Trends in College Admissions 2015

college aheadWhat happens when you put 95 Independent Educational Consultants and six college admissions professionals in a room for six hours in Newark, NJ? The answer is lively discussion, thoughtful insights into the state of the industry and tremendous validation that everyone in this business loves what they are doing and cares deeply about young people and their success.

The morning panel included six college admissions professionals including:

  • James Bock, Vice President and Dean of Admissions at Swarthmore College
  • Jonathan Burdick, Dean of College Admission and Vice Provost for Enrollment Initiatives at University of Rochester
  • Sean Kaylor, Vice President for Enrollment Management at Marist College
  • Julie Kerich, Interim Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Franklin & Marshall College
  • Amy Markum Director of Admission at Wheaton College
  • Robert Massa, Senior Vice President for Enrollment and Institutional Planning at Drew University

Below are some themes that emerged from the day.

College Affordability On Everyone’s Mind. I discussed this in yesterday’s blog post.  Click here to read more.

Outcomes Driven, But Are We Measuring the Right Outcomes? With the post 2008 recession impacting so many college graduates’ ability to get jobs in the past several years, colleges have been forced to produce “outcomes brochures” to identify what happens to their graduates. This has allowed colleges to develop closer relationships with their alumni. Kaylor, from Marist College, said that in the past they only had information on 30% of their graduates, but now they have knowledge on 85% of their graduates through LinkedIn and other sources. This has been an overall positive benefit to the push for outcomes research. However on the flip side, the panel wonders whether or not this arms race in managing outcomes actually measure the right things. Bock noted, “95% of Swarthmore graduates said that their education impacted their job, but only 25% said that their specific major had anything to do with their job. The outcomes brochures focus on short-term outcomes vs. long-term success.”  Yet all the colleges felt they had to do it because parents want to understand their return on investment. 

Asians and Hispanics Largest Future College Going Population. While Asians are overrepresented on many college campuses, they are underrepresented at small liberal arts colleges. Hispanics are still underrepresented in most schools, but they are the largest growing population in the US. Kaylor from Marist identified the Catch 22: “While the changing demographics are significantly impacting many schools’ ability to enroll classes, it’s harder to recruit if that population is not already there. They may feel like they don’t fit in. It also costs more money, so it’s more challenging for schools farther down on food chain.”   

Differentiation is Key: for Colleges and Students. There was a lot of talk about where a college is on the food chain and how that impacted their ability to attract students. The more select a school and the bigger the endowment, the more the student has to differentiate themselves to get in. Bock said, “I recognize that we are lucky at Swarthmore. We have the ability to choose the students we want; those that fit with the class we are trying to create.” However, the lower the selectivity and the lower the endowment, the more the school has to differentiate itself to students. And this is easier said than done. The panelists stated it clearly: “As colleges, we have not been good at deciding what not to do. All colleges need a clear strategy and focus to survive and thrive.   We always talk about more financial aid, but the real answer is to limit what they do and reduce their costs.” 

Students are Less Prepared Academically, Socially, and Emotionally.  Across the board, colleges felt that they were spending a lot of time and resources bolstering students’ academic abilities. This is especially pronounced among international students. Faculty at even the most select colleges has introduced writing remediation to train students on how to do research papers. There has been an increase in cheating and plagiarism across the board, so faculty members are working to create clearer language built into the syllabus to explain what constitutes cheating for their students. Socially, students are not as independent as they were in the past. However, some colleges are starting to see a change in that regard. And the biggest increase in need is around anxiety, depression, and mental health issues. The stigma is slowly lifting, so students feel more comfortable seeking helps. Consequently colleges have had to increase support services for students to manage the increased need. 

Selectivity Does Not Equal Opportunity. This was best illustrated by Wheaton College. Pre-2008, the admissions rate to Wheaton College was 39%; the admissions rate has increased to greater than 60% post 2008 as families veer away from small liberal arts colleges. However, the excellent learning opportunities, student to faculty ratio, and focus on critical thinking has not changed in the past seven years. Drew also experienced this shift and Massa is excited about the challenge of making Drew a stronger brand   While the liberal arts have been hit during the recession, with fewer students opting for the humanities, employers have increasingly called out the precise skills students learn through liberal arts as what they want from employees: the ability to think, to communicate, to work in a global world, and with diverse populations. As a result, colleges have started bolstering their career services or post-graduation planning offices. Franklin and Marshall College’s Kerich notes that “the immediate years after college are years of transition and a wise college works with those kids to help them find the right path.” 

Overcoming Adversity Positive and Welcome. All the admissions people on the panel emphasized the importance of disclosing information that will help them better understand a student’s needs. They welcome stories about adversity and how students have found ways to overcome it. We spend so much time on getting in to college and not enough on college completion and getting out. The more we know about a student and his or her abilities and needs, the more we can help them succeed once they come here. We look very positively on students who have overcome adversity, a learning difference or are effectively managing a mental health issue. We see them as positive contributors to campus life because they can share their experience with other students.

It was a fruitful day filled with learning, sharing, and a feeling of camaraderie and better understanding of how each of us plays an important role in helping families find the right college fit.





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