Standard 06: Students
To print this chapter, download this PDF: Standard 6: Students
Central to our mission is to give students of exceptional potential from all backgrounds substantial responsibility in shaping their own academic programs and co-curricular engagement. The latter responsibility functions on many levels: in student membership, with vote, on the college committees that preside over educational policy, admission policy, financial priorities, student life, and other areas; in an independent government association; in approximately one hundred self-run organizations; in the advisory panels of many academic departments; in participation in all academic and many administrative hiring searches; and as the counselors in the residence halls.
Over the past decade, we have succeeded in increasing both the selectivity of our admission process and the diversity of our student body, significantly increasing financial aid to support this progress. We have sought to create a climate of respect and inclusion on campus and to provide academic and co-curricular support for our less well-prepared and less privileged students. To address the problem of aging residence halls and to provide more coherence to the first-year experience, the first phase of the Residential Master Plan (RMP) led to the creation of a first-year quad with new or renovated dormitories. Finally, given the large role that intercollegiate athletics plays in college life, we have improved the integration of athletics into student life and reformed admission practices both independently and in collaboration with the other members of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC).
ADMISSION AND FINANCIAL AID
Shaping the Student Body
Guided by institutional priorities set by the faculty, administration, and trustees, our admission efforts focus on enrolling students of broad and diverse backgrounds who will excel in our classrooms, laboratories, and studios; on our stages and athletic fields; and in the level of their engagement in the life of the college and wider community. Amherst enrolls a first-year, full-time class of approximately 420 to 430 students and a total student body of approximately 1,650 students from fifty states and forty countries. While figures vary from year to year, at present our student body is 9 percent African-American, 13 percent Asian-American, 7 percent Latina/o, 46 percent Caucasian, 5 percent multi-racial, 7 percent international (non-U.S. citizens), and less than 1 percent Native American. (The remaining students do not self-identify.)1 We are proud that Amherst is not only one of the most selective colleges in this country but also, among selective colleges, one of the most diverse. Admission for U.S. students is need-blind; three-quarters of non-U.S. students received financial aid.
To reflect our ever-changing world, we regularly refine the priorities that guide the work of the admission office. Admission policy is developed and articulated by the Faculty Committee on Admission and Financial Aid (FCAFA), which is composed of four faculty members, four students, the dean of admission and financial aid, the director of financial aid, the director of admission, and the dean of students. Admission policies are also subject to the approval of the board of trustees.In order to assure that admission policy is implemented fully and consistently, each admission cohort and class is reviewed by the College Committee on Admission and Financial Aid, which is composed of the FCAFA plus the dean of the faculty and, because individual cases may be discussed, without the student members.
The FCAFA develops admission policy with the goal that all admitted students will not only persist to graduation, but will also thrive. Because we do not admit students into specific academic programs, it is the expectation that students will explore broadly and have the potential to be successful in any number of majors. As is discussed under The Academic Program, we are aware that students arrive with varying levels of preparation. Using academic reader ratings, the admission office attempts to identify among our exceptional admittees relatively less well-prepared students who aspire to pursue medical careers or careers in math or science. The dean of students office invites these students to participate in our intensive three-week summer science program prior to matriculation. 2 Appropriate follow-up and support continue upon matriculation (see “Academic Support” below).
In 2006 the Committee on Academic Priorities (CAP) recommended that Amherst “set the standard for higher education in choosing a student body for talent and potential, without exclusions for race, creed, national origin, or the ability to pay” (CAP report, p. 3). To support this goal, the CAP proposed that we
- recruit more vigorously students from less affluent backgrounds;
- increase the proportion of non-U.S. students from approximately 6 to 8 percent;
- make admission for non-U.S. students need-blind;
- expand the student body by about 5 percent;
- reduce the loan burden.
We have made significant progress on these recommendations. Under the leadership of President Marx, we have renewed and enhanced our commitment to economic and cultural diversity through increased efforts to seek actively, admit, and support financially (when need is demonstrated) students from less privileged and international backgrounds, while maintaining or increasing the rigor of our standards for admission. In 2004-05, we began a partnership with QuestBridge,3 an organization that provides educational opportunities at selective colleges and universities for academically talented and highly motivated low-income high school students. Our most recent entering class had 52 percent of its members on financial aid, with 20 percent of the class eligible for Pell grants. Through a telementoring program4 run through the admission office, our students provide information and advice about all aspects of the admission process to students identified by QuestBridge and other sources, many of whom are from families who have little experience with higher education. Our goal is to serve low-income high school communities, rather than to recruit students for Amherst.
In the fall of 2006, following the CAP proposal and upon the recommendation of the FCAFA, the faculty voted to recommend that the student body grow over the next six to eight years at the rate of approximately ten additional students per year, with the added slots given to excellent international students with financial need and “vibrant” students with strong academic credentials. To maintain the student-faculty ratio, the faculty stipulated that the number of tenure-track appointments should increase at least in proportion to the added numbers of students. These changes are reflected in the class of 2011, of which 8 percent are international students. To assist this initiative, in February of 2007 Arthur W. Koenig ’66 pledged $15 million to bring talented low-income students from Latin America and Africa to Amherst over the next six years, to provide academic support for them at the college, and to sponsor annual recruitment trips to those regions. In 2007, international students constituted 53 percent of the top 1 percent of students as determined by grade point average (GPA). The trustees are exploring ways to support need-blind admission for international students.
In 2006, we joined with the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and seven other colleges and universities to launch a program to enable academically qualified low-to-moderate income community college students to transfer to selective colleges and universities. We will use a grant of $585,000 from the foundation to support our efforts to find and enroll the most promising students from a range of backgrounds.5 We have launched an integrated set of recruitment initiatives at all fifteen community colleges across Massachusetts and several others in New York, Connecticut, California, and Florida, with the goal of enrolling ten or more new transfer students in the annual admission cycle. These new outreach initiatives have been designed in collaboration with six community colleges. To support the four-year effort, we have appointed a new admission fellow to work directly with community college students and have recruited a group of current students, some of whom themselves transferred from community colleges, to work as “telementors” for prospective community college students. We will establish new residential life programs to ease the social and academic transition to a residential four-year liberal arts college.
Because of our selectivity and our practice of “holistic admission,” it is impossible to publish data that formulaically inform students of their admissibility. We do, however, publish our Annual Report to Secondary Schools6 and have done so for sixty years.This report contains comprehensive statistics on the academic qualifications (rank in class, distribution of SAT I scores, ACT scores, academic profile) of all applicants, admitted students, and matriculating students; statistics on the number of applicants who are admitted and the number who enroll (over ten years for first-year students and the most recent statistics for fall transfer students); descriptions of matriculating students’ backgrounds, school type, and geographic origin; the distribution of students’ majors from the most recent graduating class; and information about student financial aid awards. It is available in the admission office’s reception area, is mailed to all U.S. secondary schools, and is featured on the admission office’s Web site.7 Admission requirements and procedures are also clearly detailed on the site, with all appropriate links, and in the college’s Catalog (2007-08, pp. 49-56) and view book (pages 63-67).
In addition to admission and financial aid practices, the view book provides information about academic and co-curricular programs; accomplished alumni; post-Amherst career resources, fellowships, and internships; the Five Colleges; and the town of Amherst and surrounding area. We also publish separate guides to applying for financial aid for domestic applicants and for international applicants. The Web site for admission and financial aid will soon include a Spanish translation. These publications are updated annually and undergo substantial review and revision on a regular four-to-five year cycle. All online and print publications are coordinated by the admission office and are updated in tandem. During the next year, new publications will include a brochure on the telementoring program and brochures for community college transfer applicants and for international applicants.
Students and admission deans provide additional information through face-to-face encounters in a variety of venues. The admission office conducts hour-long information sessions throughout most of the year in the office. Admission deans also travel extensively to meet students at college fairs and at high schools throughout the country and internationally. Additional outreach occurs through a series of evening chat rooms for prospective students in the autumn and for admitted students in the spring. The admission office also sponsors several days of open-house activities for admitted students and prospective transfer students; three diversity open houses for groups of low-income and ethnically diverse high school sophomores in the summer; and diversity weekends in the fall for low-income prospective students and students of color.
We select our students without regard to their ability to pay for an Amherst education. The college offers a need-based financial aid program that meets the full demonstrated need of all admitted students who qualify for financial aid. Need is determined by using a combination of federal and institutional methodologies. All applicants for financial aid are required to submit the College Scholarship Service Profile form and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). No merit scholarships—whether academic or athletic—are offered. Financial aid is guaranteed for eight semesters, provided that the student continues to show need. The Office of Financial Aid administers the college’s financial aid program, which is described in the college’s Catalog (2007-08, pp. 53-56) and on the financial aid Web site.
To ease the burden on middle-income families and to avoid constraining the career choices of our graduates, in 2007 we replaced loans with grants in financial aid packages for all students beginning in 2008-09. The board of the trustees will seek funding to sustain this large commitment.
Retention and Graduation
To contribute to our understanding of all students’ experiences at Amherst and to inform the development of programming, we track retention and graduation rates closely, both for the whole entering cohort each year and for specific population groups such as African-American, Latina/o, and Asian-American students. Our standard measure is the percentage of each entering cohort that graduates within six years of entrance. Our overall six-year graduation rate has stayed at roughly 96 percent for the last decade or more. Graduation rates for students of color vary more widely from year to year, but are generally within a few percentage points (plus or minus) of the overall figure. We also track GPAs and students placed on academic warning, probation, or dismissal. We believe that our very high retention and graduation rates are testimony to the quality of the decisions made by our admission office, the quality of the teaching done by our faculty, and the quality of the support services offered by the college. We are especially proud that, in surveys conducted and published by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, Amherst has ranked either first or second nationally in the enrollment and graduation rates of African-American students for several years in a row among all the colleges responding to the survey.8
As already mentioned, the college is dedicated to ensuring the success of all admitted students. Even before students arrive at Amherst, the needs of individual students in each entering cohort are considered through a close collaboration between the offices of admission and of the dean of students. Once a class has been admitted, the two staffs meet together to identify those students whose specific academic or personal circumstances might require special attention and the strategies that might be useful to help them succeed. Those strategies include assignment to a faculty advisor with particular skills and experience, an invitation to attend our summer science program, and a recommendation to delay introductory chemistry for one semester and to register for special intensive sections of quantitative courses or for writing-intensive courses designed for beginning students. Members of the admission staff regularly attend meetings of the Committee on Academic Standing, so that future admission decisions can be guided by their knowledge of the characteristics of the students who have academic difficulties at Amherst.
As part of the college’s regular practices of self-assessment, the FCAFA in 1999 (as earlier, in 1983) responded to the charge by the Committee of Six to explore questions relating to early decision, financial aid, and the role of athletics in the admission process. Their report in September of 1999 came on the heels of the resignation of the dean of admission and the report of a visiting committee charged with examining all aspects of admission. The visiting committee urged Amherst to make structural reforms in the organization of the admission office, improve communication between the admission office and the wider college community, and gather data about admission trends and outcomes more effectively. These recommendations were implemented and the concerns addressed. In its report in 1999, the FCAFA chose to focus on the role of athletics in admission, while noting that the issue of athletic recruitment was interrelated with a variety of broader issues facing the college. About its own function and structure, the committee made recommendations in four areas: to expand its involvement in the admission process; to strengthen its liaison with admission staff; to increase the role of institutional research (IR) in Amherst’s understanding of its applicant pools and matriculation outcomes; and to involve faculty more widely in the recruiting process. The office now relies heavily on analytical data, has greatly expanded outreach to low-income and first-generation applicants, and provides much more transparency about its practices to faculty.
Through constant attention, both within our own admission office and, at the behest of the NESCAC presidents, conference-wide, Amherst and our NESCAC partners have significantly narrowed the gap between the academic credentials of athletes and non-athletes. The NESCAC schools now share information on the credentials of incoming athletes, a practice that has curtailed the most exceptional admission decisions. Similarly, the conference has reduced the size of each school’s football squad and thereby reduced athletic pressures on admission. At Amherst, we have seen a general increase in the academic quality of our admitted athletes, which, in combination with initiatives by the athletics department and offices of the dean of the faculty and dean of students, have reduced the level of tension between athletes and non-athletes on campus, though current students note that some tension persists. See below under “Athletics.”
By the fall of 2002, the college had adopted and fully integrated a new database system that joined data from admission with data on academic outcomes. Data analyses that previously had been cumbersome became more manageable, and the dean of admission and financial aid embraced the possibilities. As a consequence, each year at the conclusion of the admission cycle, the dean now reviews and compares data in relation to a variety of measures: number of applicants, number of admitted students, and number of matriculating students; type of secondary school attended (public vs. private); percentage of students eligible for financial aid; geographic distribution; academic credentials; yield rate; and reasons for students choosing to matriculate elsewhere and the colleges and universities they select. On the basis of the Admitted Student Questionnaire (ASQ), yield data, and other feedback, the dean then explores together with the admission staff and the FCAFA how students view Amherst in relation to peer institutions. Together they discuss changes for the next admission cycle. In recent years these changes have included new application essay prompts, new view book materials, a revamped Web site, and increased outreach by faculty.
Our commitment to enrolling students from diverse backgrounds has been central to these discussions and activities. The admission office has greatly expanded outreach to low-income and first-generation applicants, working with the College Board to identify zip codes in which low-income students are likely to reside; collaborating as a founding institution of the QuestBridge Scholars program; and partnering with A Better Chance, Venture Scholars, the National Hispanic Institute, and the New England Counselors of Color Bridging Access to College. The admission office also hosts overnight visiting programs for students from College Match, Horizons Upward Bound, Prep for Prep, TEAK Fellowship, Double Discovery Group, and the Fulfillment Fund. Perhaps most important, we have changed the financial aid Web site to make applying simpler for low-income families through the Financial Aid Quick Pass.
Amherst has also been a leader in reducing or eliminating loans and has held the high road as a direct lender institution for federal loans. Seven years ago, we demonstrated our commitment to making education more accessible to low-income students by eliminating loans for students from families with incomes of less than $40,000 a year. At the close of the 2006-07, the board of trustees voted to replace loans with scholarships in its financial aid packages beginning in the 2008-09 academic year not only for the incoming class of 2012, but for all current Amherst students. This initiative significantly broadens our commitment to making an Amherst education accessible by eliminating financial barriers for middle-income families, as well as low-income families.
In addition, the admission office has increased travel, redirecting its efforts from high profile secondary schools to additional low-income high schools domestically and to a far wider range of countries internationally, seeking low-income students abroad as well as at home. Admission deans now travel to Asia, Africa, South America, Europe, and the Middle East. To increase outreach to our best candidates during the yield period, the college now has a number of events: faculty phone and e-mail “early writes”; transportation for low-income students to visit the campus; e-mail from international students, students of color, and low-income students to their counterparts during the yield period; and chat rooms led by current students and by admission deans for prospective and admitted students. The result has been a steady increase from the class of 2005 to the class of 2010 in the number of students of color (from 34 percent of the class of 2005 to 39 percent in the class of 2010), first-generation college students (from 14 to 16 percent), and low-income students (from 18 to 23 percent), even as mean SATs have risen (Verbal 705 to 711, Math 697 to 706).
During this time, the dean of admission and financial aid has provided much greater transparency about admission practices to a faculty that had grown increasingly skeptical of the admission process. The dean regularly invites members of the FCAFA to observe admission committee decisions and shares data about the new class with the wider faculty each year at the beginning of the fall semester. This interest in transparency led to a NESCAC-wide conversation about the role of athletics in admission in January 2004 and again in January 2005, both initiated by members of the FCAFA. These conversations have instigated league-wide changes in athletic admission. In response to concerns about yielding the strongest science students, the admission office developed new tools for identifying and tracking top science applicants, including a new science supplement to the application and a new science research code for tracking students with serious interests in research. The success of these tools is assessed annually.
In addition to tracking applicants, the dean also reviews the correlation of the academic reader rating—the primary rating of a student’s academic potential—with the student’s first-year and four-year academic record as measured by GPA, disaggregated by major. Independent regression analyses by the faculty Working Group on Quantitative Skills have also validated academic reader rating, showing it to be the best predictor of how well a student will perform in introductory level math and science classes.
More recently, as mentioned above, in the fall of 2006, the FCAFA responded to another charge from the Committee of Six and to the CAP recommendations to increase the size of the entering class and the proportion of non-U.S. students and to make admission for non-U.S. students need-blind. In the latter instance, after reviewing different possibilities, the committee proposed increasing the number of excellent international students who have financial need and of U.S. students with the highest reader ratings.
Increasingly faculty receive a full range of data to inform admission policy decisions.To cite a recent instance, our applicant pool in 2006-07 reflected the success of the QuestBridge program and other recruitment efforts, as well as the publicity surrounding our desire to broaden the economic profile of our student body.An unexpectedly large number of qualified students from lower socioeconomic groups applied and, meeting established standards, were accepted—with a higher yield.As a result, we have already with the class of 2011 met the CAP goal for increasing socioeconomic diversity and anticipate that we will be able to meet this goal for future classes.In response to this unexpected development, the FCAFA assessed this year’s admission results in relation to our current admission policies, goals, and standards, and reported its findings to the faculty and the board of trustees.
With the help of our IR office, the admission office is developing increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for tracking the correlation between specific admission criteria (SAT I scores, high school GPA, admission officers’ reader ratings) and academic success at Amherst. Through statistical work done by our IR office, the college attempts to measure the success of its academic support efforts, such as the intensive sections of quantitative courses, and the college plans to base future steps on what is learned. In addition, the registrar’s office compiles and publishes six-year graduation rates.
We are also involved in appraisal efforts that focus on special admission initiatives. As part of our commitment to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Community College Transfer Initiative, we are participating in an evaluation of the project that is being conducted by the Center for Youth and Communities of Brandeis University.
We developed a telementoring tracking system for the QuestBridge program that will also be used for the Jack Kent Cooke community college outreach effort. It is hoped that this tool can be packaged and used by other schools involved in telementoring projects. The tool allows the Amherst students who are counseling high school students to log in their interactions as well as the results of the high school student’s college search. The data are compiled in an easy-to-access-and-analyze data base.
For the last twenty years, the college has made a concerted effort to increase the number of students receiving financial aid. In the mid 1980s, the percentage of students in the entering class qualifying for financial aid was as low as 32 or 33 percent; in the class that entered in September 2006, the percentage had risen to 51 percent, and the average scholarship grant per student was $35,700. Our efforts to enhance our socioeconomic diversity have been aided by the generosity of our financial packages.
We anticipate that the new initiative to become need-blind for international students and to increase the number of such students from approximately 6 percent to approximately 8 percent of the student body will be about a $1.6 million addition to the college’s overall annual financial aid budget of more than $20 million.
To permit greater social-economic diversity and broader inclusion of international students, the size of entering classes will increase gradually over the next eight-to-ten years by up to as many as ten students in each entering class (and a total enrollment under 1700). The board of trustees and the FCAFA will monitor the impact of this gradual increase.
We are dedicated to increasing further the diversity of the student body while maintaining and enhancing our academic standards.We will strive to raise the standards in admission for all categories of applicants through new outreach programs and other strategies, while working toward identified goals. In support of these goals, the FCAFA plans to continue to assess students’ performance by tracking the distribution of academic achievement evident in each reader-rating cohort. We anticipate that Amherst will continue to be a national leader in admission and financial aid.
The board of trustees will seek to fund in perpetuity our policy of replacing loans with grants, starting in 2008-09, and, if possible, to fund the extension of need-blind admission to international students.
THE OFFICE OF THE DEAN OF STUDENTS
The Office of the Dean of Students, in keeping with Amherst’s mission, provides means and support for students to assume responsibility in the realms of inquiry, the co-curriculum, and the self-governance of the college community.Charged with encouraging the personal, ethical, and intellectual growth of students and with their general welfare, the office provides academic, career, and personal counseling; develops and implements support programs; administers the college’s student residential and co-curricular resources; participates in the faculty and administrative formulation and evaluation of policies; and ensures that students’ needs are considered in college decisions. The office maintains a Web site that describes its many services.9
A primary function of the student affairs staff is to facilitate the academic success of all Amherst students. We do so in a number of ways: by administering a pre-major faculty advising system that helps to guide our students through the open curriculum; by providing informal academic and personal counseling through the class deans; by supplying academic support through mechanisms such as the Moss Quantitative Center, the Amherst College Writing Center, the peer tutoring program, and our English-as-a-second-language counselor; by working with faculty to devise means—such as our summer science program—to enhance the academic experience of students who enter Amherst without sufficient preparation for academic disciplines; and by enforcing academic rules and regulations fairly and consistently across the student body.
Our second major function is to administer the co-curricular and residential resources of the college in ways that complement and enhance the academic experience of our students. We believe firmly that a significant part of the learning that takes place at Amherst occurs in contexts outside the classroom: in residence halls, on athletic fields, in concerts and other performances, and in the leadership that is exercised when students form and run their own clubs and organizations. In keeping with our mission, our practice is to give students a substantial amount of autonomy in administering their own affairs, while providing them with as much support as is necessary to ensure that they do so in keeping with the larger goals of the college. In particular, we have a highly developed residential life system, with trained upper-class resident counselors, live-in professional supervisors, theme housing affiliated with academic departments, and a new program of faculty fellows connected to the first-year residence halls. All of these aspects are intended to promote the learning that occurs when talented students from a wide variety of backgrounds live together in close quarters, and to emphasize the lack of a bright line distinction between the lives students lead within and outside the classroom.
National searches are conducted for all professional positions that fall under the umbrella of the dean of students office. Typical requirements include an advanced degree in a liberal arts or other relevant discipline and several years’ previous experience in a similar or relevant position. We have recruited staff to represent a broad spectrum of this country’s population. At present, one-third of the deans in both the dean of students office and the admission office are people of color. Through the normal budgeting process of the college, enhancements to staff or facilities are considered and are ranked in priority order against similar requests from the other administrative areas. The information technology (IT) department provides full support for the hardware and software needs of the various student affairs offices.
All constituents of the college—students, faculty, administrators, and staff—are expected to abide by the same ethical standards, as expressed by the three statements that form the basis of our honor code: The Statement on Intellectual Responsibility, the Statement on Freedom of Expression and Dissent, and the Statement on Respect for Persons. These statements are published in the college Catalog (2007-08, pp. 59-62) and the Student Handbook (2007-08, pp. 23-25) and online.10 Instructors are expected to read the Statement on Intellectual Responsibility to their students at the first class meeting each semester and to explain the implications of honor code for the work of the course. The ethical standards embodied in the three statements guide the work of the student affairs staff as well.
Decisions about the academic standing of Amherst students are made by our Committee on Academic Standing, whose membership includes the four class deans, other members of the student affairs staff, and three faculty members (one each from the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities). The decisions are made according to a set of criteria originally voted by the faculty and published each year in the college Catalog (2007-08, p. 66). Requests for exceptions to the standard policies are made by petition and are considered by the full committee.
Grievance procedures for the resolution of complaints against students (whether from fellow students or from faculty and staff) are contained within our honor code and are clearly stated in the Student Handbook , as are grievance procedures for students against members of the faculty or administration (pp. 25-44).
The college’s policies on the records of students are articulated in the “Student Records” section of the Student Handbook (2007-08, pp. 4-6). In those policies, we comply with the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Primary responsibility for the administration of this policy rests with the college registrar.
A full description of the nature, extent, and availability of student services is contained in our Student Handbook (2007-08, pp. 9-22), which is revised yearly and is distributed to all students at the beginning of the academic year. Descriptions of the range of student resources are also provided on the college’s Web site and are accessible to prospective students and other interested parties by that means.In addition, during a week-long orientation program,11 each entering class receives an overview of the college’s curricular and co-curricular offerings and services and an introduction to Amherst’s rules and regulations.The program is sponsored by the Orientation Committee, which is composed of faculty members, administrators, and students, and is directed by the dean of new students, who is a tenured member of the faculty.Since our last reaccreditation report, in a continuing effort to educate students about cheating and plagiarism, the college added to orientation a session on intellectual property.The focus is on evolving definitions of “intellectual property” in an age of electronic media.
The dean’s office works on the principle that all deans should be available to advise all students, a model premised on having office staff with diversity comparable to that of the student body. We support four facilities for cultural groups: the Gerald Penny Cultural Center for African-American students, the Rainbow Room for LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning/queer, intersex, and ally) students, and the offices of the Asian-American Students Association and La Causa in Keefe Campus Center. All of these organizations have advisors on the staff of the dean of students office. Among the theme houses is Charles Drew House for students interested in African-American culture, La Casa for students interested in Latino/a culture, and the Asian Culture House for students interested in Asian culture, all of which have faculty advisors.12
Through offices such as the campus police, the health service, the IT department, and the library, the college provides services to ensure students’ physical safety as well as access to a full range of information resources. Campus police are available twenty-four hours a day and are reachable through our on-campus dispatcher. Students have access to a help desk in our IT department, as well as to a full staff of reference librarians. Career services are provided by our career center, which also offers advising for internships and study abroad, as well as preparation for the health and legal professions.13 In response to the impending retirement of the director, a visiting committee consisting of the directors of Career Services at Princeton and Swarthmore, as well as an Amherst alumnus who is a consultant specializing in non-profit organizations, reviewed the career center and made recommendations for improvement in a report submitted in December of 2007.
Under the dean of students office the religious life staff represents the spectrum of religious affiliations of the student body. The religious advisors, adjunct advisors, and affiliates conduct religious services, work with student organizations, and encourage interfaith dialogue. They are centered in the Cadigan Center for Religious Life, which was opened in 1998, and also make use of the chapel and lounge in Chapin Hall. Through the Schwemm Fund, the advisors organize programs to address issues of ethics in contemporary life. 14
Students, as well as faculty, administrators, and staff, have access to the campus ombudsperson, who can refer students to the various complaint and appeal mechanisms, as described in the Student Handbook. Staff members of the dean of students office also help to guide students through these procedures. All of these services are fully available to every member of the student community, as specified in the college’s statement of non-discrimination.
A major theme of the last several years in student affairs has been enhancing our support services in order to address the needs of the wide variety of students of all backgrounds who enroll at Amherst. We recognize that meeting the emerging academic and co-curricular needs of all students will be among our greatest challenges in the years to come, and we are committed to this goal. Academic support services are provided by the dean of students office in collaboration with faculty committees and the dean of the faculty’s office. 15
As our admission outreach efforts have expanded to include students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, along with students of color, varsity athletes, and other constituencies, our commitment to ensuring the success of all students has broadened, particularly through addressing the range of learning styles and levels of preparation among students (see under The Academic Program). To meet growing student demand for assistance with writing, we have expanded and will continue to expand the resources available to our writing center (established in 1994),16 which is within the dean of students’ office. We also established (1997) and are expanding the resources for our quantitative center,17 which provides tutoring to any student who needs it in quantitative disciplines such as the natural sciences, mathematics, and economics. For some introductory level science courses, we also provide lecture teaching assistants who hold regular evening sessions to assist students.
In 2005, we brought in visiting committees for both the writing and the quantitative centers. As a result of the recommendations of those committees, the college has expanded the staffs of both, though demand continues to increase rapidly as well. At this point, the quantitative center has a full-time director, a full-time quantitative fellow, and a half-time professional math tutor, as well as a wide array of student tutors. The writing center now has a full-time director and two full-time writing fellows, as well as an expanded staff of student tutors.
To investigate and help meet the needs of students from less privileged backgrounds, some of whom are less well-prepared academically, the president created a “green dean” position in his office for a special projects fellow.The first person to hold this position, a recent graduate of the college who is herself a first-generation college student, assumed the position in 2004. In 2007, this position was reconstituted as Student Affairs Officer for Diversity and Academic Support in the dean of students’ office. Among the needs uncovered: quicker financial aid distribution, help in opening a checking account, transportation for families to family weekend who could not otherwise afford to come, a meal plan during college breaks, and winter clothing shopping. The student affairs officer created an annual class awareness week, involving students, faculty, staff, and administrators. She organized and created a successful academic peer mentor program to allow first-year students to work with upperclassmen trained to offer advice on study skills, make referrals to academic resources, and provide guidance about finding their way at Amherst. The program offers one-on-one mentoring as well as workshops on time management, reading and writing skills, and strategies for handling the pre-med requirements. Almost half of the class of 2011 attended workshops and information sessions in the first weeks of class. The program is devising tools to monitor how students learn about and use academic support resources.18
At issue for some time has been how best to provide the support that less well-prepared students need to succeed in Amherst’s challenging curriculum in the sciences. We identify entering students with an expressed interest in the sciences and weak high school preparation in early summer, and invite between forty and fifty students to attend our pre-enrollment summer science program for three weeks on our campus at no cost to themselves. Courses and laboratory experiences are taught by Amherst faculty members and student TAs with support from the quantitative center. Since its inception in 1987, the summer science program has served more than 270 students, many of whom are women and students of color. About fifteen students each summer choose to attend the program, which we continue to develop and refine. The goal of this program is to ensure that this broad group of academically at-risk students continues through the entire first year of introductory science courses and gains the confidence to tackle more challenging material in subsequent years.
Student Health and Safety
Our health service19 is run through the University of Massachusetts Health Service. We have an on-campus facility, which is staffed by physicians and nurse practitioners supplied by UMass and is open weekdays, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. At all other times, our students have access to the UMass infirmary, which operates twenty-four hours a day. After hours, students are transported to UMass by our campus police. Our counseling center20 is located on campus and is staffed by clinical psychologists who are Amherst College employees, as well as by two part-time consulting psychiatrists.
Amherst students who have documented disabilities may receive assistance in a variety of ways, depending on the nature and extent of the limitations imposed by the disability, as well as specific course content and testing. Reasonable accommodation is determined after review of documentation, conversations with the student and, in some cases, consultation with the student’s instructors. Each support service or academic accommodation provided on the basis of a disability is determined on an individual, case-by-case basis, as supported by the documentation and warranted by the nature of the course, insofar as the service or accommodation does not compromise the fundamental academic integrity of the curriculum and is otherwise consistent with college policies. A senior associate dean in the dean of students office oversees disability-based services and accommodations. Detailed information about these services is provided on the office’s Web site.21 While the dean of students office provides substantial coordination, supervision, and support, students are expected to take an active role in the collaborative process of identifying, arranging, and monitoring the provision of services and accommodations.
Amherst strives to meet or exceed the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act on all college renovation and construction projects (see under Physical and Technological Resources).
The college’s student clubs and organizations give students a wide variety of opportunities to learn and practice skills of leadership and self-government. Co-curricular opportunities are supervised by our office of student activities,22 which has two professional staff members who also run the Keefe Campus Center. We have close to one hundred different recognized student clubs and organizations, including numerous publications; cultural, religious and ethnic clubs; club sports; and a wide variety of miscellaneous groups initiated by the students themselves, according to their own interests. The clubs are self-governing and are recognized by the Student Senate, the governing authority of the Association of Amherst Students (AAS).23 Funding is provided through the Student Senate upon the recommendation of the Budgetary Committee, which allocates money from the college-collected student activities fee to the various organizations. That fee is 1 percent of tuition, currently totaling almost $700,000 per year. Elected members of the Student Senate serve as members of a variety of faculty policy-making committees, such as the FCAFA, the Committee on Priorities and Resources, the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP), the College Council, the Committee on Discipline, the Orientation Committee, the Committee on Education and Athletics, the Library Committee, the Faculty Computer Committee, and the Committee on Health and Safety. In this way, students have a direct role in the overall governance of the college as well as in the governance of their own organizations.
The dean of students office is dedicated to providing a residential environment in which students from a wide variety of backgrounds live together respectfully and productively and to offering a range of co-curricular opportunities that complement and enhance learning in the classroom.24 Our residential life department supervises fifty-nine resident counselors, whose responsibilities include promoting community and providing a wide variety of academic and social programs within the residence halls. Amherst is a truly residential community: fully 97 percent of our student body lives and learns on campus, and all of our students are full-time. In this section, we would like to draw particular attention to our Residential Master Plan (RMP).
By the late 1990s it had become clear to Amherst that many of the colleges with whom we compete for students had significantly enhanced the quality of their student housing. Our first-year dormitories, in particular, were in substandard physical condition and no longer meeting the objectives of the residential-life program. As a result, we retained a group of architectural consultants and spent nearly two years developing a comprehensive master plan to renovate our entire student housing stock. It was agreed that the RMP should encompass larger programming issues, about which numerous constituencies, including the faculty and students, were consulted during the planning process. Central to the plan was the decision to create a true first-year quad, around which the entire entering class would live, and to provide all residences with social and study spaces to foster a sense of community. The plan involved converting three classroom buildings into dormitories, renovating two older dormitories, and tearing down and rebuilding two other dormitories. We met the targeted date for completion, September of 2007, so that the class of 2011 is the first to be housed entirely in contiguous quarters in their first year. Informal student surveys in dorm meetings reveal that students are exceptionally pleased. Damage has been reduced dramatically in the new residences in comparison with the aging structures that they replace because students respect the structures.
As part of the RMP, we have also renovated several upper-class dormitories and built two new ones. Thirteen of our thirty-three dormitories are former fraternity houses, several of which require major repairs. As a result, we have embarked on a systematic plan to renovate at least two of those buildings each year for the next few years. The first two of these projects were completed in 2006-07, and two more are under way in the current academic year.
The college boasts a history of excellence in athletics dating back to 1859, when Amherst became the first college in this country to establish a department of physical training. Today, Amherst offers a full array of recreational and athletic opportunities, ranging from twenty-seven intercollegiate varsity teams to more than a dozen club sports and numerous intramural and recreational activities.25 In addition, non-credit physical education courses are also available to the entire community, including students, faculty, administrators, and staff. All of these programs and activities are administered by the department of physical education and athletics. Thirty-two percent of Amherst’s students now participate in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III sports, competing primarily in NESCAC, a group of highly selective liberal arts colleges and universities that share a like-minded philosophy of intercollegiate athletics. Academic expectations and opportunities are the same for varsity athletes as they are for all other students.
Amherst has been a regular on the national scene since becoming eligible for NCAA tournament play in 1993-94 and perennially advances deep into the post-season, claiming national championships in women’s tennis in 1999, women’s lacrosse in 2003, and men’s basketball in 2007. The college is one of only four schools to finish in the top twelve in every year of the competition for the Directors’ Cup of the National Association of Collegial Directors of Athletics—the only all-sports trophy given to NCAA institutions. Amherst student-athletes have claimed countless All-Conference, All-America, and Academic All-America awards.
With the success of our intercollegiate athletic program over the years has come sustained attention to its role in relation to admission policy and the campus culture. During the period since our last reaccreditation, we have reviewed and assessed (both internally and externally) our athletic program, and a substantial strategic planning and implementation process is currently under way. These efforts will be discussed in greater detail in the appraisal section. The department is advised by the Committee on Education and Athletics, composed of coaches, faculty members, and students.
The standards for placement on academic warning, probation, or dismissal are well defined and have been enforced consistently for more than twenty years. We do not anticipate changes to our procedures in this regard in the near future.
Although we do not state explicit goals for students’ co-curricular learning, we systematically assess the effectiveness of certain aspects of the co-curricular experience, such as residential life, through the surveys conducted by our IR office (see under Planning and Evaluation; a summary of important findings is available in the document “2007 Report to the trustees on assessment projects and institutional effectiveness”). The annual reports of the counseling, health services, and health education demonstrate the heavy usage that students make of these services, in accordance with which we adjust staffing levels in order to ensure access without resorting to waiting lists or required referrals off-campus. Most recently, in response to a significant increase in the number of our students requesting consultations for psychotropic medications, we increased the number of hours our psychiatrists are available by nearly 50 percent. Our own studies have shown that our arrangement with UMass enables us to provide a full range of health services more cost effectively than do most other schools of comparable size.
In addition to the other mechanisms of evaluation already mentioned, we occasionally invite visiting committees to study various student services and make recommendations for their improvement. In the past, such committees have examined our health service and counseling center.
As described above, we have made great progress over the past ten years in the area of academic and co-curricular support for less well-prepared students and are committed to doing even more. With faculty leadership, support programs are developed based on institutional research on student performance and need and with the continuing oversight of the faculty Committee on Academic Support. As was discussed under The Academic Program, writing instruction is under review by the CEP, and the Quantitative Skills Working Group continues to meet .
In formulating and implementing the new initiatives of the past ten years, the offices of the dean of the faculty and dean of students have continued their traditionally strong working relationships. Representatives of the dean of students office have served on curricular working groups in the Special Committee on the Amherst Education and CAP process and continue to support the Teaching and Advising Project. A faculty member serves half time as dean of new students. The various faculty oversight committees work with both offices.
Other bodies under the auspices of the dean of students office also assess their programs or functions regularly and make changes as needed. The Orientation Committee meets several times over the course of the year to plan the following year’s program. Adjustments to the program are made with some frequency, often in response to an annual survey sent to first-year students once orientation has been completed. Most recently, as a result of faculty concerns that there was not enough academic substance in the program, the Orientation Committee added an annual lecture by a visiting dignitary— often an Amherst alumnus—at the very start of the program, along with assigned readings on the topic the speaker plans to address. Survey results indicate that students have in general appreciated the inclusion of this event within the program.
As with most student governments, the effectiveness of our AAS varies considerably from year to year, depending on the abilities of the particular elected officers. At the moment, there is some controversy about the allocation process for the student activities fees, since the AAS has underspent its budget for the last few years and has accumulated a significant surplus. The director of student activities has been working with the treasurer of the AAS to develop mechanisms to eliminate the under spending as well as to ensure equitable distribution of the accumulated surplus over time.
Though the RMP has paid close attention to the needs for space for student activities, scarcities have been reported as our hundred clubs and organizations, with their own shifting needs, adapt to the new patterns of available space, as well as the need to take buildings off-line during construction. The inadequacy of space in the Keefe Student Center is often noted. As in the RMP process, these space needs will be central to the planning process for the east campus (see under Physical and Technological Resources).
Satisfaction with extracurricular opportunities is generally high. In the 2005 Senior Survey, 97 percent of students were generally or very satisfied with those opportunities. Some students feel that some of the hundred clubs and organizations are less active than on peer campuses and that the ten theme houses should do more to enliven campus life and create a sense of community. The perceived lack of school spirit and the longing for more campus traditions have also been recurrent themes in recent years.
Results from the Five College cycles surveys show that our students’ satisfaction with their residential experience has increased significantly over the last ten years, presumably in direct response to our efforts to upgrade the quality of our residence halls. Because 2007-08 is the first year in which all of the first-year students will be living contiguously, we will not know the success of our plan to have the whole class together for several more years. We do anticipate, though, that with the help of our expanded IR office, we should have good information on the relative success of this aspect of the RMP within the next few years.
While the issue of off-campus fraternities remains, anecdotal evidence suggests that the interest in those organizations among athletes—and especially among football players—has waned. Following on the trustees’ 1997 report on this issue, the College Council studied our fraternity policy in 2005-06, and again recommended no change in policy, though it did issue a statement for inclusion in the Student Handbook (2007-08, pp. 46-47) that clarifies the policy and gives specific instances of what activities are prohibited on campus.
Twice in the last five years Amherst has commissioned special reports on athletics at the college. In 2002 a trustee-faculty-student committee, chaired by Colin Diver ’65, now president of Reed College, issued a report entitled “The Place of Athletics at Amherst College: A Question of Balance” (hereafter: “the Diver Report”), and in 2005 there was an external review of the department. The department is now addressing the recommendations made by these reviews through a comprehensive strategic planning process. Central to this initiative is a multi-faceted approach to assuring that athletic competition is broadly valued on campus for “its contribution to academic performance, personal growth, social cohesion, and community spirit,” as the Diver Report recommended.
The Diver Report found that we operate a highly successful varsity athletic program despite the high academic selectivity and small size of the college, considerable expense involved, and increasing competition within NESCAC and NCAA Division III. The report weighed the direct and indirect costs associated with maintaining athletic success against the identifiable benefits, and found those costs to be appropriate but recommended continuous assessment of the pressures on the admission process.
The Diver Report recommended that we support standards for sharing admission data among the eleven-member NESCAC and that, in concert with the closest peer institutions (Wesleyan and Williams), we provide leadership in ensuring that student-athletes’ entrance credentials mirror those of their non-athletic peers. Under the direction of the NESCAC presidents, the league has implemented a league-wide policy regarding admission expectations for students with athletic interest. The presidents now review conference data on an annual basis. Additional recommendations of the Diver Report addressed time and energy demands, the stereotyping of athletes, the size of the athletic programs and the numbers of athletically talented students needed to support such programs, and equity and diversity issues as they pertain to students and the coaching staff. Finally, the report suggested “periodic stock-taking,” the prescription for which included the appointment of an ad hoc review committee within three to five years of the publication of the 2002 report.
In the fall of 2005, President Marx assembled an external review committee and charged it to evaluate all aspects of the department. That committee’s report, delivered in December of 2005, included seventeen distinct recommendations, including the creation of a strategic plan, the evaluation of current and future facility needs, and a review of criteria for admission of student-athletes. The 2005 external review committee report builds on the Diver Report by recommending tangible and practical ways to improve all facets of the physical education and athletics program at Amherst.
Under a new director hired in 2006, the athletics department has addressed the recommendations of the 2002 and 2005 reviews. A strategic planning committee has begun to review programs, staff assignments, facility needs, and optimal and equitable financing levels in the context of the college’s and department’s missions. The department will use strategic planning to evaluate its strengths and needs and develop a multi-year plan with strategic benchmarks for measuring progress in all identified areas.
In addition, the following committees were established with the department: the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, the Campus Climate Committee, the Contracts and Evaluation Committee, and the Fundraising and External Communications Committee. To strengthen integration with academic life, the program of faculty liaisons to teams was expanded. The Friends of Amherst Athletics revised its constitution and bylaws, sponsored new programs, built membership, and reinstituted the Friends Newsletter and the senior banquet for graduating student-athletes.
Since 2006 the structure of positions in the department has been reformed. The department conducted an audit of hiring practices, staffing levels, workload, job responsibilities, and compensation for fairness and balance across all positions in the department. Five searches, representing head coaching positions that did not originally undergo national search processes and protocols, were conducted during the 2006-07 academic year. In addition, the strategic planning committee is actively assessing the responsibilities assigned to all coaching positions. The assessment includes a review of workload, compensation, and equity issues. A position was created at the assistant athletic director level to advance the department’s goals for diversity and inclusion by working with the admission office, dean of students offices, and Center for Community Engagement, and a senior coach was appointed to this position.
We anticipate that the demand for a variety of health services, particularly psychological services, will continue to increase. We are committed to ensuring that resources will be provided to meet these and other student needs.
With the successful completion of the first phase of the RMP, we have now turned our attention to the second phase, which involves what in some ways is our thorniest housing problem: what to do with the social dorms, a group of upper-class dormitories built in the mid-1960s whose useful life is rapidly coming to an end. Due to their design, they would be especially difficult to renovate. At this writing, a new group of architectural consultants is developing a phased plan to tear down and rebuild each of these dormitories. The board of trustees will consider this plan over the next year or so, and we anticipate that, if it is approved, construction will begin on another major set of projects within the next two to three years. See under Physical and Technological Resources.
As Amherst continues to attract students with a wider variety of academic preparation (though not, we believe, of academic potential), we recognize our obligation to ensure their success once they arrive at the college. We are committed to devoting close attention and much energy to the issue of academic support for our most vulnerable students for the foreseeable future through bodies such as our faculty Committee on Academic Support and the Quantitative Skills Working Group; personnel such as the coordinator of academic support programs and the officer for diversity and support; and enhanced resources for and visibility of our IR office. For curricular initiatives in this area, see under The Academic Program.
As mentioned in the appraisal section, there has been a great deal of review and assessment in this area over the past ten years, and much is planned for the immediate future, with the oversight of the Committee on Education and Athletics. We anticipate that the current substantial strategic planning and implementation process will address many recommendations made in the 2002 Diver Report and the 2005 External Review Committee Report.
The various functions of admission, financial aid, student affairs, and athletics are overseen by a constellation of active committees: the Student Life Committee of the board of trustees, the FCAFA and College Committee on Admission and Financial Aid, the College Council, the Orientation Committee, the Committee on Academic Support, the Committee on Academic Standing, and the Committee on Education and Athletics. In the past decade, there have been six external reviews of units in this area, which have led to substantial changes in policies, practices, and staffing structures. The perceptions of applicants, enrolled students, and graduates are regularly surveyed in order to improve policies and practices.
 Admission office
 Theme houses
 Career Center
 Religious Life staff
 Health service
 Counseling center
 Disability services
 Residential Life
 Amherst athletics