I am writing to address Mr. Zimny-Schmitt’s editorial from April 9 titled “New admission policy is blatantly discriminatory.” I welcome the opportunity to explain the university’s decision to require the CIEE Applicant Interview and its limited focus on China.

I only regret that I wasn’t contacted by Mr. Zimny-Schmitt himself for this information, which may have better informed his article.

Like many U.S. colleges, the University of Denver has witnessed two phenomena in the past few years: 1) a meteoric rise in the number of applications and matriculants from China and 2) an increasing disconnect between international students’ English proficiency test scores (TOEFL or IELTS) and their performance in the classroom.

As a result of the latter phenomenon, our English proficiency policy has evolved from allowing direct enrollment based on a test score to requiring all non-native speakers to pass a DU-designed English Language Proficiency Assessment (ELPA) prior to enrollment in their degree programs. For Fall Quarter 2012, nearly 20 percent of those students failed the ELPA, even though they had met the test score requirement.

The good news is that those students are getting the English training they need to succeed at DU by enrolling in further ESL study. The bad news is that neither the students nor the university were expecting such a large failure rate.  We knew we had to come up with something better to safeguard everyone’s expectations for degree enrollment.

We had been introduced to the CIEE Applicant Interview a few years earlier. It was the first of its kind in international education and the only one we felt has been sufficiently tested and supported by U.S. higher education admission professionals. However, it is only offered in China.  There are other such tools available now, but none are universally—or even broadly—offered.

With limited options, we decided to pilot the CIEE Applicant Interview requirement this year. We painstakingly required it of all our applicants living there, both Chinese and non-Chinese alike. Conversely, we did not require it of our many, many Chinese applicants (perhaps 25 percent) living outside of China.

It is too early to know whether this pilot program will prove successful. We must see the Fall Quarter 2013 ELPA results, correlate them with the CIEE Applicant Interview results and determine if we have improved the pass rate on the ELPA. In addition, we may fine tune our test score requirements by requiring additional minimum scores on the TOEFL subsections.

It stands to reason that we would begin an interview requirement in China.  Chinese students make up about 65 percent of our international admission pool and nearly our entire English Conditional Admission pool (these are the students we admit with the condition that they successfully complete our English Language Center’s College Preparation program). Admitted Chinese students are typically in the top 5 percent of their class, have significant leadership and community-service experience and eye-popping SAT Math scores. We owe it to them and all non-native speakers to do everything possible to ensure their success.

We are requiring this interview of students living in China because that is where it is offered, where most of our international students live and where most of the need resides.  If the interview proves to be a good tool and becomes more widely available, we will consider expanding this requirement accordingly.

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