Members of the Fairfax County School Board told officials of five selective Virginia institutions of higher education last night that they want more of their high school students admitted to those schools, even if it means letting in fewer out-of-state students.
The School Board convened the unusual session with officials of the University of Virginia, James Madison University, the College of William and Mary, Virginia Tech and George Mason University after local parents complained that good students were rejected by those schools this year because of increased competition for spaces in the freshman classes.
Fairfax County sends 80 percent of its high school graduates to college, and university admissions is a great concern in the schools. One measure of parental concern, board Chairman Mary Collier said, is that parents approached her at a recent soccer game to express anxiety about their children's college admission chances, and "this was a soccer game for 10-year-olds."
The college admissions officials said the number of out-of-state students admitted to their schools was unlikely to drop because their boards of trustees want a diverse mix of students.
All denied the contention of Fairfax County officials that good Fairfax students are rejected to make room for lesser qualified students from other areas of the state.
G. Gary Ripple, admissions dean at William and Mary, said, "We don't set quotas geographically. We set general targets."
The college officials urged the county not to consider weakening its grading standards or dropping its practice of ranking students in their class. The college officials said those changes would not help more Fairfax students gain admission.
"We recognize the strengths of the schools here," said John A. Blackburn, dean of admissions at the University of Virginia. "We take as many students from Fairfax County as we possibly can."
A report released last night by the county school system shows that Fairfax County students are more likely to be admitted to the highly selective state schools than students from any other region in the state. Fairfax County seniors represented 16.7 percent of the total number of applicants to the five schools this year, but won 21.3 percent of the acceptances.
The report also backed up the contention of college admissions officials that decisions are made on factors other than just grade-point averages and test scores. If only average grade-point averages were used, four of the five schools' entire freshman classes could be filled by Fairfax County students alone, the report said.
Collier said after the meeting she was not satisfied with the admissions officials' responses. She seized on Ripple's statement about "general targets" and said that showed Northern Virginia students are competing against each other, rather than other Virginia applicants, for a limited number of spaces.
On the issue of admitting out-of-state students, Collier and others argued with Blackburn over the University of Virginia's policy of admitting one-third of its students from out of state.
Blackburn said the university's board believes "it has a national stature and ought to have a national student body."
"Do you really think you'd suffer that badly if you allowed more Virginia students in?" Collier replied.