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UW-Eau Claire Honors Program recognized for holistic admissions success

February 13, 2012
 Jones Vahlbusch Pruitt
Dr. David Jones, UW-Eau Claire Honors Program faculty fellow, left, and Dr. Jeff Vahlbusch, Honors Program director, center, received a UW System Regents Diversity Award Feb. 10 in Madison on behalf of a campuswide team that developed and implemented a holistic Honors Program admissions pilot project. Regent Charles Pruitt, right, presented the award. (UW System photo)
EAU CLAIRE — The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Honors Program has been honored by the UW System Board of Regents for the program's implementation of holistic admissions policies that have resulted in diversity among its participants that is more reflective of the broader student population.

Dr. Jeff Vahlbusch, Honors Program director, and Dr. David Jones, Honors faculty fellow, received a Regents Diversity Award Feb. 10 in Madison on behalf of a campuswide team that developed and implemented a holistic Honors Program admissions pilot project. The project developed new program admissions policies that take into account factors such as service and extracurricular activities in addition to academic performance and potential. As a result, a larger number of deserving and capable students of all races and ethnicities are benefiting from Honors Program opportunities that are known to be powerful in enhancing student learning and success.

The regents' Diversity Awards program was established four years ago to recognize and support individuals and programs in the UW System that foster access and success in university life for historically underrepresented populations.

 

The following UW-Eau Claire faculty, staff and students have helped to develop and implement the Honors Program holistic admissions project:

Dr. David Shih, former UW-Eau Claire Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity Fellow

Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, UW-Eau Claire Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity Fellow

Kris Anderson, executive director of enrollment and director of admissions

Kia Lee, multicultural admissions counselor

Dr. Jesse Dixon, director, Office of Multicultural Affairs

Charles Vue, assistant director, Office of Multicultural Affairs

Jodi Thesing-Ritter, associate dean of students

Dr. Deborah Barker, director of American Indian studies

Adam Gewiss, Honors student

Cody Thompson, Honors student

Sarah Tweedale, Honors student

Mariah Quick, Honors student

Dr. D'Arcy Becker, accounting and finance department chair

Dr. Ivy Bohnlein, Honors Program assistant director

Dr. Phil Ihinger, University Honors Council member

Dr. Cheryl Lapp, University Honors Council member

Dr. Jill Pinkney Pastrana, education studies department chair

Ingrid Ulstad, University Honors Council member

Dr. Vicki Samelson, University Honors Council member

Pamela Golden, Honors Program associate

To address an honors population that previously was predominantly white, Vahlbusch and Jones led the holistic admissions pilot project that resulted in an increase in the representation of students of color in the UW-Eau Claire Honors Program from 1.7 percent in 2009 to 9.6 percent in 2010. (Read previous related news release.)

The Honors Program's more equitable admissions policies were made possible because of UW-Eau Claire's participation in the Equity Scorecard process and the strong support by UW-Eau Claire's chancellor, provost and deans for initiatives that promote equity, diversity and inclusiveness, Vahlbusch said. The yearlong Equity Scorecard process, developed at the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California and implemented at UW-Eau Claire in 2008 with support from the UW System, allowed UW-Eau Claire to assess its performance with regard to equitable outcomes for students of color.

"The Equity Scorecard gave us a clear picture of the problem: Our university Honors Program was far less diverse than our broader university population," Vahlbusch said in his remarks to the Board of Regents when accepting the Diversity Award. "The Scorecard also pointed us toward a solution: Re-examine Honors' traditional reliance on absolute ACT and rank-in-class cutoffs."

Previously, newly enrolled UW-Eau Claire students were admitted to the Honors Program only if they received a score of 28 on the ACT and ranked in the top 5 percent of their high school graduating class.

"When these benchmarks were selected, they had no known validity for predicting student success," Jones said to the Board of Regents at the awards presentation.

In 2009, Jones and Vahlbusch, spurred by UW-Eau Claire's Equity Scorecard findings about the Honors Program, began leading an effort to examine those benchmarks.

"Is there a significant predictive difference between a score of 28 on the ACT and a score of 27?" Jones said in his remarks to the regents. "What about top 5 percent in class rank versus top 8 percent? If you come in third out of a graduating class of 35, should you be ineligible for Honors admission? If you learned English after early childhood and have a 23 ACT in reading, but 31 in science — should you be disqualified from Honors admission?"

Implementing holistic Honors Program admissions required those leading the program to start reading prospective students' applications for admission to the university — something neither Jones nor Vahlbusch had done before despite having served on the faculty for years.

In reading student applications, "we learned a great deal about incoming students and their academic achievements, extracurricular activities, service commitments, employment and career interests, and personal stories — we could never glean this detail from an ACT score," Jones told the regents. "We were able to identify ethnic and other diversity in our student pool, and could make more informed decisions about admissions. And, we learned to look deeply within student data to help track student success."

Dr. Estela Bensimon, creator of the Equity Scorecard, submitted a letter supporting the nomination of UW-Eau Claire's Honors Program for the UW System Regents Diversity Award. The Honors Program's holistic admissions implementation is an example of what can be done in an academic community to undo unfair practices and redesign them in ways that are innovative, affordable and practical, Bensimon said in her letter to the regents.

In her letter, Bensimon said she mentions UW-Eau Claire's Honors Program when speaking at conferences and at other higher education institutions because it is an example for others to follow:

"If every campus followed the model of critical self-questioning and leadership exhibited by the faculty at Eau Claire, our higher education system would be much further along in achieving racial equity."

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JP/DW

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