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Dream Machines: College Admissions


Earlier this week, Trinity experienced an extraordinarily affirming moment: a team of visitors from the Middle States accrediting association spent three days on our campus, following our self-study, and in their exit report they praised the many transformative and innovative ways in which Trinity has continued to live up to the original vision of our SND Founders to ensure access to a high quality higher education for women in our College of Arts and Sciences, with the added value today of welcoming men and women of all ages into our Schools of Professional Studies and Education. This excellent accreditation report, along with our recent NCATE accreditation for the School of Education, provides great support for Trinity’s continuing position as a university that provides important educational options for students who might not be able to achieve their college dreams in larger, less personal institutions.

The affirmation of Trinity’s mission in the accreditation report also provides an important counterpoint to a story in today’s Washington Post (“Colleges, Awash in Applications, Turning Away Even Top Students,” by Jay Mathews and Susan Kinzie, A1, April 6, 2006). This article describes how proud many distinguished universities are when they have so many applicants that they can admit only a tiny percentage of students. This race to have the lowest “selectivity rate” has always struck me as perverse. Institutions of higher education should not celebrate the idea of rejecting massive numbers of well qualified students, of excluding thousands from attaining college admission. Instead, all colleges and universities should do their best to ensure that every qualified applicant is able to achieve her dream of a college degree.

Trinity is mentioned favorably in this article because we have seen a dramatic increase in our College of Arts & Sciences applicant pool this year, nearly double, now standing at more than 600 applications compared to a typical run of about 300 applicants at this time of year for our full-time first-year class in the women’s college. The reporter asked me why Trinity is seeing this phenomenon. My answer: certainly, a more effective and energetic Admissions Program, but also, more awareness of the power of a Trinity education among young women in this region. Our outcomes are outstanding; we are seeing increased success in telling this story.

Equally important, young women today are considering women’s colleges in larger numbers than we have seen in the last two decades. Women’s colleges today are robust learning centers, places where women can achieve their dreams without feeling held back by the problems that women face in many coeducational settings: chilly classrooms that make women reluctant to show their smarts, environments where sexual harassment blooms insidiously in many corners. Women’s colleges emphasize women’s talent and capacity to achieve greatly.

Given the emphasis of the Post story, the reporter asked me whether a 100% increase in applications would mean that Trinity will “improve your selectivity rate” which, translated, means, will Trinity reject more applicants? Absolutely not. Trinity routinely accepts those applicants who are qualified to succeed at Trinity, and that usually means about 75%-80% of our applicant pool. We are not about keeping qualified students out. We care a lot more about whether we can help any particular young woman to succeed, rather than having bragging rights about data points. We welcome women of vision and achievement, and if necessary, will enlarge our capacity in order to ensure that they can achieve their dreams of collegiate success at Trinity.

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: