Colleges Anxious About Admissions

By Staff

March 9, 2009

As states slash education budgets and more families shop around for the best college tuition deals, many institutions of higher learning are experiencing unprecedented uncertainty about predicting fall enrollment.

The Los Angeles Times reports that California colleges have realized that they cannot rely on admission formulas that usually helped them hit enrollment targets without overcrowding dorms. As a result, admissions procedures are changing significantly: Private colleges and universities, whose applications have gone down, will accept more applicants than in previous years and put more names on waiting lists in case families facing economic difficulties choose not to enroll. But in the University of California and California State University, where applications for the relatively inexpensive public schools have surged, fewer students than usual will be admitted.

Susan Wilbur, UC's director of undergraduate admissions, told the LA Times that the recession has made predicting enrollment much more complicated. "How this will come out is hard to say," she noted. "It is a difficult year for admission officers and for families."

The uncertainty is being caused by numerous factors: Some students may opt to enroll in local community colleges rather than pay for a public university. In addition, many families are concerned about taking on student loans. At the same time, concerns about class availability and enrollment cutbacks at public colleges may send students to private colleges offering more financial aid.

The New York Times notes that admission officers agree that this year is "more of a students' market." In response, colleges are trying new techniques to better determine which students are serious about enrolling: North Carolina's Wake Forest University is using Webcam interviews, and other colleges are examining essays more closely. At Pennsylvania's Gettysburg College, acceptance forms will be sent out earlier this year. And Kenyon College in Ohio will write letters to the parents of accepted students, assuring them that their financial aid will continue.

College officials say that families concerned about the economy are reluctant to commit to four years of an expensive college. "It's a consumer confidence issue," said Steven Syverson, vice president for enrollment at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, who was quoted in The New York Times. "Families are feeling like they can't afford it even if they're in the same financial position they were three months ago."

Pennsylvania's Allentown Morning Call reports that state universities in New Jersey, Indiana, Texas and Florida have noticed a significant increase in transfer requests as families endeavor to cut costs.

"Students appear to be price shopping," confirmed Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers in Washington, D.C., who was quoted in the Morning Call. "People are hedging their bets financially. There is a real economic motivation."

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