ATHENS, Ga. -- For students trying to gain admission to the University of Georgia, hailing from a poor county or attending a struggling Georgia high school might help.
Weeks before final-notice letters go out April 1, university faculty Wednesday passed a sweeping new admissions policy that gives new breaks to applicants from economically deprived Georgia counties and low-performing high schools. Heeding a call to tighten admissions, faculty also upped entrance standards for freshmen and transfer students, aiming to cut each group by about 300 next school year.
"There are going to be fewer students admitted to the University of Georgia, come fall of 2000," said Scott Weinberg, chairman of the Faculty Admissions Committee.
The committee met privately Wednesday and adopted the proposed changes on the advice of President Michael Adams and Admissions Director Nancy McDuff, who have been soliciting comments from around the state on how to assemble future student bodies.
"Economics of counties and the quality of the schools kept popping up," Mr. Weinberg said.
Mr. Adams still must sign off on the new preferences and the overall policy before it takes effect for the fall 2000 student body.
Under the plan, a student's gender will no longer be considered, but the applicant weighing process for 10 percent to 15 percent of Georgia applicants -- called the Total Student Index, or TSI -- will now award points to residents of the bottom third of Georgia counties and students attending low-ranked Georgia schools.
Children of alumni will still get points and members of minority groups will continue to get a break in the TSI despite an Aug. 10 lawsuit challenging the practice.
Seeking a more nuanced way of admitting diverse student bodies, college officials around the country have been adopting similar policies to measure "striving" among applicants.
University of Georgia admissions officials haven't set a weight yet on the new economic and school factors, which will affect hundreds of borderline applications. In identifying low-tier schools, they plan to use a school list compiled by the Council for School Performance at Georgia State University, which measures "everything from school lunch programs to truancy," said John Albright, associate director of admissions.
A list from the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism will pinpoint cash-strapped counties scattered across Georgia.
"It's pretty much old cotton-belt counties," Mr. Albright said.
A similar preference for rural counties was dropped by the university in 1996.
Mr. Albright predicted the changes will be controversial. Transfer requirements jump from a 2.3 grade point average to 2.8. The academic index for freshmen, a compilation of grades and test scores, increases from 2.86 to 2.92.
"The freshmen will feel it more this year," along with the transfers, Mr. Albright said. "All of a sudden, we've moved the target. We do feel bad about it, but it's something we had to do for the sake of the university. We've got to control growth."
News of rising admissions standards surprised leaders at regional colleges that send large numbers of transfers to the flagship university.
The freshman class, gleaned from some 13,000 applicants, will sink from about 4,300 to 4,000. The number of transfers is projected to drop in the fall from about 1,834 to 1,500.
"I think it's regrettable if a student is planning to transfer, and the requirements are such that they will be prevented from doing so," said David Shippey, vice present for academic affairs at Cleveland-based Truett-McConnell College, a chain of Georgia community colleges.
The Athens campus had 30,912 students last fall, an increase of 3 percent from the previous year. Officials want graduate enrollment to drive much of the future growth in the student body. Georgia's booming population and the popularity of the HOPE scholarship have been driving up undergraduate enrollment, but graduate students bring teaching skills and four times more tuition dollars than undergraduates.
"For a research institution, our percentage of graduate enrollment is low," university spokesman Tom Jackson said. "It's not even medium."
The state Board of Regents decided last May to freeze the size of the student body at 32,500 students in 2002, halting earlier plans to allow 5,000 more students into the university by 2007. The board hopes to ease strain on infrastructure at the university and to boost admissions at Georgia's 33 other public colleges and universities.
The university is braced for renewed complaints about tougher admissions standards, Mr. Jackson said.
"It's going to come from alumni parents," he said. "The heat's only going to get hotter."
Mr. Weinberg said the faculty also increased entrance standards for the school's university studies program, which offers credit courses to students from the Athens region. The students get three semesters to attain a pre-set grade point average before enrolling in higher-level courses or leaving the university.