perform in specific educational contexts, and are best used to sort applicants into broad categories (National Research Council, 1999).
URM students typically score lower than their white or Asian American peers on a range of standardized tests, including the SAT, GRE, and MCAT. This disparity occurs for a variety of reasons, but principally because of poorer educational opportunities afforded to African American, Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native students. These students are more likely than non-URM students to attend schools that are racially and economically segregated, poorly funded, offer few (if any) advanced placement and college preparatory classes, have fewer credentialed teachers, and suffer from a climate of low expectations (American Sociological Association, 2003; Camara and Schmidt, 1999). Moreover, even among those URM students who are invested in high academic performance, social and psychological factors—such as the pressure to perform above levels suggested by stereotypes of low minority academic ability—may serve to suppress their test performance (Steele, 1997; Steele and Aronson, 1995).
When quantitative variables such as standardized test scores are weighted heavily in the admissions process, URM applicants, because of their generally poorer academic preparation and test performance, are less successful in gaining admission than non-URM applicants. Absent admissions practices that allow applicants’ race or ethnicity to be considered along with other personal characteristics of applicants, URM student participation in health professions education is likely to decline sharply. States that have implemented “percent solution” admissions strategies (i.e., where a top percentage of high school graduates are guaranteed admission to the state university system) have found that URM admissions have generally not increased (Tienda et al., 2003; Horn and Flores, 2003; Marin and Lee, 2003). In addition, an analysis by the Association of American Medical Colleges of the likely impact of “race-neutral” admissions policies in medical schools reveals that 70 percent fewer URM students would gain admission under such conditions (Cohen, 2003).
These barriers to URM admission have led some HPEIs to reconceptualize their admissions policies and practices to place greater weight on applicants’ qualitative attributes, such as leadership, commitment to service, community orientation, experience with diverse groups, and other factors. This shift of emphasis to professional and “humanistic” factors is also consistent with a growing recognition in health professions fields that these attributes must receive greater attention in the admissions process to maintain professional quality, to ensure that future health professionals are prepared to address societal needs, and to maintain the public’s trust in the integrity and skill of health professionals (Edwards et al., 2001). Anecdotally, evidence suggests that this shift may also reduce barriers to admission of qualified URM applicants, thereby achieving the dual goals of improving