Friday, March 13, 2009

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

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