Cliff Mass Responds to The Seattle Times Coverage of UW's Cut in In-state Admissions

An image pulled from Cliff Mass' blog post, a response to The Seattle Times story, "Why straight-A's may not get you into UW this year"

Earlier this month The Seattle Times published an eye-opening piece on the shrinking number of in-state students being admitted into the University of Washington. The article, which has garnered more than 700 comments on and 3, 500+ Facebook likes, has clearly struck a chord with locals.This weekend an unexpected voice introduced another side to the admissions story. Cliff Mass, professor of Atmospheric Sciences at UW, book author, blogger and frequent media commentator quietly published a blog entry this weekend offer an academic's take on the recent UW admissions headlines. Mass, undergrad advisor to his department, defends UW's response to state cuts:

The state budget cuts are so large that the UW administration has turned to desperation measure: increasing the number of out-of-state students. This is clearly a hot-button topic--one inflamed by the irresponsible article in the Seattle TImes headlining the rejection of "straight-A" students...more on this later. Out-of-state students pay three-times more tuition than in-state undergrads--and supply net financial surpluses. Importantly, by accepting more out-of-staters the UW can secure enough funds to SUSTAIN THE NUMBER OF IN-STATE STUDENTS. This is such an important point that it bears repeating. The State is cutting funding so substantially that economizing (getting rid of TA, bigger classes, less profs) is not enough to maintain the current in-state student body. So by increasing the number of out-of-state students in-state student support can be partially stabilized.

To further his point, Mass also offers up his take on what he calls UW "myths":

At first, the UW was simply going to increase the number of out-of-state students, with the same number of in-staters, but things got so bad they were forced to a small (150 slots) drop of in-state students (replaced by out of state) to make things balance. Now lets us take up some major myths.

Myth 1: Out-of-state-students generally have inferior grades/SATs than in-state students.

Not true. In general out-of-staters have superior records--this is based on my direct experience and from UW statistics. Consider the students accepted this fall that indicated an interested in atmospheric sciences. The GPAs for in and out of staters were essentially identical (3.80), but the out-of-state students had math SAT scores that were 76 points higher. This is a huge increment.

Myth 2: The UW is rejecting straight-A students with excellent qualifications in lieu of weaker out-of-state students.

The Seattle Times made a big deal about this. The truth is that UW admission is based on more than just grades...and it has to be so. There has been huge grade inflation, particularly in our state. An "A" grade does not mean what an "A" signified 20-30 years ago. Many students have 3.8 GPAs and beyond. That is why the UW has wisely turned to a more holistic evaluation. Are the courses taken challenging? ("A"s in less challenging courses don't mean so much). Does the student has strong SATs? What about extracurricular activities than demonstration interest and motivation? So it is theoretically quite possible for an A student not to get in if other factors are not strong. And top schools like Stanford follow the same approach. Even with all that said I suspect the very few 4.0 GPA students with reasonable course loads and board scores are rejected by the UW.

My next point will probably get me into huge trouble. So be it--it needs to be said.

Not all UW students belong in the UW.

Ok, I got it out. My feeling (one shared by many UW faculty that I have talked to) is that the UW student body can be divided into roughly three parts:

The Golden Quarter: About 1/4 of our students are simply stellar--bright, motivated, good as you get in ANY school. They do well in college and generally go on to highly successful careers. They take advantage of the huge opportunities of the UW (e.g,. participation in research). Just a pleasure to teach and interact with.

The Middle 50%: These are students with the ability to do well, but their motivation and interest varies. They are happy with B grades and even the occasional C. Some of these students can really be turned around, while others are happy to float through.

The Bottom 25%: These students basically aren't interested in learning. For them, the idea is simply to pass with minimal grades. The UW is high-school continued and they are here because they didn't know what else to do or were pressured by family and friends. Most of the them came to the UW with very weak backgrounds (far weaker than any serious freshman should have). For example, many of these folks are not comfortable with basic high school math--like fractions and solving simple algebraic equations. They shouldn't be wasting the classroom space.

Read his entire post here.


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