Thursday, September 14, 2006

College Enrollment Projections – Will Your Kid Get In... Anywhere?

From Ash:

Today, the National Center for Education Statistics just released projected school and college enrollments. As we all knew, college enrollment has risen dramatically in the past few years, and NCES predicts that will continue: college enrollment will be up about 15 percent by 2015.

I just know there's some editor out there who's going to look at the report, saying it's a reason to assign another article about how college admissions are tougher than before. Even more kids will be competing for those few spots at good schools.

But that doesn't mean anything unless we know the total number of places in schools that are available. It doesn't matter if the student body increases by 15 percent, if there is enough room for 20 percent. And I kept thinking about the famously all-women's college, Randolph-Macon – which is going co-ed because it doesn't have enough students.

So can we translate projected overall increases enrollment into a predictor of increased competitiveness?

No, according to Tom Snyder, NCES Project Director.

The projected increase is the projection of students who actually will go to college. Not just who apply, or would be eligible to go. And he explains, historically, colleges have expanded their populations as the student populations increase. Institutions' populations are so elastic that experts can't even answer my question on total vacancies: they can't even determine a reliable figure. That's particularly true in the case of private institutions: if an Ivy wants to let in more students, then it can build a building to accomodate the increase.

Now, it's up to each institution what admissions criteria will be used. So an increased student population could increase selectivity at some particular schools, if they choose not to increase their student population.

But even if those selective schools are more competitive, it doesn't mean that competitiveness will increase across-the-board – and it's an issue that really affects only a very few students to begin with.

As a report by The Century Foundation, 1.2 million graduating high school students enroll in one of the 1,400 accredited four-year colleges each year.

Of these, "[o]nly a tiny percentage of the student population applies to the 146 most selective colleges–only a few hundred thousand out of three million high school graduates–and an even smaller group attends. Enrollments at the most selective 146 colleges represent less than 10 percent of the nation's postsecondary freshman class."

On the other hand, of the nation's 3,500 nonprofit colleges in the country, 95.7% of them accept 50 percent of their applicants. 44 percent of all colleges and universities have "open admission" – everyone who applies is admitted.

Yeah, I can hear you thinking, "Sure, Ash, but that's the schools no one wants to go to. What about the competitive schools?"

"Very competitive schools" – schools like Fordham and the University of Wisconsin – accept between 50 and 75 percent of their students. "Competitive" – schools like Seton Hall and St. John's – take 75 to 85 percent of their applicants.

Major League Baseball's "competitive." The Dodgers are currently at the top in the West, and they've only won 53% of their games. If they won 85 percent of the time, they'd be making history.

Oh, by the way, an MIT journal found out that a middle-class kid who graduates from a selective school doesn't make any more money than he would have if he'd gone to a less-selective school.


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