From the Archives: Notre Dame admissions and issues of inclusion
As recently reported in The Observer, Notre Dame’s class of 2026 is incredibly inclusive. The incoming cohort contains students from all 50 states and 95 countries, while 47% went to public high schools, 41% are students of color, and 20 to 22% will be Pell Grant recipients.
With an understanding that Notre Dame has not always been so welcoming, From the Archives looked at the history of the University’s admissions with an emphasis on inclusion. This week’s stories reveal Notre Dame’s perpetual pursuit of diversity, the consequences of over-acceptance, and a unique approach of age inclusiveness. Ultimately, issues of inclusion will always be inextricable from college admissions as administrators decide who gets into Notre Dame, and who gets left out.
Admissions in the 1970s: Promising progress and persisting problems
In 1976, The Observer published a three-part investigation on University admissions. This series showed the progress Notre Dame had made in democratizing admissions, though there were still shortcomings.
Part one covered women’s admissions.
Notre Dame had recently become coeducational in 1972. In 1971, the Board of Trustees recommended combining St. Mary’s and Notre Dame to achieve coeducation. Instead, Notre Dame decided to admit women themselves.
However, Notre Dame put a controversial cap of 1,500 women for their first four classes. Admissions Director John T. Goldrick said the lack of preexisting women’s housing was “a major reason for having a quota for women, if not the only reason.”
Many parents accused the quota of causing their child’s rejection. For the first class of 1972, just 125 of 1,134 female applicants were admitted — an 11% acceptance rate (though this rose in ensuing cycles).
Goldrick denied any injustice, citing that 22% of applicants were women, matching the 22% female ratio in the student body.
“If a parent feels a bad decision was made, we review the application file of the student,” Goldrick said. “Yet the admissions decision is final.”
Part two reviewed minority admissions.
In 1966, Notre Dame accepted just 12 minority students, all of whom were Black. In 1976, the University accepted 107 minority applicants, and minorities comprised a slightly improved six percent of the student body. The 1976 class was also more diverse. There were 53 Black, 39 Hispanic and 13 Asian American students.
Fueling these efforts was Notre Dame’s new $3 million endowment for minority scholarships. In 1976, 59 students benefited from this fund.
Daniel J. Saracino, associate director of admissions, applauded the University’s efforts.
“We can be proud of the fact that Notre Dame’s commitment has intensified and our results have proved rewarding,” Saracino said.
Part three compared Notre Dame admissions to other schools.
Notre Dame’s quota for women was unique. Most formerly all-male colleges had sex-blind admissions. Harvard, Princeton and Yale introduced coeducation in the late 1960s just before Notre Dame, but were sex-blind (although Princeton and Yale briefly had quotas).
It seemed that coed housing enabled these schools to admit more women. Notre Dame’s single-sex dorm policy limited their capacity for female students.
However, Notre Dame’s $3 million minority endowment was a positively unique asset absent from the Ivy League.
Ultimately, Notre Dame had made undeniable progress in the past decade. But more could be done. Sister John Miriam Jones, assistant to the provost, wished to remove the quota for women. Saracino said he had “never been satisfied with the number of minorities at Notre Dame.”
Still, admissions remain imperfect, particularly with economic inclusiveness. A 2017 New York Times study found that 75% of Notre Dame students came from the top 20% of family income. And a recent federal lawsuit named Notre Dame as one of nine universities that allegedly “made admissions decisions with regard to the financial circumstances of students and their families, thereby disfavoring students who need financial aid.”
We should be encouraged by the progress of inclusive admissions, but like Saracino, we should not be satisfied.
Freshmen overflow to study lounges
Aug. 25, 2001 | Scott Brodfuehrer | Researched by Uyen Le
If Notre Dame had a lack of inclusiveness in the 1970s, they had the opposite problem in the early 2000s.
More students enrolled in Notre Dame’s class of 2005 than in any class before, blindsiding residential life. The previous year, 57% accepted a spot at Notre Dame; however, in 2005, 61% of admitted students decided to attend.
“This caught us off-guard completely, this is the highest acceptance rate we’ve ever had,” Dan Saracino, assistant provost for enrollment, said.
This surplus of students forced nine dorms to convert 39 study lounges into dorm rooms. Ninety one students were placed into these hybrid spaces. In men’s dorms, transfer students were generally placed in the converted lounges, while in women’s dorms, mostly freshmen resided in them.
Though a select few of the lounges-turned-rooms possessed sinks, most did not. O’Neill Hall rector Father John Herman observed that “Guys [in the converted lounges] just have to use the bathroom more than others.”
Additionally, rectors anticipated upperclassmen’s dismay with the reduced number of study spaces.
“If there are extra students, we need to open our doors to them,” Herman resolved. “We will probably set up alternative study spaces, but part of this is having to tell students to deal with it.”
Though many were able to make adjustments to the onslaught of freshmen, no one liked being caught off-guard. Because of this miscalculation, the office of admissions knew it had to be more selective in the following years.
“We will be admitting fewer students and will be more cautious,” Saracino declared.
Saracino’s statement ominously foreshadowed the current trend. Notre Dame has set a record low acceptance rate in the past two years, with this year’s rate being just 12.9%
The class of 2005 revealed the need to closely monitor inclusivity with admissions, and the issues that arise when the University fails to do so.
Notre Dame becomes a university for all ages
Aug. 25, 1984 | Tom Mowle | Researched by Lilyann Gardner
When thinking about issues of inclusivity, race, gender and socioeconomics come to mind. But in 1984, Notre Dame became more age inclusive than ever before, as they welcomed two individuals nearly twenty years apart to the incoming class.
Narciso “N.J” Jaramillo (‘88) was only 13 years old when he embarked on his pursuit of postsecondary education, while his elder peer Christopher Gates (‘88) entered the class at the age of 31.
Despite both men landing spots in the same class at the same institution, Jaramillo and Gates’ paths and academic interests were vastly different.
Narciso Jaramillo, a California native who began attending Aquinas High School at the age of 10, was encouraged to apply to Notre Dame by his counselor, who was an alumnus.
Jaramillo’s counselor vouched for the 13-year-old and spoke of his maturity to Notre Dame Admissions Officer Don Bishop. But Bishop was not fully convinced that someone of such a young age would be socially comfortable navigating a community primarily consisting of 17 to 19 year olds.
Bishop wanted to ensure that Jaramillo did not have a traumatic or damaging college experience, so Notre Dame’s Admissions Office set up an extensive interview process to better acquaint themselves with the young prodigy.
As Observer Day Chief Tom Mowle (‘86) reported, Jaramillo was eventually admitted on the basis of three days of interviews, his activities in school and his application essay, which Bishop deemed “one of the best from any applicant.”
After visiting the campus and enjoying the environment, Jaramillo chose Notre Dame over other prestigious institutions such as Stanford, CalTech and Rice. He planned to major in math or electrical engineering.
Meanwhile, Gates, a father of three, operated a family-owned department store in upstate New York before deciding to further his education after the sudden death of his parents.
Gates shared that prior to the passing of his parents, he had not had the opportunity to go to college but was enthusiastic to begin studying the theology and philosophy of St. Thomas Acquinas “under these men I respect at Notre Dame.”
Jaramillo and Gates came from distinct backgrounds as compared to their peers. But their inclusion in the class of 1988 was appropriate. They all shared a common passion for learning and, most importantly, a desire to attend the University of Notre Dame.