Colleges Try To Boost Yield

May 7, 2010

admissions officeMay 1 was the decision deadline day at many colleges throughout the country, but plenty of institutions don't yet have a clear picture of their "yield"--the percentage of accepted students who will enroll.

The economic downturn is partly to blame for the uncertainty, since families are still unsure what they can afford. And applications increased at many colleges this year, even though the number of high school graduates did not.

"That means that our increases in applications are most likely the result of students' applying to more colleges than they used to," explained Bob Clagett, dean of admissions at Middlebury College, who was quoted in Vermont's Burlington Free Press. "And that makes it more difficult for us to predict how the students who are admitted will behave."

Middlebury received 7,978 applications this year--16 percent more than last year--for 580 slots in the fall and 90 in February. The school responded by accepting 150 fewer students than it did last year and expanding its waiting list.

By contrast, the Burlington Free Press reports that the University of Vermont received 22,297 applications for first-year students. According to Beth Wiser, the university's director of admissions, 15,706 students were offered admission--and incredibly, the target size of the incoming freshman class is just 2,400.

On Friday, the eve of the acceptance deadline, Wiser said in an e-mail to the Burlington Free Press that the admissions were on target. "As of this afternoon we have received 2,423 acceptance fees for a target of a class of 2,400," she wrote. "It is not uncommon for schools, as UVM will, to go over the target on acceptance fee payments in order to end up with the appropriate size class at the opening of school in August. We feel like we will come in very close to the enrollment target for fall."

U.S. News & World Report notes that some colleges and universities are taking creative steps to try to persuade students to enroll: Saint John's University and the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota, for example, both offer to cover at least half the cost of airfare for admitted students to visit the campuses. The Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama mailed out 1,500 gingko tree saplings, each about 4 feet tall, to admitted students and their parents to demonstrate, in the words of Director of Recruitment Tyler Peterson, that students "are wanted at Birmingham-Southern, but also to let the parents know that this is a special place." And Lafayette College in Pennsylvania arranged for alumni from different majors and professions to send personal letters to admitted students with related interests.

In a related story, Inside Higher Ed reports on some of the key issues influencing yield this year, including more of an emphasis on enrolling interested students and rejecting outstanding applicants who would likely not enroll and thereby bring down the yield. And surprisingly, some colleges are reporting high yields without engaging in bidding wars with institutions offering generous financial aid packages.

Compiled by Yaffa Klugerman


"As College Decision Day Looms, Schools Say: Pick Me," U.S. News & World Report, April 29, 2010, Rebecca Kern

"College Admissions: The Annual Guessing Game," Burlington Free Press, May 2, 2010, Tim Johnson

"The Early Word on Yield," Inside Higher Ed, May 6, 2010, Scott Jaschik

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