Study by Cockburn, Kelly and Hewitt Published in REHJ

“Modeling preferential admissions at elite liberal arts colleges,” a paper by Associate Professors of Mathematics Sally Cockburn and Tim Kelly and Assistant Dean of Faculty for Institutional Research Gordon Hewitt, was published in the current issue of Research in Higher Education Journal. The open-access journal is published by the Academic and Business Research Institute.


The paper presents the results of a mathematical model that simulates the effects of varying the ratio of preferential to non-preferential admissions decisions within a set of 35 small liberal arts colleges. The model predicts that even drastic changes in this ratio would have little effect on these institutions’ comparative academic profiles. If preferential admissions rates are decreased (respectively increased), then acceptance rates must be increased (respectively, decreased) to maintain incoming class size; the model predicts that these changes effectively cancel each other out.

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