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Outgoing dean of admissions outlines challenges for future

STANFORD -- Increasing pressure on student financial aid and the changing population of the United States will present complex challenges for her successor, Jean Fetter, outgoing dean of undergraduate admissions, told the Faculty Senate in her final report Thursday, June 13.

Stanford must inevitably take a look at its policy of need-blind admissions as the university cuts its budget in the coming years, Fetter said. That policy ensures that students are admitted without regard to their ability to pay, and that every effort is made to meet the students' computed financial needs, through grants, loans and part-time jobs.

This is an increasingly expensive undertaking, Fetter said, particularly at a time of federal and state cutbacks in aid to undergraduate education. "I am very concerned about what will happen, both to our applicant pool and our entering classes, if we need to waver on our commitment to need-blind admissions," she said.

Although the number of 18-year-olds in the U.S. population has been declining, Fetter said, after 1995 that trend will reverse and there will be dramatic growth in the 18-year-old segment of the population until at least the year 2010. Much of that growth will be in minority populations.

When she became dean in 1984, Fetter said, the entering freshman class was about 8 percent Asian American. The freshman class entering this fall will be 24 percent Asian American.

It is an enormous challenge to the admissions staff "to decide what should be the ethnic make-up of a freshman class," Fetter said, "particularly when one group appears to be over-represented. But that's a loaded statement, because nationwide the challenge has been that Asian Americans have been discriminated against in the admissions process."

When a recent Justice Department investigation of Harvard and UCLA found that Asian Americans had been under-admitted, Fetter said, Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.) wrote to the new secretary of education, Lamar Alexander. Dole asked Alexander to investigate whether giving admission preference to the children of alumni is a form of discrimination against Asian Americans.

On the other hand, Fetter said, she also has had to respond to angry alums who charge that Stanford freshman classes are made up of a disproportionate number of minority students. Some alumni, Fetter said, see those students as taking a place from their son or daughter who would otherwise have been admitted.

During the 1980s, the number of black students in entering classes has fluctuated between 6 and 10 percent, while the percentage of Mexican Americans has shown a slow, generally upward trend, going from 7 percent in 1980 to 9.9 percent in 1990. The 1991 freshman class will have 7.6 percent black students, 9.8 percent Mexican Americans and an all-time high 1.3 percent American Indians.

The entering class will be 47.3 percent female, "assuming no changes between now and then," Fetter said. She explained, to appreciative laughter, that she was not referring to sex changes, but changes in decisions to attend Stanford.

Nationally, women earn 52 percent of college degrees, Fetter said, but in recent years the percentage of women in Stanford's freshman classes has ranged from 42.2 percent in 1986 to 46.3 percent in 1985. Some people have explained the differential by noting that Stanford has a particularly strong reputation in engineering and science, fields that attract fewer women than men.

She does not entirely buy that explanation, Fetter said, and urged that some scholar in the psychology or sociology department make a study of the question.

The academic quality of the entering classes, measured by both Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) test scores and high school grade-point averages has climbed during Fetter's tenure as dean. Seventy-two percent of the entering fall class earned scores of 600 or above on the verbal portion of the SAT and 89.4 percent earned 600 or above on the math portion. In 1984, the comparable figures were 62.1 and 83.6 percent.

Several of the Senate members commended Fetter for her work, saying she had done an outstanding job in admitting academically talented students.



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