UVa bringing back binding early decision in an unusual move for a public flagship

The University of Virginia will reinstate its early decision application option, 13 years after eliminating it in hopes of increasing access and diversity. Early decision, which requires applicants to commit to a school before seeing a financial aid package, is disproportionately leveraged by higher-income students, writes The Chronicle of Higher Education.

In announcing the decision, the university cited growing demand for early admission and said its goal is to provide flexibility for students who consider UVa their top choice, not to “give anyone an advantage in the process review.” The change will make UVa the sole big-name state flagship school to offer early decision, The Washington Post reports.

Related: Early decision on the rise, but at what cost to college access? >

UVa’s past experience with early decision

Between the 1960s and 2006, around 30 percent of enrolled UVa students applied via early decision, and the university observed that the option benefited primarily the “most advantaged applicants.”

UVa eliminated its early decision option in 2006 “to remove an identified barrier to qualified low-income students” and “to broaden the range of economic diversity represented within the student body,” then-University President John T. Casteen III stated. In the years after early decision was shuttered, the university admitted classes that were more diverse and better academically qualified. Additionally, last year UVa committed to provide free tuition for in-state students from households with less than $80,000 annual income and typical assets, as well as free tuition, room, and board for the lowest-income students.

Related: UVA to go tuition-free for Virginia families earning less than $80K >

University leaders emphasizing continued commitment to diversity

Early decision will become one of three application options at UVa, in addition to its regular decision track and its early action option, which the university introduced in 2011 to allow students to apply early without binding themselves to the school.

University leaders have said that, even with the change, diversity remains top-of-mind. “If we felt that adding early decision would jeopardize the gains we’ve made in diversity, there is no way we would have done this,” Greg Roberts, dean of admission, said in a statement. “We remain 100 percent committed to attracting talented and diverse students from every corner of the state and throughout the country,” he told the Post.

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