May 4, 2011

Cornell Administrators Dispute New York Times Transfer Article

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Cornell administrators are criticizing a recent article in The New York Times that questions the ethics and frequency of granting acceptance to freshman applicants on the condition they attend another university first.

The transfer option, previously known as a guaranteed transfer, extends contingent admission to freshmen applicants following satisfactory completion of their first year at another institution.

However, administrators said they felt the article misrepresented the conditional transfer option.

“It’s a shame the New York Times writer misreported the statement we’d given,” said Claudia Wheatley, interim deputy University spokesperson.

In 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available, about 1,500 of 34,000 freshman applicants — or less than five percent — received the option, according to Jason Locke, director of undergraduate admissions.

Additionally, not all of Cornell’s colleges offer the conditional option. For the last several decades, the College of Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences and College of Art, Architecture and Planning have forgone the program because of the specialized nature of their curricula, according to Prof. Ronald Ehrenberg, industrial and labor relations. The option to accept transfers proves more beneficial to statutory colleges that have endured substantial budget cuts, and must independently raise their own tuition revenues.

“We have had explicit expectations placed on each of the contract colleges as to the proportion of transfers and students who are in-state vs. out-of-state students, but as state support has dwindled, so too has that expectation,” said Ron Seeber, senior vice provost for land grant affairs, in an email.

Since there is more room for students in upper division elective classes than in often over-enrolled introductory courses, admissions can tap qualified applicants who did not make the first cut because of enrollment caps.

“Admitting the right number of students is challenging and not always an exact science,” said Lisa Shaffer, assistant dean of student services at the School of Hotel Administration.

Although the option differs slightly in each college, no written or binding agreement for transfers exists. Students indicate if they are interested and then receive more information about the transfer option.

Requirements include enrolling in a full course load, maintaining a minimum 3.0 GPA and remaining in good disciplinary standing. Potential admits must submit official transcripts, complete a short application and receive some form of advising or contact throughout the year.

The Times article indicated that the transfer option unethically snatches undergraduates from other universities, which Cornell administrators say is an overblown claim.

“The transfer offer is a student choice every step along the way,” said Cathleen Sheils ’98, director of admissions in ILR. “So ‘stealing’ students from other institutions would not be accurate.”

In The Times, critics voiced concerns that the option lowers the caliber of the student body and allows colleges to avoid reporting applicants with lower SAT scores. Deans and professors disagreed.

“We get so many top applicants that accepting more students doesn’t affect the academic profile of the University, although US News & World report ranking is based on freshmen admitted in the fall,” Ehrenberg said. “Can you tell in classes who’s a transfer?”

The Times article portrays transfers as caught in an awkward holding pattern during their first year that leaves most unhappy. While some at Cornell regret accepting the other, many are content with the decision.

“I picked a college close to home,” George Groen ’12 said. “It provided a year for maturity and work experience, cost savings for my parents and made it easier to establish good study habits once at the Hotel School, which was my first choice. The rule [The New York Times] missed is that you don’t tell your friends on day one you might leave.”

Housing remains an issue for transfers trying to adjust to the University. Getting involved quickly on campus, however, improves the transition.

“Cornell offered plenty of opportunities for transfers to get acclimated to campus through dinners, programs and events,” said Ben Baevsky ’13, who lives on West Campus. “I know one girl who just doesn’t like it, and I think if we got the option to choose West, North or Collegetown instead of just being put somewhere that would be better.”

Once here, transfers said they often have a greater appreciation for Cornell than their peers.

“Other students don’t really know about the possibility of it being any other way,” Brian Caulfield ’12 said. “The transition was difficult, but I don’t regret a thing.”

Original Author: Dan Robbins