Struggling to attract African-American candidates, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point may lower admission requirements for minorities
The nation's oldest service academy has not settled on a plan to revamp entrance criteria, and says any shift would not represent reduced academic standards.
But as the percentage of black cadets at the historic officer training school hovers well below national and Army averages, the school's top officers say something needs to change to expand the pool of black applicants.
"There may be African-Americans out there with lower standardized test scores who would perform very well at West Point," said Col. Andre Sayles, director of the military academy's newly created diversity office.
Another high-ranking official, who was granted anonymity because his remarks were made during a background briefing last week, said West Point should accept minority candidates with "lower SATs."
"This academy needs to bring in more kids who are at risk than ever before," the senior Army officer said, using the admissions term for candidates with lower-than-average test scores.
"Our 'at risk' kids, very frankly, tend to come from the minority communities."
The nation's top service academies have all reported difficulties attracting minority talent in recent years. Black candidates have been especially hard to lure. Of 1,311 freshmen who entered the military academy last year, 78 were black, or about 6 percent. Overall, 6 percent of West Point cadets are black, versus 22 percent of the active Army and 12.5 percent of the country.
Numbers for next year don't look any better. Of the 1,036 confirmed freshman for the class reporting in June, only 4 percent are black, though the final ratio could be slightly higher.
Academy officials say increasing the diversity of the cadet corps, and ultimately, mirroring the nation's racial profile, is vital for the long-term stability of the Army.
To that end, West Point has taken measures to push numbers up by expanding recruiting efforts and with the creation of the new diversity office. But attracting minority candidates, particularly blacks, remains a significant challenge.
Lt. Col. Deborah McDonald, West Point's deputy director of admissions, told a Maryland newspaper in March that of the 177,000 black high school seniors who took the SAT in 2005, only 6 percent scored high enough to get into West Point.
The average score for students in the Class of 2010 was 1277. McDonald said in 2005, only 10,500 black students nationwide came anywhere close to that.
So, in addition to trying to lure top-scoring blacks into West Point, military academy officials are pondering ways to revamp entrance criteria — including considering more candidates with lower test scores.
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