On Jan. 1, applications for regular decisions admission to the Class of 2017 were due. In the past few decades, Princeton has made great progress in encouraging students from a diverse group of socioeconomic backgrounds to apply for admission. While these efforts have resulted in greater diversity on campus, the Board is concerned that there is a lack of students from nontraditional backgrounds in our community. Accordingly, we urge the University to increase its efforts to attract students with military experience, community college education or other work experience.
As the Board has recently noted, there are academic benefits to having a student body that includes students with a wide range of life experiences. For example, students who have taken significant time off between high school and college, such as veterans or students who entered the work force immediately after high school, might be able to offer the community access to perspectives that are currently missing in the student body.
The Board does not believe that the University would have to lower its academics standards to attract these students. Instead, we feel that the low number of such applicants can be explained by a lack of institutional support. For example, Princeton is the only Ivy League school that does not participate in the undergraduate level of the Yellow Ribbon Program, which supplements GI Bill benefits for veterans. While Princeton's robust financial aid program may very well enable veterans to finance their education, the University's failure to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program may effectively discourage veterans from applying.
Further, by providing supplemental space on the Princeton application for people who have taken time off, the University could reduce some of the barriers that these applicants face in the admission process. The application might, for example, provide an optional question asking students to explain what they were doing between high school and college and why they chose to follow a nontraditional path. By providing prospective students with additional space to explain what they have done in their time away from traditional academic experiences, the University would indicate its support for people with nontraditional backgrounds to apply. While some nontraditional students might have explored their backgrounds in their personal statements, an additional question would effectively signal the University's interest in these students. Additionally, these students will likely have other stories and ideas that they would like to address in their personal statement, and it would be unfair for the University to compel these students to address their time between high school and college at the expense of other aspects of their personality.
The Board would like to emphasize that we are not proposing an affirmative action program for non-traditional applicants. However, the relative want of these students on our campus compared to peer institutions leads us to believe that there are academically qualified candidates that are not applying to the University or are being overlooked in the admission process. By actively encouraging these groups to apply to Princeton and providing them with the materials needed to succeed in the admission process, we believe that it would be possible to increase the diversity of the student body without having to give special preference to a new class of applicants. There is great potential for such students to contribute to the academic experience on campus, and we urge the University to look at ways to offer the Princeton experience to these underrepresented individuals.