Wednesday, November 11, 2009

College admissions: the costs of having too many acceptances

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on Ithaca College which illustrates some of the difficulties of the college admissions process from the colleges' point of view: Ithaca College Overshoots Its Admissions Mark and Pays a Price. (This link may need a subscription, so here's a longish excerpt that gives the idea...)

"In a year of unusually high uncertainty over admissions at private colleges, Ithaca College appears to have missed its target by a larger margin than most.
Now it is dealing with the financial consequences—even paying 31 students up to $10,000 each to defer their enrollment for a year—and adjusting its admissions policies and financial-aid spending plans in response.
Ithaca had aimed to enroll 1,700 to 1,750 new freshmen but found itself with an incoming class of 2,027 for this fall.
Ending up with a class that is 20 percent larger than expected is certainly better than having to operate with a class that is 20 percent under target. But "coming in heavy" with a class, as this circumstance is known in the field, can often bring its own short-term and long-term costs, and create some added financial instability.
"They have to feed that animal for four years," said George Dehne, a longtime consultant to colleges, whose firm does not count Ithaca as a client. "It looks like someone took their hands off the wheel."
The feeding includes extra spending for financial aid, for additional instructors (Ithaca had to hire several dozen), and for a new temporary residence hall, constructed in six weeks at a cost of $2.5-million."
"Ithaca had suffered a decline in freshman enrollment in 2008, falling 11 percent below its budgeted target of 1,600. Many of the steps it took over the past year to enroll the entering class in 2009 were designed to compensate. The steps included lowering selectivity (Ithaca accepted 73 percent of its 2009 applicants, compared with 59 percent in 2008) changing its merit-aid policy so money could be spread among more applicants, and intensifying "yield" efforts to get more admitted students to attend.
Other colleges did the same things, according to a survey released last month by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling.
But Ithaca lacked some of the levers colleges traditionally use to give themselves more control over admissions, most notably the early-decision option.
Many colleges use early decision to lock in a portion of their class early in the admissions cycle, which helps reduce some of the risks inherent in later stages of the process, when institutions decide how many students to admit outright and how many to place on the waiting list."
"Mr. Maguire, Ithaca's new enrollment-management chief, ... said the college is reinstating early decision, two years after dropping it. Without it, he said, Ithaca didn't have a solid picture of its admissions situation until very late in the process. Freshman deposits came in with a "huge spike at the very end of April.""

"The Cost of Too Many Freshmen
Ithaca College made several adjustments in policies and spending after enrolling 20 percent more students than it expected to this fall. These included:
Reinstituting early decision, to give the college more control over admissions earlier in the process.
Raising admissions selectivity for the fall of 2010 to reduce the admit rate.
Erecting a temporary residence hall in six weeks at a cost of $2.5-million.
Allocating up to $1.2-million in additional funds to hire nearly 50 part-time faculty members, two new full-time faculty members, and to pay 30 current full-time professors overload pay for teaching extra courses.
Providing 20-percent reductions on room charges, and paying the cable-TV bills, for students who had to be housed in lounges.
Offering admitted students up to $10,000 each to defer their enrollment for a year (Ithaca says 31 students took the offer, at a total cost of about $250,000).
Providing $2,000 in incentives to upperclassmen to move off campus. "

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