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November 12, 1998

Maher explains dropping of STEP

More than 900 students had participated in the Summer Transitional Education Program (STEP) for academically "borderline" incoming College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) freshmen since the program's inception nine years ago.

But CAS faced a stark choice this fall, according to Provost James Maher: Eliminate STEP or turn away academically better-prepared students.

The administration's decision last month to eliminate STEP and use the program's $305,722 annual budget for CAS scholarships and academic support services was never in doubt, Maher told Senate Council Nov. 9.

Following CAS's record freshman enrollment in fall 1997, arts and sciences faculty and administrators agreed they wanted a more manageable freshman class size this fall. But so many students applied for fall 1998 that CAS faced an even larger freshman enrollment unless it raised admissions standards, the provost said.

"The CAS leadership came back to me with the statement that they wanted to admit the very best students available, up to the limit of the freshman class they had set in the plan they submitted to me last March," Maher said. "And that would mean, by their projections, a very great under-enrollment for STEP in fiscal year 1999 and probably no [STEP] students in FY 2000. They asked to use STEP scholarship money for scholarships for the best-qualified students they could find and STEP instruction funds for other kinds of academic support services for CAS students." Maher said he accepted the CAS administration's decision as being consistent with the arts and sciences' long-range plan.

Eliminating STEP does not conflict with Pitt's minority recruitment goals, Maher said. "STEP was not aimed at meeting the University's diversity goals. That doesn't mean that students recruited to meet those goals wouldn't have participated in STEP, but those students will be taken care of through different programs," he said.

STEP was never a University-wide program, Maher said, but was created by CAS to deal with a trend of incoming freshmen who lacked proficiency in math and English. "This was a program that was strictly aimed at providing support for students who were at risk because of simply being at the bottom of their [high school] class," Maher said.

At Faculty Assembly on Nov. 3, some professors complained that the administration failed to consult with University Senate groups before eliminating STEP. At Senate Council, Maher pointed out that the administration has not traditionally consulted the Senate in advance about decisions affecting school-specific programs — although the administration does brief appropriate Senate committees, as it did regarding the STEP decision, he said.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 31 Issue 6

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