Friday, January 8, 2010

It's Not Just Who Gets In, But How Many...Part I

Happy New Year and I hope 2010 is getting off to a great start.  We enjoyed a nice break over the holiday but are back at the task of selecting the class for the fall.  In my last posting, I talked about the mechanics of our application review - how we assemble all those applications and get them to our readers, as well as how they get reviewed.  That process is still going on, not only for some remaining early action candidates, but for our very large and growing regular pool of applicants.  In fact, we ended up about 13% ahead of last year's record number of early action applications (3461) and are currently 5% ahead in terms of regular decision applications.  While these numbers are good news for us, indicating that USD is becoming a more popular and desirable place for more and more students, it also creates a number of challenges for us as we consider our admissions decisions.  As the title of this week's entry indicates, figuring out how many students to take is a complex issue that enrollment officers across the country are trying their best to predict. 

We hear all the time about hard it is to get into college, but the reality is that most colleges admit the majority of students who apply.  According to recent data from the US Department of Education, the average acceptance rate at four-year colleges is 66.8 percent.  Obviously, this varies greatly from the most selective schools to other, much less selective institutions, but is still an important factor for families to consider.  Another recent trend is that students are, on average, applying to many more schools than before. Our professional association, the National Association of College Admission Counseling reports that in 2009, approximately three-quarters of four-year colleges and universities reported an increase in the number of applications from the previous year.  The convergence of these and other data points surrounding applications, acceptances and enrollment create a dilemma for enrollment managers at many institutions - how many students should you accept in the spring in order to end up with the number of enrolled students you need in September?

For many of us, especially residential communities, we have a finite number of spaces that we can accommodate in the freshman class.  As we plan for the admissions cycle, we start with that number, but we also would like that number to include a mix of students that match our institutional priorities and missions.  For example, many schools look to have an ethnically diverse student body, a mix of international students, or a blend of students from different parts of the country. There may be certain majors that are impacted or, conversely, that need more enrollment.  Gender, athletics, religion, academic quality (grade point average and test scores) are all factors that schools use to "shape" their respective classes. 

Why that's important is because in order to end up with the right number and mix of students, we have to predict how many of our admitted students will take us up on our offer of admission (often referred to as the yield), and therefore have to predict how many students with those characteristics to accept.  Since more students are applying to more colleges, it is increasingly difficult for enrollment managers to predict how many might enroll.  That number, the yield, also varies greatly from school to school and is affected by a school's location, the amount of financial aid awarded, and dozens of other factors. 

For example, at USD we are looking to enroll a class of about 1140 new freshman.  In order to end up with that number, we have to predict how many to admit.  Historically, we enroll approximately 20% of those we admit.  If that number seems low, it is important to know that on average, our students apply to 11 schools and are admitted to nine of them.  They have amazing choices, including some of the finest public universities in the country here in California (UCLA, Berkeley, UC-San Diego), as well as other outstanding private schools (Stanford, USC).  Knowing that, we anticipate having to admit about 5700 students.  Let's say we have a higher than expected yield, say 22%.  If we admit those same 5700 students, we would have a class of 1250.  That would be a huge problem for our residence halls and classrooms, not to mention parking!  On the other end, if we have 2% fewer students that enroll, our class would only be 1026.  I don't even want to think about what would happen then.

Next week, I will talk more about this idea of how many students to take and relate it to our admissions decisions.  That's all for this week's enrollment management 101 lesson, but I hope that gave you some things to think about.  Feel free to email me if you have questions or comments.  We will be wrapping up our Early Action decisions this week and mailing them early next so hang in there if you haven't heard yet.  For those of you regular applicants, our staff is ready to read your files next.



Anonymous said...

Hi Steve. I actually just found your blog and am very impressed. It's very informative and frankly is unique...I don't believe I have seen it from others. Well done.


Bruce Pflug

kim said...

Thank you for this blog! My daughter just opened her letter from USD this morning!!!! We are so excited for her and for us to start this journey.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, this is super helpful and I've not seen this with other universities.