Tufts issued a triumphant news release in April titled, “Tufts Gets More Selective — Again,” priding itself on the fact that this year’s acceptance rate is at an all-time low of 14 percent. The article explains the reasons behind the drop, citing a six percent increase in undergraduate applications. It also says that the Class of 2020 is the “most diverse” class of admitted students in over a decade. As a top-tier university, Tufts has a responsibility to think about its admissions process and the implications for students and academia as a whole. It is not necessarily a positive development that Tufts has joined the race of dropping acceptance rates among top-tier colleges. Students and administrations continue to be enamored by misguided U.S. News & World Report college rankings, which incentivize low acceptance rates and elitism, rewarding schools for rejecting large numbers of applicants. The university should be promoting diversity, opportunity and educational quality over selectivity, and a quickly dwindling acceptance rate may be counterproductive to these goals.
When the administration says “most diverse,” Tufts is still referring to an accepted class comprised of only 34 percent students of color. Only six percent of those students identify as Black, an incredibly low number in comparison to other selective schools and national proportions. By patting ourselves on the back for this admissions cycle, we are actually detracting from the greater problem — that Tufts, like most esteemed universities, is a bastion of privilege. After the #TheThreePercent protests this year, which urged Tufts to provide greater support and admissions spaces for Black students, this issue is even more timely to assess. Tufts openly admits that it has more qualified applicants than spaces in the class. So, it is entirely possible that within that pool of qualified applicants, the university could be doing more to ensure higher acceptance rates for students of color. Because of these underlying issues, Tufts’ claim that diversity rose in conjunction with a drop in acceptance rate must be evaluated with scrutiny.
Overall, mid-size universities like Tufts, as well as Ivy League schools, are getting more selective. Part of this decline is due to rising competition from students from overseas, particularly Asia. Colleges have increased their international recruitment and outreach, a smart strategy for the majority of universities, which do not provide financial aid to international students. Schools’ declining acceptance rates, therefore, are not always indicative of an increase in academic rigor and intensity, but rather of an increase in money’s influence on the admissions process. While admissions is supposedly “need-blind” at many schools, Tufts remains “need-aware,” a status it has held since 2009. Tufts claims that it helps admitted students by making sure that the university can meet 100 percent of students’ demonstrated financial need. However, this also means that those students the university cannot afford to take on are not offered the chance of having a Tufts education in the first place. Theoretically, Tufts says that no student would be rejected solely on the basis of their financial need. However, the fact that financial status is still an influential factor perpetuates economic elitism within our university. Unfortunately, Tufts’ “need-aware” admissions process is currently necessary due to its small endowment and high rate of selectivity, but it is worth examining the factors that allowed the university to be need-blind before 2009, and the possibility for Tufts to switch back to this status, which many other top-tier schools guarantee.
Rather than blindly lauding our declining acceptance rate for propagating a culture of academic exclusivity, we must examine the underlying factors behind the drop. If diversity and quality of education are values that Tufts finds important, the school must focus on strategies to improve these areas and understand why increasing selectivity might be at odds with the general welfare of the school. Although rankings and publicity do matter, the quality of the educational experience students receive should remain the university’s most important goal.