In 2006, Amherst College made a decision that administrators at some other schools considered radical. The critics said it would dent the value of the school’s degree, or force it to “lower its standards.” The school’s then-president pushed back by saying that Amherst needed to reach a broader group of students.
What was the decision? Today’s readers might be forgiven for guessing it must have had to do with online courses, also known as MOOCs. But Amherst wasn’t debating online courses. (That would have been quite early for the online course debate. In fact, this April the Amherst faculty voted down a proposal to join the nonprofit MOOC coordinator EdX.) Rather, in 2006, Amherst decided to reserve the majority of its transfer slots for students coming from community college. In some ways, the decision represented potentially a more radical commitment to underprivileged students than online courses — as it came at an actual cost to the school, while online courses are highly profitable.
Seven years later, Amherst president emeritus Anthony Marx argues claims the program has worked brilliantly, just as his administration had expected. Broadening its search for transfers to the roughly one million students who graduate from community college every year, “we could find amazing jewels that no one else is looking for,” he told an audience at a panel hosted by The Century Foundation on Thursday.