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Campus Spotlight: Baylor College of Dentistry

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Why do so many students at Baylor College of Dentistry (BCD) come from under-represented minority (URM) groups? The short answer is "whole-file review," the practice of looking beyond the numbers to try and predict whether a potential student has what it takes to succeed in the profession.

Dr. Barbara H. Miller spent many years as a dental faculty member before becoming BCD's Executive Director of Recruitment & Admissions. She often heard her colleagues say they would rather have a student who really wanted to be a dentist than a student with a stratospheric GPA. In her new post, spurred by a charge from her dean to increase student diversity, she decided to give whole-file review a try. She also adjusted the previously used points system for applicants so that heavily weighted GPAs and DAT scores would be given equal weight with student interviews. This increased the emphasis on non-cognitive factors such as interpersonal skills and gave highly motivated students from all backgrounds a boost in the admissions process.

The changes made an immediate difference. The percentage of URM students in the entering classes of 2004 and 2005 was in the high teens. In fall 2006, the first year the new policies were in place, that figure jumped to 26%, and in the following three years it reached 40% of the entering class.

BCD's success in achieving diversity also stems from its long-term investment in developing the URM applicant pool. Before its admissions policies even come into play, BCD encourages diversity through its Bridge to Dentistry program. This pipeline initiative has been operating in various forms since the mid-1990s and reaches students starting in pre-kindergarten. It has raised the profile of dentistry in URM communities where dental care may be scarce, and it has given students who lack traditional educational support an opportunity to consider and prepare for entry to dental school.

Dr. Ernestine S. Lacy, Director of the Office of Student Development, helped initiate the first formal in-depth predental enrichment summer program for college students in 1996. Today BCD also offers summer enrichment programs for high school students and an innovative year-long postbaccalaureate program serving a select few college graduates with a demonstrated commitment to their communities. This bridge year provides them with two semesters of college-level science courses, DAT preparation, and an opportunity to shadow working dentists and acquire hands-on skills. Students who complete the program with high enough grades and scores earn spots in Baylor's freshman class the following year.

"To date 61 of our 72 postbaccalaureate students have matriculated in dental school. Additionally, about 80% of our college summer students have applied to dental school, and about 80% of those have been admitted," says Dr. Lacy, and she is encouraging about the future. "If we can do it," she asserts, "other schools striving for diversity can do it, too."

BCD's comprehensive pipeline strategy and its revised admissions policies have been key to its ability to achieve these spectacular results, but Dr. Miller also points to a third factor. She attributes a large part of BCD's success to the leadership of Dean James S. Cole. He has made increasing access to dental care for the underserved in Texas his top priority, and he views the inclusion of more URM students as central to achieving that goal. Equally important, this former BCD student and professor has the support of the faculty.

According to Dr. Miller, "Dean Cole worked his way up through the ranks, and the faculty respects him. I think that's a significant factor in why they have so readily embraced this new paradigm."

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