Task force recommends new undergraduate admissions practices

A task force charged with developing universitywide policies and best practices for undergraduate admissions at Cornell has released its final report, with recommendations for how Cornell can best enroll academically excellent classes in ways that support and advance the university’s unique ethos and mission.

The report recommends immediate implementation of a broad range of actions. They range from enhancing the financial aid process and expanding recruitment, to creating a system for transferring credits from community colleges, to increasing partnerships with national community-based organizations such as Thrive Scholars, which supports high-achieving students from economically under-resourced communities.

The report also recommends adding a new question to the Common Application, asking applicants to explain how their life experiences as part of a community would inform their contributions to a learning community devoted to “… any person … any study.”

The report was released by the Presidential Task Force on Undergraduate Admissions, which President Martha E. Pollack convened in November 2022. She asked the task force to broadly explore, and then recommend, mission-directed admissions policies and best practices that would most effectively and appropriately build a diverse and exceptionally talented undergraduate student body at Cornell.

Pollack noted that for 158 years, Cornell has been defined by its radical founding ambition: to be a world-class university distinguished both by its embrace of students from all backgrounds and by its core belief that the educational experience of the student, and the forward progress of society, are advanced by a broadly diverse student body.

“Cornell was founded with a specific, explicit vision: to be ‘an institution where any person can find instruction in any study,” she said. “Those twin commitments – to diversity and to a breadth and depth of academic excellence – have been the hallmarks of our ethos, and the bedrock of our achievements, ever since.

“To succeed in our academic mission, we need to be thoughtful and deliberate in ensuring that we are always a place where ‘any person’ is welcome. How do we honor that foundational commitment, and how can we continue to honor it consistently as our social, technological and legal landscapes shift? Our admissions practices are central to our ‘any person’ commitment, and this report is an important step forward toward our goal of being a diverse and inclusive community committed to academic distinction.”

The report also recommended the university:

  • continue to recruit and enroll veterans;
  • develop new recruitment materials and pathways;
  • expand precollege programming;
  • enhance yield activities; and
  • target “nonfeeder” schools.

“Just over half of all Cornell applications come from high schools that sent 30 or more total applications for fall admission for the years 2020, 2021 and 2022,” according to the report. “The university should be recruiting, admitting and enrolling academically talented students from a broader range of urban, suburban and rural areas.”

The task force brought together 15 faculty members and senior administrators with broad expertise in relevant fields. It was led by three co-chairs: Avery August, professor of microbiology and immunology in the College of Veterinary Medicine and deputy provost and presidential adviser on diversity and equity; Kelly Cunningham, chief of staff and special counsel to the president; and Patrizia McBride, professor of German studies and senior associate dean for social sciences and interdisciplinary programs in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The university has begun to implement some of the recommendations, such as adding the new question to the Common App.

“I’m grateful for the work of the task force, and especially for the breadth and depth of their outreach and their thoughtful deliberations,” Pollack said. “Provost Kotlikoff and Lisa Nishii, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and Interim Vice Provost for Enrollment, will begin implementing a broad-ranging set of best practices and guidelines which will help us build exceptional future classes of Cornellians.”

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Rebecca Valli