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Admissions Yield Rate Decline Creating Enrollment Uncertainty for U.S. Colleges and Universities, Report Says

For U.S. colleges and universities, planning for first-year student fall enrollments has grown increasingly unpredictable as students have gradually increased the amount of applications they are submitting to campuses, a leading college admissions counseling association documents in its annual report.


In the report released today, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) unveiled 2009 admissions trend data compiled from the U.S. Department of Education and NACAC surveys of college and high school counselors. The report, “2009 State of College Admission” by Melissa E. Clinedinst and David A. Hawkins, states that as admissions officers employ more social media to attract students and online applications make it easier for students to submit college applications, institutions have witnessed a decline in the enrollment percentage, or yield, of admitted students. 


“According to an analysis of data collected from colleges by the US Department of Education, the average acceptance rate at four-year colleges (excluding open admission institutions) has declined slightly from 71.3 percent in 2001 to 66.8 percent in 2007. During this same time frame, the average yield rate of four-year colleges also has declined from 49.1 percent to 45.2 percent, indicating that, on average, colleges are seeing a smaller proportion of accepted students ultimately enrolling in their institutions,” according to the report.


Institutions for the last several years have seen applicant pool and enrollment growth resulting from growing numbers of high school graduates as well as from application proliferation attributed to increases in the average number of college applications students are submitting to U.S. schools. Total applications to U.S. colleges and universities increased 24 percent from 2002 to 2006. This fall, only 21 percent of colleges and universities reported enrollment decreases, the report said.


“Twenty-two percent of fall 2008 freshman had submitted seven or more applications for admission, up from 19 percent in fall 2007,” the report stated.


Of the schools surveyed, 90 percent of colleges reported an increase in financial aid applications. Though challenged by a struggling economy and growing uncertainty over admissions yields, institutions have largely met their enrollment goals by admitting more students, increasing individual financial aid packages and granting financial aid to more students. The report also documents how economic woes have led to hiring freezes and staff reductions in high school, college and university counseling offices. Such cuts are threatening to substantially increase student-counselor ratios.


Financial constraints were a common factor in the decisions made by students who opted for four-year public institutions versus private institutions. Sixty percent of surveyed counselors said they recorded increases among their students opting for public schools over private institutions. Thirty-seven percent of counselors reported increases among students opting for community college over four-year institutions.


Inequities persist in the college landscape, particularly among African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians. “In 2007, Black and Hispanic persons constituted approximately 32 percent of the traditional college-aged population,” the report stated, “but they represented only about 25 percent of students enrolled in postsecondary education.”


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