Widespread predictions that students would approach the college decision differently in an economic downturn, and that colleges would plan conservatively to make their new classes, appear to have come true. A report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, released on Wednesday, documents changes in student and college behavior in the 2009 admissions cycle.
The report, “The State of College Admission 2010,” uses data from the association’s surveys of colleges and schools, the College Board’s annual survey of colleges, and the federal government.
During the 2009 cycle, the number of students graduating from high school in the United States reached a peak of 3.33 million; the number of high-school graduates is projected to decline through 2014-15.
In recent years, many colleges have seen their application numbers increase as more students graduated from high school and as students applied to more colleges. This year, 65 percent of colleges reported an increase in the number of applications received. But despite the peak number of high-school graduates, 29 percent of colleges reported a drop in the number of applications they received, the highest share reporting a decline since 1996.
That finding, the report’s authors suggest, could be the result of changed student behavior because of the recession. In a survey the association conducted last year, many counselors reported that more students were considering two-year colleges or were looking at public colleges rather than private ones because of cost considerations.
Students weren’t the only ones changing their behavior: Colleges used a number of strategies designed to help make their new classes during this time of uncertainty. Colleges’ yield rates—the share of admitted students who decide to enroll—have been declining for years, and the average yield rate is now 43 percent.
One technique for bolstering yield, early decision, is used by 18 percent of surveyed colleges. Of those, 65 percent reported accepting more early-decision applicants this year.
And at colleges that offer early decision, there is a gap between admission rates for students who apply early and applicants over all. For the 2009 cycle, 70 percent of early-decision applicants were admitted, compared with 55 percent of all applicants to those colleges.
“Looking back at our results in previous years, we did see that this gap has increased,” Melissa E. Clinedinst, the association’s assistant director for research, said in a conference call about the report’s findings.
The survey also found an uptick in the proportion of colleges with waiting lists: 39 percent used them in the 2009 cycle. That’s a greater share than in recent years, with the exception of 2007, when waiting-list use reached a high of 41 percent. Forty-seven percent of colleges reported placing more students on a waiting list than they did the year before, and 51 percent said they had accepted more students off of the list.
This year, for the first time, colleges were asked whether they stratified their waiting lists by various criteria. Fifty-six percent said they had stratified the list based on academic credentials; 45 percent by students’ interest in the college; 33 percent based on students’ commitment to attend if admitted; and 27 percent on ability to pay. On average, colleges accepted 34 percent of students who chose to remain on waiting lists.Return to Top