CGA opposes changes to admissions system By Jennifer Grogan Published on 10/15/2009 theday.com TheDay.com - CGA opposes changes to admissions system New London - The U.S. Coast Guard Academy says it is opposed to a proposal in Congress that would change the way the school admits students. A provision in the Coast Guard Authorization Act, the bill that authorizes appropriations and policy changes for the service for fiscal year 2010, would require academy applicants to be nominated by members of Congress or apply directly to the academy and be appointed by the Secretary of Homeland Security. ”We need to have as much flexibility as possible when we select cadets, and the nomination system makes it more difficult to shape the class because we don't have as much control over the selection of students,” Capt. Susan Bibeau, director of admissions at the academy, said Wednesday. The other military service academies admit students by congressional nomination while the Coast Guard Academy has traditionally admitted students on the basis of academic merit, like civilian colleges and universities. The proposed system is a hybrid that combines elements of the congressional nomination process with the college's current process in an attempt to increase both the racial and geographic diversity of the cadet corps. U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, is leading the effort to change the academy's admissions process. He did not return calls for comment. In the past, Cummings has said nominating cadets would help “draw students from all of our nation's communities to the academy.” ”The numbers speak for themselves,” he said in June. “The white child in Roanoke, Virginia, I want him to have a chance to be in the Coast Guard. And the African-American child in San Francisco, I want him to have a chance. It's not about color. It's about reflecting our society. All of our society is paying taxes to create these institutions and I would like to see participation by a cross-section of our society.” In 2007, Cummings proposed a system in which a majority of cadets would be nominated. Adm. Thad W. Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard, said then he was worried that requiring a nomination would be a “barrier to entry.” The bill passed the House but not the Senate. U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, is also not convinced that congressional nominations are the way to diversify the cadet corps. “The academy superintendent made a persuasive case that the academy should be given more time before we modify the admissions process, and I agree with that,” he said. ”One of the obvious issues is the size of the institution,” Bibeau said, explaining there are more than 500 senators, representatives and delegates in Congress who would be allowed to nominate cadets and there are only 265 spots in each class for the next five years. “So the math does not work well.” Bibeau said the cadet corps is not racially diverse enough at this point, and changing that has been her top priority. The class that graduated in May was 28 percent female and 12.7 percent minority students. The current senior class is 23 percent female and 17.5 percent minorities, followed by the junior class at 30 percent female and 16.5 percent minorities, the sophomore class at 28 percent female and 11.3 minorities and the freshman class at 29 percent female and 16 percent minorities. The academy is trying to attract a diverse group of applicants, primarily by sending mailings to minority students, advertising online particularly on college search Web sites, recruiting in cities with large minority populations and asking the Coast Guard's recruiting offices nationwide to help refer minority students to the academy. Students accepted into the current freshman class came from across the country; the top 10 enrollment states were Virginia, California, New Jersey, New York, Florida, Maryland, Texas, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Compared to this time last year, inquiries to the school by minority students are up 40 percent to 1,800, and online applications from minority students are up 34 percent to 317, Bibeau said. ”This should not be used to forecast glorious and wonderful things, but it's as positive as it can get given where we are in the admissions cycle, which is at the very beginning,” she said. The current admissions system, Bibeau said, “makes good sense given who we are, what we need to accomplish, as well as our size.” The academy is smaller than the other service academies. It has a large athletic program and serves as the primary source of science, technology, engineering and math talent for the Coast Guard's officer corps. The House Transportation Committee approved the Coast Guard Authorization Act, including the provision to change the way the admissions process works at the academy, last month, sending it to the House floor for debate. ”This bill is not going to move at lightning speed,” Courtney said. “Legislation is in a holding pattern with health care and other pressing issues and the Senate hasn't weighed in at all. I don't know this as a fact, but I think the academy's position may have a stronger base of support in the Senate, so it's far from over.” If the provision passes this time, each senator, representative or delegate in Congress would be able to nominate as many as 10 people annually. The secretary would also be able to appoint other students, including children of Congressional Medal of Honor recipients and children of service members on active duty, with at least eight years of continuous service. The change would be phased in.