Fall applications, standards rise at 2 UM campuses

UMCP, UMBC able to be more selective

April 19, 2000|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

As high school seniors across the country spend this month choosing where to enroll next fall, Maryland's top two public research universities are enjoying an applicant pool that is deeper and more talented than ever.

Applications at the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County were up again this year, and the two state universities also report increased grade point averages and SAT scores among the thousands of students who were mailed thick letters this spring offering admission.

"I think we're being noticed," said Linda M. Clement, assistant vice president and director of undergraduate admissions at UMCP. "I think that what we're doing to improve our undergraduate education program is having a bigger impact."

UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III said: "I think this shows that more and more families are seeing us as a great buy. We're able to show where our students go when they leave here, and families are impressed."

The increased number of applications and the higher grade point averages and SAT scores among high school seniors offered admission for the Class of 2004 reflect the growing national appeal of top-flight public universities, particularly among many students who in the past might have considered only Ivy League schools and small liberal arts colleges.

"Maryland [College Park] has gone out of its way to improve its undergraduate program, and that's making the school attract a lot more attention from top students," said Jacqueline King, director of federal policy analysis for the American Council on Education, a national umbrella group for colleges and universities. "UMBC is doing the same thing, and top high school students are taking a new look at these public universities."

Cost concerns

Interest in public universities among the most academically talented high school seniors has been growing in recent years as tuition at private institutions has spiraled out of the range of many middle-class families.

"Every day, people keep asking me, `Why not Harvard?'" said Nicholas Ferris, a senior ranked first in his class at Mount St. Joseph High School with a 4.0 grade point average and 1,520 SAT score. "I keep explaining that UMBC is a very good school that is great in computer science.

"It's close to home, it's not very expensive, and when I look at graduate school in four years, I won't be in deep debt from college."

In addition, many public universities -- including UMCP and UMBC -- have created or expanded honors programs to make themselves more attractive to students looking for the small-campus feel of private colleges.

Some also cover tuition and expenses for top students such as Nicholas.

"Top students look at what we can offer and see that they can get an excellent education at a reasonable price," said Maynard Mack, director of UMCP's highly regarded and competitive honors program.

`A great decision'

Four years ago, UMCP senior Marc Egeth was graduating from Pikesville High School and decided to pass up admission to the Johns Hopkins University. Today, as he prepares to enroll in the University of Pennsylvania's doctoral program in psychology, he says he has no regrets.

"The honors program gave me an edge, and I had a great time taking so many small, diverse classes in the humanities," Egeth said. "This was a great decision."

Ripple effect

With applications up and more talented students choosing to attend, UMCP and UMBC have been able to be more selective in their admissions, creating a ripple effect of tighter admissions standards among many of the state's four-year colleges and universities.

As a result, there has been a surge in enrollment at the state's community colleges from students who in the past might have enrolled in four-year public universities. The Maryland Higher Education Commission expects that trend to continue.

This year, most colleges and universities require high school seniors to decide by May 1 where they will enroll in the fall, making these few weeks a critical period for decisions. For UMCP's honors program, that means the past couple of weeks have been filled with open houses aimed at persuading seniors to enroll in the program. This year's gatherings have been more crowded than those in past years, Mack said, and many seniors tell him they're weighing UMCP against such universities as Princeton, Pennsylvania, Hopkins, Duke, Georgetown and Cornell.

National rankings

In the most recent edition of U.S. News & World Report's annual rankings of colleges and universities, UMCP rose from 30th to 22nd among public universities and remained on the list's second tier of national universities. UMBC remained on the third tier of national universities.

Over the past decade, UMCP has been making strides to join the ranks of such top public schools as the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Virginia.

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