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Still Shopping for a College? This List Is for You

If this year is like the last few, the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s annual “College Openings Update” will be trotted out as one more piece of evidence that American higher education is in crisis.

The update, formerly known as the “Space Availability Survey,” is a list of colleges belonging to the association that are still accepting freshmen or transfer applicants, or both, for the fall. It was released on Tuesday and will be updated by the association, known as NACAC, as more colleges respond.

While the list is intended to help counselors find a good fit for students who are still on the market, it has also been interpreted as a sign of which colleges are in trouble.

This year more than 250 colleges are on the list. Some probably recruit into the summer, year in and year out. Some might have had an unpleasant surprise this spring. But not every college on the list has a ton of capacity—and not every one expects the list to bring them many more students.

Michael A. Post knows that some admissions watchers may think less of his operation when they see that Mount St. Mary’s University, where he is vice president for enrollment management, is on the list. But they are not the audience he is interested in. “Being on the list,” he says, “is a service to the counselors we work with.”

The Mount, as the Maryland university is known, might take less than a dozen additional freshmen and transfers, Mr. Post says. But the bigger focus for his staff right now is avoiding summer melt. One new way the university is keeping the 540 freshmen it expects engaged, Mr. Post says, is by sending each of them a tear-off calendar they can use to count down the days until they move in.

Ashland University, in Ohio, is still looking for both freshmen and transfer students, says W.C. Vance, director of admissions. But the university doesn’t expect many to come its way because of NACAC’s list.

“I’ve never once had a student reference this list,” Mr. Vance says. “I wish students knew about it.”

Ashland is on track to bring in its class, Mr. Vance says. Still, if the list brought strong applicants his way, “I’d take ’em; I’d take a hundred.” But that doesn’t mean an unqualified student will get in, he says. “Just because a student is late doesn’t make me want them more.”

The university is still recruiting students for programs that tend to draw adult and transfer students, like its registered nurse to B.S. in nursing program. Bringing in more-traditional students at this point is difficult to do, he adds, without running afoul of the NACAC ethical guidelines the university follows.

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