Springtime in Maryland. It brings warmer weather, plans for summer and, for some hard-working, focused students, graduation.
But it also brings cries of frustration from some 17-year-olds who are getting ready to graduate from high school and already dreaming of a day four years later, when they (hopefully) graduate from the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP).
However, it’s not unusual to hear tales of rejection and frustration around high school advisers’ offices and dinner tables across Maryland, centering around the challenges graduating seniors can face when trying to gain admission to UMCP — despite how they may have excelled in high school, with a constant presence on the honor roll, solid SAT scores and notable extracurricular activities.
While certain members of the business and academic communities have wondered for many years if those challengs aren’t unreasonable, others take the university’s side and feel that they have a better understanding of how, and how early, they need to apply to UMCP for admission.
To Bob Burdon, president and CEO of the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce, the issue is about more than the frustration of some local students.
“When you get to the heart of the issue, we invest hundreds of millions of dollars in our local education system with the hope that our youth will work in our communities when they graduate,” said Burdon. “However, it’s apparent that we are losing some of our top high school students to out-of-state colleges and universities.”
At the end of each school year, “You can look at where the top 10-to-15% of Anne Arundel County students are going,” he said. “Some don’t even attempt to enroll at UMCP, and if they do get accepted, it’s without a scholarship.”
Instead, these students enroll elsewhere, often in another state. “We have schools from New England to the Carolinas that are offering scholarships and other opportunities,” Burdon said, “yet our own state university does not seem to want to even engage with these gifted students.”
This situation isn’t new. Burdon said he “started raising this issue 15 years ago. From a business perspective, this is a drain of intellectual capital after a big investment by our taxpayers. Time and again, members, neighbors,” … , “tell me that their kids have had as high as a 4.3 grade point average [GPA] and not only don’t get a scholarship, but get waitlisted.”
He pointed out that Virginia went through this issue “many years ago, and the state’s legislators passed a bill that indicated that a certain amount of students who attend the University of Virginia must be from the Commonwealth.
Burdon stressed that, as the workforce gets more competitive, “It’s imperative that we capitalize on the investment that we’ve made in our brightest students and that, when they graduate, they take advantage of job opportunities in Maryland.”
Those views are generally shared by Daraius Irani, executive director of the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University (TU). “There has been a lot of push back from students and their families,” … , “concerning the number of out-of-state students (who pay higher tuition) who are accepted at UMCP, when it’s harder for the locals to get in.”
There are reasons that this situation has evolved as it has, Irani said.
“Due to declining state support, UMCP has had to admit out-of-state, and even out-of-country, students who pay the higher fees, because that’s one way of increasing revenues,” he said.
That’s not just happening in Maryland. For instance, Irani completed his undergraduate work at a University of California school and recalled that it “was supposed to admit the top 12.5% of state graduates. But times have changed, and that’s not the case there anymore. So the students who are not admitted have to look elsewhere, too.”
As for the out-of-country freshmen, Irani pointed out that his former colleague at TU, Mike Schroeder, now works at the University of California, San Marcos (near San Diego), and his job is specifically to recruit foreign students. “Twenty years ago, you never would have thought that a state university would have someone working in that capacity,” he said, noting that many foreign students’ visas run out and they have to leave. “The state makes the money on their tuition; but in that case, the intellectual capital leaves, along with the entrepreneurship.”
So this issue is “hardly unique” to Maryland, he said. “It’s going on all over the country. Budgets are tight, roads are failing, states are having trouble paying pensions,” … , “and this situation is not going to stop anytime in the foreseeable future.”
However, while Burdon made the point about the brain drain on the state when a considerable amount of young talent leaves and doesn’t return, Irani noted that the reverse is true, too. “Many freshmen also come to UMCP from out-of-state and end up staying in the region, too, due to the wealth of opportunities available in Maryland, D.C. and Northern Virginia,” he said.
On the Other Hand
The admissions director at UMCP, not surprisingly, has a different viewpoint of the challenges incoming freshmen applicants face at UMCP.
That’s Shannon Gundy, who not only stated that the admissions process has not become more competitive in recent years, but added that the university is “fulfilling its legal responsibility to serve the students of Maryland,” with 77% of its applicants being state residents.
Gundy said it was “a decade ago” that UMCP “was really trying to fulfill its flagship mission, which was to serve academically gifted students of Maryland.”
She said what she finds is that “the information isn’t always quite what it seems. For instance, if I have student who has a 4.0 GPA and they ask me what their chances are of getting into the school, I tell them, ‘I can’t say,’ based solely on that information. Those students can get Cs and Ds, too.”
Gundy said her department conducts a holistic application review.
“We accept the students who take the most competitive courses they can within their schools and do well with them, and usually get more As than Bs, but rarely Cs. Know, however, that we don’t hold a blip on the screen against them.”
Also, she said, parents are not always in tune with how their kids compare with the overall pool of applicants.
“I’m happy with our admission process, which encompasses more than two dozen factors that are listed on our web site (under “admission review factors”) that could influence who we accept and who we do not.”
Joe Fisher is CEO of Laurel-based First Generation College Bound, a company that counsels high school students from low-to-moderate income families. Much of the company’s clientele attends college in-state, since it’s more affordable.
Fisher said that he “doesn’t have an issue” with the admissions process at UMCP. “The problem [of prospective freshman not getting admitted occurs] if students do not have sufficient SAT scores that qualify them when they apply for early action. If a student is serious about going [to UMCP], they have to have the GPA,” along with, Fisher said, high SAT scores.
“My question to the students who don’t get in is, ‘Did you apply early?’ The colleges want the application by early in the previous November. It’s the same thing with Towson University and most of the more selective colleges.”
As for the students who may have had high enough grades/SAT scores that don’t get in, Fisher stressed his point about applying early.
“You’ll have a more challenging time getting into Maryland if you apply regular decision, which is in January. So, for next fall, any applications should have been in by now,” he said. “That increases your odds dramatically, because they accept a large number of students who apply early.”
Also know, Gundy said, that GPA “can be meaningless. If a student is enrolled in an honors course, that adds additional weight [credit] to the individual courses in a given school system. A student can have a 3.9 and be accepted, but GPA doesn’t tell the full story.”
Their extracurricular activities can also provide the tipping point, she said.
“My responsibility is not to find the students with the highest GPA,” said Gundy. “We want engaging applicants who are active in their communities; smart first of course, but they have to be more than that. We want students who go beyond smart, who are leaders.
“The reality is,” she said, “that most students who apply here come and do fine.”