UT Ends Use Of Algorithm To Evaluate Computer Science PhD Applicants

The algorithm known as GRADE learned from past applications to create “predictive scores” for future candidates, but it was controversial.

By Alexandra HartDecember 21, 2020 2:47 pm,

For years, the University of Texas at Austin’s Computer Science Department has used a machine-learning system to evaluate applicants to its Ph.D. program. No longer.

The department ceased using the program, called GRADE – short for GRaduate ADmissions Evaluator – in “early 2020.” The announcement came in the form of a tweet replying to a thread criticizing the use of algorithms for admissions.

The Computer Science Department began using the program in 2013, says Lilah Burke, reporter for Inside Higher Ed. It was meant to help save the admissions committees time as the volume of applications began increasing.

“It was trained on a database of past admissions decisions, so it takes those and looks for patterns and uses, what it’s learned from those to, in new applications, create a predictive score,” Burke told Texas Standard.

What you’ll hear in this segment:

– Why these algorithms are controversial

– How common they are in university admissions

– Why UT decided to stop using GRADE

After Texas Standard published this story, a spokesperson shared this statement from the UT Graduate School:

The University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Computer Science stopped using the graduate admissions evaluator (GRADE) in early 2020. The system was used to organize graduate admissions in the Department of Computer Science between the 2013 and 2019 academic years. As described in a 2014 paper in AI Magazine, researchers developed the statistical system in response to a high volume of applicants for graduate programs in the department. It was never used to make decisions to admit or reject prospective students, as at least one faculty member directly evaluates applicants at each stage of the review process. Changes in the data and software environment made the system increasingly difficult to maintain, and its use was discontinued. The Graduate School works with graduate programs and faculty members across campus to promote holistic application review and reduce bias in admissions decisions.

Clarifications: The original headline to this story was “UT Quietly Ends Use Of Algorithm To Evaluate Computer Science PhD Applicants.” A UT spokesperson says no software changes are announced.

An update to this story also removed a second reference to “quietly announced” in the second paragraph.

Correction: An update to this story left the indication that the department ceased using GRADE in December. A UT spokesperson says the department actually stopped using it in “early 2020” as indicated in the provided statement. Texas Standard regrets the error.

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