NEWS- PVCC to UVA: Waldos can get in now

Want to increase your odds of getting into UVA from 36 to 100 percent? Simple. Just go to a Virginia community college for two years and earn at least a 3.4 GPA.

The new initiative– part of a restructuring deal between state schools and the Commonwealth– may be great news for students whose SAT scores didn't quite cut it, or for families who can't afford a four-year institution. But not everyone is happy with the new plan.

"People who get 3.4 GPAs at a community college might be very smart­- or they might be taking advantage of a talent pool that just can't measure up," writes "Dblhoo,"on the blog. The UVA grad who now attends graduate school there adds, "Admitting all of them automatically is surely going to dilute the talent pool at UVA­- something I, as an alumnus, care very much about."

Among those who fired back in the heated debate was Waldo Jaquith, a former Piedmont Virginia Community College student who attempted to transfer to UVA. Three times.

"The classes at PVCC are every bit as challenging as those at state universities, if not more so," Jaquith wrote, citing the smaller classes.

Unfortunately for Jaquith, the initiative comes too late. Despite his A average and credentials that include fighting for civil rights, running for public office, and winning two VH1 awards (for his Dave Matthews Band fansite), UVA would never give him the nod. The explanation: the home-schooled Jaquith didn't have a diploma from an accredited secondary school.

In one awkward episode at a dinner for software execs, UVA president John Casteen introduced Jaquith, then owner of a web-development firm, to the executives as one of "our best students."

But despite his rejections­ and Casteen's gaffe­ Jaquith, who graduated from Virginia Tech in December, says he's not bitter.

"It would have been nice if that program had been around when I applied," he says, "but I don't begrudge others that opportunity."

Greg Roberts in UVA's admissions office says there's no reason to believe students coming from one of Virginia's 23 community colleges will be less qualified– especially since the new program also requires students to earn no grades lower than a C in 54 credits of required core classes and to get a B or better in introductory English.

"We did some research on successful students coming from community colleges," he says. "The students we admit who have a 3.4 GPA or better are students who graduate on time and with virtually the same GPA as an entering first-year from high school."

In addition, says Roberts, community college students tend to be a more diverse group than typical first-year classes.

"Some have been in Iraq and come back," says Roberts. "We have mothers or fathers who have gone back to school after 25 years. There are a lot of first-generation college students."

Administrators at PVCC are also excited.

"Any time we have a relationship or agreement that helps our students move on to an upper level baccalaureate," says spokesperson Mary Jane King, "that's good for us, good for our students."

In the past, UVA's reputation, King says, may have deterred some community college students from applying. But she notes that 131 PVCC students transferred last year, and more than 2,000 have transferred into UVA since PVCC opened in 1972. The new initiative, she says, "could only increase" the numbers.

"I think it will definitely have an impact," says Sylvia Elder, a counselor at Charlottesville High School. "For the kids who did not get into their first place school, it would be an easier sell now to get them to go to community college."

But Elder says she wouldn't suggest it for all students.

"There are some kids who need to get out of the community and want the four-year experience," says Elder, who concedes that community college students may miss dorm life or joining a fraternity or sorority "some parts of what attracts kids to four-year colleges."

So will UVA soon face a new flood of eager transferees? Roberts doesn't think so. Most students, he thinks, will not be able to take advantage of the guaranteed admission.

"I believe that most of the students we admit will some way or other not satisfy that criteria," he says, mentioning the possibility a student may have a D on the transcript, may not have taken all the core classes, or may not even be applying from a Virginia community college..

"The initiative," Roberts adds, "simply gives students an idea of what types of classes and what types of grades they need to maintain to get into UVA."

Thrice-jected Waldo Jaquith would have been admitted to UVA under the new initiative.