Monday, March 30, 2009

For Top Colleges, Economy Has Not Reduced Interest (or Made Getting in Easier)

March 29, 2009
The New York Times

The recession appears to have had little impact on the number of applications received by many of the nation’s most competitive colleges, or on an applicant’s overall chances of being admitted to them.

Representatives of Harvard, Stanford, Dartmouth, Yale, and Brown, among other highly selective institutions, said in telephone and e-mail exchanges in recent days that applications for the Class of 2013 had jumped sharply when compared to the previous year’s class. As a result, the percentage of applicants who will receive good news from the eight colleges of the Ivy League (and a few other top schools that send out decision letters this week) is expected to hover at – or near – record lows.

Bill Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard since 1986, said that the 29,112 applications Harvard received this year represented an all-time high, and a 6-percentage point increase from last year. He said the percentage of applicants admitted would be 7 percent, down from 8 percent a year ago. Dartmouth said that the 18,130 applications it received was the most in its history, too, and that the 12 percent admitted would be its lowest.

Stanford said that the 30,350 applications it received represented a 20 percent increase, and that while it estimated a 7.5-percent admission rate, which would be its lowest, it declined to specify a final figure until later in the week.

Yale, Brown, Columbia, Cornell and Princeton declined to release their final admission rates in advance of sending out most of their decision letters via e-mail at 5 p.m. eastern time on Tuesday. But Brown said it had received 21 percent more applications, overall, compared to a year ago; Yale was up 14 percent; Columbia was up 13 percent and Cornell was up 3 percent. Princeton said that, as of January, it had tallied a 2 percent increase in applications, but anticipated the pool had gotten even larger since then. At the University of Pennsylvania, the number of applications increased by 4 — to 22,939, from 22,935.

However, applications to highly selective colleges were not up universally. Many of the best-known liberal arts colleges had fewer applications this year.

Williams College in western Massachusetts said that applications were down 20 percent this year, with 6,024 having applied to the Class of 2013, as compared to 7,552 a year ago. Williams’s acceptance rate, in turn, is expected to be about 20 percent, which is higher than in recent years. The reason for the change was not immediately clear, though applicants outside New England who are concerned about their finances would have to take into account that Williams is not close to a major city or airport – and thus could be expensive to get in and out of.

Similarly, Middlebury College in Vermont, which is also relatively remote, had a nearly 12 percent drop in applications. Amherst, another Massachusetts college and Williams rival, said that applications were down about 1 percent - and that its admissions rate would increase slightly, to 16 percent, in part because Amherst is aiming to increase its first-year class by about 25 students.

Amherst had a nearly 10-percent increase in early-decision applications. It enrolls about 30 percent of its first-year class through that program, and – like most schools surveyed – it said it had not lost a single one to due any change in family finances since the fall, when such applications are made.

“Given the economy, it’s very surprising to me,’’ said Tom Parker, dean of admission and financial aid, “and when I told the board, they found it hard to believe, too.’’

In a sign of how hard it is to draw broad conclusions about an admissions season that has been set against a stark economic backdrop, just over half of the nearly 350 institutions that accept the Common Application, a shared online admission form, received more applications this year than last; just under half received fewer. Bryn Mawr and Wellesley were among those that were up slightly, while overall applications to Grinnell and Pomona were down (as compared to their early applications, which were up quite a bit.)

Among the best-known public universities, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville all recorded gains in applications – a sign, surely, of some applicants’ desire to stay closer to home, and pay less than they might at an elite private college. Applications to the University of Wisconsin in Madison fell nearly 3 percent.

Of course, applying to college is one thing; being able to afford to go is another.

Harvard, which like many colleges raised its financial aid budget this year, said that between this week and May 1, when applicants’ decisions are due, it was bracing for many to make impassioned appeals of their financial aid offers, whether by phone or e-mail or in person. In response, Mr. Fitzsimmons said that the Harvard financial aid office would be open every day in April, with expanded hours, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“We’re going to listen,’’ he said. “We don’t have a policy of matching other schools’ awards. But we’re going to listen to what a family thinks its unusual circumstances might be. We learn a lot about our families in April.’’

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What is Liberalism? It's Discrimination Against Asian-Americans

New UC admissions policy gives white students a better chance, angers Asian-American community

By Lisa M. Krieger

Mercury News
Posted: 03/27/2009 07:55:18 PM PDT

A new University of California admissions policy, adopted to increase campus diversity, could actually increase the number of white students on campuses while driving down the Asian population.

Now angry Asian-American community leaders and educators are attacking the policy as ill-conceived, poorly publicized and discriminatory.

"It's affirmative action for whites," said UC-Berkeley professor Ling-chi Wang. "I'm really outraged "... and profoundly disappointed with the institution."

At an Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education conference Friday in San Francisco, Asian activists also noted the policy will result in negligible increases in African-American students and only a modest climb in the number of Latinos. But it's the drop in the already significant Asian count that has many in that community so upset.

Although Asians account for only 12 percent of the state's population, they now represent 37 percent of UC admissions — the single largest ethnic group. At UC-Berkeley, 46 percent of the freshman class is Asian. There are dormitories with Asian themes and spicy bowls of pho are served up in the Bear's Lair cafeteria.

Under the new policy, according to UC's own estimate, the proportion of Asian admissions would drop as much as 7 percent, while admissions of whites could rise by up to 10 percent.

"The UCs are a means of upward mobility," said Anthony Lin, a San Jose resident who is a graduate student at University of California-Los Angeles. "The University of California, because it is a research institution, is very prestigious."

More diversity

Since its adoption by the UC Regents in February, the policy has triggered Asian suspicions of the UC entry system not felt since the mid-1980s, when a change in admissions policy caused a decline in Asian undergraduate enrollment. In 1989, then-UC-Berkeley Chancellor Ira Michael Heyman apologized for the policy.

"I fear a general sense that there are too many Asians in the UC system," said Patrick Hayashi, former UC associate president.

In this newest overhaul of eligibility requirements, UC has eliminated SAT subject tests — which Asians tend to do well on.

Those critical of the proposed plan vow to get it reversed by appealing to those who hold UC's purse strings: state legislators. On Tuesday, two panels of the California Legislature will jointly hold a hearing to review the policy.

Meanwhile, supporters of the change, which results from a faculty study and is backed by president Mark G. Yudof, see it as a way to ease the widening achievement gap on their campuses. The impact of the new policy, according to UC's preliminary analysis, would be to simplify the application process and cast a wider net among promising low-income students.

It's a consequential shift for the UC system, reflecting its effort to make UC more accessible. The new policy applies to students entering college in fall 2012; they are now high school freshmen.

More than a decade after California passed Proposition 209, voting to eliminate racial preferences, university administrators have struggled to create a better balance on campus. The use of a strict meritocracy has been blamed on the rise of "the Asian campus." Some say it has come at the expense of historically underrepresented blacks and Hispanics — as well as whites.

"The president would not have supported the policy had he not felt it was fair and created opportunity," said Nina Robinson, UC's director of policy and external affairs for student affairs.

Many students — especially low-income and/or minority students — become ineligible to apply because they do not take the subject matter tests, she said.

Flawed report

But an analysis of the change predicts that the number of Asians admitted to UC could decrease because Asians tend to excel on the "subject tests," which are no longer part of the application.

The number of admitted whites could increase, because more weight will be given to the "reasoning SAT," which favors American natives.

African-Americans and Latinos could benefit slightly from the expanded class-ranking criteria because top students from troubled schools such as San Jose's Lick High School could be UC-eligible.

Critics say they are frustrated because UC has not made public the statistical analysis on which their decision was based.

But the report that created the data for that analysis, called the 2007 CPEC Eligibility Study, is deeply flawed, according to New York University education professor Robert Teranishi.

"It shows a wide margin of error for Asians. It is not a good predictive model, perhaps because the Asian population is very diverse. 'Asian' represents a lot of different demographic backgrounds," he said. "It should not be used to guide major policy decisions." Wang, who compared it to "peddling snake oil," complained that Asians had not been invited to participate in the process.

"The changes over the last two years took place inside the ivory tower and closed the door, without the public's knowledge," he said.

Added Hayashi: "A public university should be more responsive. Private schools can do anything they want. But public schools have a different set of objectives. "It will have a devastating impact on our community. It is a fatal mistake to think it will blow over."

The university has the power to set admissions criteria, said Steve Boilard of the California Legislative Analyst's Office. But the Legislature approves its $3 billion in funding every year.

"This is a dynamic where we need to work together to ensure its mission," he said.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Colleges share applicants' anxiety

From the Los Angeles Times

Economic uncertainties prompt private institutions to admit more students in order to meet enrollment targets. But public schools, including UC and Cal State, are taking fewer students.

By Larry Gordon

March 8, 2009

It's not much solace for nervous college applicants awaiting acceptance or rejection letters, but there is plenty of anxiety this month inside college admissions offices as well.

Many colleges and universities in California and around the country report unprecedented uncertainty about how the depressed economy and state budget cuts could affect fall enrollments. As a result, they say they cannot rely this year on the admission formulas that typically help them hit enrollment targets without overcrowding dorms.

So, many say they are doing things differently this month as they prepare to send admissions letters and online notifications.

Many private colleges and universities, for instance, say they will accept more applicants than in previous years and put more names on waiting lists in case families' money worries mean fewer students than usual decide to attend.

But public schools, including the University of California and California State University, which are facing enrollment cuts amid stronger demand for their relatively low-cost education, will accept fewer students than usual this year. Some are starting waiting lists for the first time.

And many in both sectors said they will put extra effort this spring into receptions and campus visits for admitted students before the May 1 deposit deadlines. The wooing of students from waiting lists also may go deeper into the summer than usual, some experts predict.

"There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty" among colleges this admissions season, said Jonathan Brown, president of the Assn. of Independent California Colleges and Universities. He described the situation as "the most confusing" in the 30 years he has been involved in higher education.

Susan Wilbur, UC's systemwide director of undergraduate admissions, said the grim economic news makes it tougher than usual to predict enrollment. "How this will come out is hard to say. It is a difficult year for admission officers and for families," she said.

Many different -- and conflicting -- trends are at play. The pool of high school graduates is slightly smaller this year than last. Yet in bad economic times, more people usually attend college, particularly public colleges, rather than look for jobs. With growing unemployment and dwindling college savings accounts, only hefty financial aid will persuade some students to enroll at an out-of-town public university, let alone a private campus, rather than a local community college. In addition, for many families, there is uncertainty about student loans and reluctance to take on debt.

At the same time, enrollment cutbacks at UC and Cal State and worries about the availability of classes there may send some students to private colleges that may offer generous financial aid.

"It's almost like role reversal" with applicants, said Sandra Hayes, Santa Clara University's dean of undergraduate admission. "Usually they are waiting on pins and needles for us," she said. "It's our turn to be in the hot seat this year."

Santa Clara probably will raise its acceptance rate from about 58% to 60% and expand its waiting list, she said.

Other private schools, including USC, Boston College and Colgate University, also say they expect to raise admittance rates by a couple of points or so in case more accepted students than usual choose to enroll at public universities instead.

L. Katharine Harrington, USC's dean of admission and financial aid, said that if the school decides to exceed last year's 22% acceptance rate, she will happily take the risk that more students than expected might show up in the fall.

"That's the thing I'd love to get my hand slapped for," she said, jokingly adding that she would open her home to students left without dorm rooms.

USC received 35,600 applications this year, about 200 fewer than last year. But to help ease families' financial concerns, the school is boosting its budget for undergraduate financial aid by 8%.

Among colleges expecting to expand their waiting lists this year are Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, the University of Washington in Seattle, and Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.

At Loyola Marymount, Matthew Fissinger, director of undergraduate admission, anticipates that more families will push their decisions as late as possible this year. "It's going to be a year when families are going to be very careful and thorough in comparing their options in admission and financial aid," he said.

At Stanford University too, officials said the traditional formulas no longer apply.

In response to a new financial aid program that waives tuition for families earning up to $100,000, freshman applications shot up 20% from last year, to 30,300, said Richard Shaw, dean of undergraduate admission and financial aid. So Stanford expects to reduce its acceptance rate to 8% from about 9.5% last year, he said.

And although Stanford's yield rate -- the percentage of accepted students who enroll -- typically runs at about 70%, this year's is harder to predict, Shaw said. Many families "are certainly in different circumstances now," he said.

California's two public university systems are reducing enrollment for the coming school year even though applications rose -- about 3% at UC and 4% at Cal State, officials said.

Although the rates vary among its 23 campus, Cal State traditionally accepts about 75% of applicants and about half of those enroll, said James Blackburn, director of enrollment management services. This year, the system is lowering its acceptance rate to a still undetermined level.

To help manage that change, four more Cal State campuses -- Pomona, San Francisco, Long Beach and Fullerton -- will start waiting lists this year, doubling the number of campuses using them, Blackburn said.

UCLA, which received 55,665 applications this year, has been spared the freshman enrollment cuts some other UC campuses face. Still, Vu T. Tran, undergraduate admissions director, said UCLA will admit somewhat fewer students this year because he expects more of them than usual to decide to enroll there, rather than at private colleges. Last year, UCLA admitted 20% of its applicants. About 37% of those chose to attend, he said.

"Predicting yield is a very challenging task at every university. This year, the economy is an added factor," Tran said.

Colleges say they will pay more attention to recruiting wavering admits. For example, American University in Washington, D.C., will host 11 out-of-area receptions in April, said Sharon Alston, interim executive director for enrollment. The school also plans to mail acceptances a week earlier than usual, in mid-March.

"There's value in being the first out," she said.

Williams College’s Applications Drop 20% as Economy Takes Toll

March 10 (Bloomberg) -- Applications for admission plunged 20 percent at Williams College as fewer students sought entry at seven of the eight top-rated liberal-arts colleges in the U.S.

Swarthmore College, ranked third best among liberal-arts institutions by U.S. News and World Report, drew 10 percent fewer applicants than last year, said Jim Bock, dean of admissions. Fifth-ranked Middlebury College had a 12 percent applications decline, said Robert Clagett, dean of admissions.

Families facing higher taxes and declines in investments and home values are balking at the costs of private liberal-arts colleges that can reach $50,000 a year, said Linda Moses, a New York banker whose son will attend the University of Chicago after being accepted early.

“I told my kids that below a certain level of private college, it’s more reasonable to go to a public school,” Moses said in an interview. “I am willing to stretch for Chicago, but for not every school.”

The decline in applications may mean students have a better chance gaining admission to the liberal-arts schools, said Jonathan Reider, director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School, and a former admissions officer at Stanford University near Palo Alto, California.

Williams, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, turned down the majority of applicants last year, admitting only 17 percent, said Richard Nesbitt, director of admissions. Williams has about 2,000 undergraduates, according to its Web site.

Increase at Wellesley

A low acceptance rate is one factor used by U.S. News & World Report in determining school rankings, according to the magazine’s Web site.

Amherst College, in Amherst, Massachusetts, saw applications fall 1 percent, said Tom Parker, dean of admissions. The school received 7,664 applications, Parker said, and has 1,683 students, its Web site says.

Applications also fell by 3.5 percent to 4,782 at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, said Eric Sieger, a school spokesman. According to its Web site, 1,986 students attend.

Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, received 5,938 applications, down 1.6 percent from last year, said Doug Boxer- Cook, a spokesman. Currently, 1,716 students attend the school, he said. At Pomona College in Claremont, California, the school received 6,151 applications, down 2.2 percent, said Bruce Poch, dean of admissions. About 1,520 students are enrolled, its Web site says.

Only Wellesley College, in Wellesley, Massachusetts, among the top eight liberal arts schools ranked by U.S. News, is reporting an increase. Applications rose 2 percent, to about 4,200 this year, said Arlie Corday, a school spokeswoman. Currently, 2,231 students attend the all-women’s college, she said.

Ivy League Applications

Applications at all eight Ivy League universities in the Northeast U.S. rose, according to admissions deans or public- relations officials at each of the schools.

Harvard College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, received about 29,000 applications, a 5.6 percent gain from a year earlier, according to Robert Mitchell, a spokesman for the school. Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, got 26,003 applications, 14 percent more than last year, said Jeff Brenzel, dean of undergraduate admissions. Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, received 21,869 applications, a 2 percent increase from last year, according to Cass Cliatt, a school spokeswoman.

Last year, applications at Williams increased 17 percent to a record 7,552, Nesbitt said. That happened after Williams eliminated loans in November 2007, instead giving students more grants. Williams received 6,024 applications this year, he said.

‘Economy Has Effect’

“Certainly the economy has to have an effect,” Nesbitt said. “Some of these kids might have applied to 14 schools last year. Instead of 14, they’re applying to 10 now and maybe the last four are lower-cost public institutions.”

Perhaps, “bigger-name research universities are being kept on the list” and liberal-arts schools with fewer students are being dropped, Nesbitt said. Williams continues to attract “extraordinary” applicants, he said.

“We still have the third-highest number we’ve had in the history of the college,” Nesbitt said. “It’s not like we are suffering for lack of quality.”

Middlebury, in Middlebury, Vermont, received 6,904 applications this year, down from the record 7,823 last year, said Clagett. Middlebury has about 2,350 undergraduates, according to its Web site.

Swarthmore, in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, got 5,626 applications, down from the record 6,241 last year, Bock said. Swarthmore has 1,490 undergraduates, according to its Web site.

“This year it might be about the money,” Bock said. “We just don’t know.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Janet Frankston Lorin in New York
Last Updated: March 10, 2009 11:34 EDT