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Colleges Dealing With Summer Melt

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
August 13, 2009

Many colleges and universities are bracing themselves for "summer melt"--when students who have submitted deposits for enrollment decide at the last minute not to attend.

"It's critical we hit the target of how many kids are coming to Tech in fall," said Mark Owczarski, a spokesman for Virginia Tech, who was quoted in The Washington Post. "We'll need that tuition money."

This year, many institutions admitted larger classes than usual, expecting that the economy would force some students to decide to enroll in less expensive schools. A survey of 142 institutions by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that private colleges admitted 8.7 percent more students this year than last, and public colleges admitted 3.1 percent more students.

The University of Virginia, for example, expects to lose about 60 students this summer. Meanwhile, Trinity Washington University--which charges about $20,000 for tuition and fees--expects to lose about 10 percent of its 300 students.

"The ability to pay the bill is something that doesn't become a reality until close to opening day," explained Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity.

Economic considerations are just one factor. Some students opt for a year of travel instead, while others pay deposits at several schools and make their decisions at the last minute.

The effect of summer melt varies with each school. Virginia Tech's incoming freshman class includes 309 students from the wait list, and has already lost 175 students to summer melt. At the University of Maryland, admission officials created a wait list of 450 students in anticipation of possible no-shows. As of this week, fewer than 10 students have been pulled from the list.

Other schools are finding that more students are remaining than originally anticipated. Such is the case at the University of Richmond in Virginia, which expected 805 freshmen but will greet 926 this fall.

"We've exceeded our enrollment target," noted Nanci Tessier, vice president for enrollment management at the school, who was quoted in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "Certainly that was not our plan, but we're absolutely delighted to have these students coming."

To accommodate the increased enrollment, the school has hired new faculty and it is keeping a residence hall open that was supposed to be closed for renovation.

Similarly, Virginia Union University, which had set a goal of enrolling 500 freshmen this fall, will greet at least 547. According to Vanessa Moody Coombs, VUU's vice president for university relations, the freshman class is the largest one in five years.

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