Using this tool, the faculty looks to draw “high performers” who did “extremely well” in humanities subjects, but may have had their overall average dragged down by math, physics or chemistry.

University officials will be monitoring retention rates of this cohort of student, as well as how they do academically versus their peers.

“This is simply a strategy to mitigate the decline,” Deakin continued.

She then stressed, “This doesn’t change the entering standards of the institution, writ large. This is a pilot project.”

For two decades now, Western has prioritized increasing the quality of its incoming first-year class, which has moved the overall average grade from below the Ontario average in 1993 to the top spot in Ontario in 2014-15. For 2015-16, the university’s entering average was 89, highest in the institution’s history.

This, however, has created a problem within Arts & Humanities. The faculty’s enrolment has been dropping steadily over the last five years, from 1,232 students in 2011-12 to 938 in 2015-16. Projections called for further decline, by forecasting only 922 students in 2020-21.

Senators who spoke, however, overwhelmingly favored the move.

“This allows us to find hidden talent among a crowd we might otherwise overlook,” said Joel Faflak, a Senator and Director of the School for Advanced Studies in the Arts & Humanities. “This is extremely important not only for Arts & Humanities, but for all faculties.”

“We need to start to understand the totality of a student. Many of them do not need help academically; they have often been people who have done things more broadly in life – they played sports, they volunteered, they have done things that made them the type of person we want at the university,” said Mary Crossan, Senator and Ivey Business School professor. “The way things are going in high schools – not just in North America, but around the world – this just becomes this chance for grades. We are getting these very narrow people who have not done much else in life. We need to get the broad individual in university.”