President, Provost, VPSA Convene Faculty Advisory Committee on Undergraduate Admissions Policy

President, Provost, VPSA Convene Faculty Advisory Committee on Undergraduate Admissions Policy

Michael Gutierrez, Lilia Arrizabalaga, Mahak Mathur | News

In the wake of a petition to President Thomas Rosenbaum signed by more than 140 faculty members, the Institute has moved to form a committee for evaluating current admissions standards as predictors of success at Caltech.

The Context

In Spring 2020, due to the exacerbated inequity of access to standardized testing during the pandemic, Caltech and many peer institutions dropped standardized testing requirements for undergraduate applicants. We subsequently extended this testing moratorium in July 2022, and it is now in effect until Fall 2025 (which will admit the Class of 2029).

As a reminder, the Class of 2025 (current juniors) was the first class to be admitted during the pandemic and test-blind. The Class of 2024 (seniors) is the only remaining cohort at Caltech that had their SAT/ACT scores considered by the Admissions Office.

Several peer institutions have already reinstated standardized testing requirements. For example, MIT did so in Spring 2022 after only two years of test-blind admissions. Dartmouth just announced yesterday that SAT/ACT scores will be required again, starting with applications for the Class of 2029.

“Four years beyond the start of the pandemic, circumstances have changed, and it is time for a fresh look at our undergraduate admissions policies,” Rosenbaum wrote last Wednesday in an email to faculty, which was shared with the Tech.

The Faculty Petition

Last month, a group of professorial faculty submitted a petition to President Rosenbaum alleging that there has been a decline in student readiness for and performance in classes. In an interview with the Tech, Professor of Mechanical Engineering John Dabiri said that while he would not share the text of the petition, he would explain its contents. Professor of Geology Paul Asimow also provided helpful background information on the subject.

The petition questioned the decision to continue test-blind admissions. Dabiri explained its general argument that, with so many qualified students applying, the SAT and ACT help ascertain the level of rigor that applicants are capable of. Thus, the primary call of the petition was to reinstate the SAT/ACT at some level in admissions decisions. That is, it requested a shift from being test-blind to test-optional.

While the petition presented anecdotal evidence for a decline in student preparedness, it did not offer statistical evidence, according to Dabiri. So the second call of the petition was for the creation of a faculty committee to evaluate the efficacy of the current admissions process, as well as to gather more quantitative data. Asimow described an already in-progress study on the utility of SAT scores as predictors of success at Caltech.

The purpose of the petition was specifically to enact change, and was not written as simply a list of grievances. Out of ~300 professorial faculty members at Caltech, the petition was signed by over 140, as of the Tech’s January 26th interview with Dabiri. While there is clear support for the petition, it is unclear how many of the remaining faculty oppose vs. how many simply did not respond to the petition.

The Tech was unable to obtain further primary information after ASCIT’s invitation to yesterday’s faculty board meeting was suddenly retracted. The organizers of the petition, as well as the Admissions Office, both declined to comment on the petition.

The Committee

Rosenbaum’s January 30th email to faculty came just weeks after the petition. It also outlines a similar plan of action as was recommended in the petition. Seven professors were selected to form a Faculty Advisory Committee on Undergraduate Admissions Policy, assisted by Caltech’s Institutional Research Office.

The task of the committee is “to ensure that the Institute continues to effectively identify and admit the most talented and promising students,” explained Vice President for Student Affairs Kevin Gilmartin in an email to the Tech. That is, students “who are deeply interested in science, engineering, and mathematics, with the ability to benefit from a challenging STEM-based academic program, and who can bring a diversity of experiences and perspective to our Institute community.”

According to Gilmartin, the planning and work to form the newly-announced Faculty Advisory Committee predated the faculty petition.

What’s Next

As per President Rosenbaum’s letter, the Advisory Committee has been asked to “examine the most complete datasets” and consult with relevant groups at both Caltech and peer institutions to more fully understand and assess the effectiveness of current admissions processes.

Currently, the Advisory Committee is scheduled to report their findings about standardized testing by the end of March, while the recommendations about the role of extracurricular activities will not be released by the end of April. The goal is to have a complete report by the end of May for use in the Class of 2029 admissions cycle, but Rosenbaum and Gilmartin both emphasized that the work of the Committee should not be rushed.

Asimow indicated that the petitioning faculty do not expect any significant action to be taken until after the evaluation is complete and recommendations are presented.