College Admissions Report Predicts U.S. Enrollment Increases through Decade’s End

In large public high schools throughout America, counselors, who are individually responsible for an average 407 students, spend less than a fourth of their time on college counseling, while their counterparts in private schools devote more than half their time to the task.

In schools with high-poverty rates, the college prep courses that college admission officers increasingly value, such as AP and IB courses, are offered far less frequently than in low-poverty schools.

Due to the ease of submitting college applications online, more students are submitting multiple applications to different colleges, but colleges are accepting fewer students and forcing more of them onto wait lists from which increasingly fewer are admitted.

These are just some of the realities revealed in “2011 State of College Admission,” a new report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, or NACAC.

Based on an annual survey of secondary and post-secondary institutions, the report predicts that, while high school graduation rates have essentially leveled off, college enrollment is expected to rise—from the 20.4 million students currently enrolled in degree-granting institutions of higher education to 23 million in the 2019-20 school year.

The increase will be due primarily to an increase in non-traditional age students, the report’s authors say.

However, underrepresentation continues among racial and ethnic minorities in the traditional college-aged population. Specifically, the report says, while Black and Hispanic students constituted about 34 percent of the traditional college-aged population, they represented only about 27 percent of enrolled college students.

Given these disparities, high school counselors should look for ways to involve others in their schools to bring greater equality in college enrollment for fresh high school graduates from diverse segments of the population, said David Hawkins, director of public policy and research at NACAC.

“I would say on a practical level, counselors should be on the lookout for opportunities to create a college-going culture in their schools,” Hawkins said of schools that serve large numbers of prospective first-generation college students.

“I know that sounds somewhat trite and maybe overdue, but the idea that students get a lot of contact from colleges is simply not the case,” Hawkins said. “Colleges have a very hard time reaching all the students that are qualified to attend.

“Given that (counselors) have very little time to devote to college counseling, one of the pieces of practical advice is that counselors should see themselves as managers, because they are responsible for so many different tasks and projects in their schools.

“I think they would be well-served to look for opportunities to partner with organizations, colleges and universities and use their manager’s discretion to bring as many resources to bear to students who have little access to this information outside of school.”

In a phone conference with reporters last week, Hawkins and report co-author Melissa E. Clinedinst provided more insights about anticipated demographic shifts in college enrollment.

Specifically, they said that, while the traditional 18- to 24-year-old population will continue to be the largest portion of college students, enrollment among 25- to 34-year-olds and those 34 and older will rise 21 and 16 percent, respectively.

“These changes to demographics are well under way,” Clinedinst said. Populations that are traditionally underrepresented and most likely to be first-generation college students are growing the most rapidly, she said.

In order for the demographics to shift more rapidly among the traditional college-aged population, it has to change at the high school level, starting with the curriculum, the survey suggests.

The NACAC report found that 83 and 66 percent of colleges viewed grades in college prep courses, such as AP and IB courses, and the strength of a high school’s curriculum, respectively, as having “considerable importance” to their admissions decisions, whereas only 59 percent saw college entrance exam scores of considerable importance, and 46 percent placed such importance on grades in all courses as opposed to just college prep courses.

Among other things, the NACAC report also found that:

— The number of students applying to college grew in 2010. Seventy-three percent of colleges saw growth in the number of applications in 2010, while 19 percent saw decreases.

— 25 percent of fall 2010 freshmen had submitted seven or more applications for admission, up from 23 percent in fall 2009 and 22 percent the year before.

— 48 percent of colleges put students on wait lists last fall, versus 39 percent the year before.

— Acceptance rates were down one percentage point to 65.5 percent last fall, whereas in previous years the acceptance rates were all above 66 percent.

— 38 percent of colleges reported increases in the number of early decision applications, whereas, in previous years, half of all colleges reported such increases.

— Online applications grew, with colleges and universities getting an average of 85 percent of their applications online for the fall 2010 admission cycle, versus 80 percent the year before and 72 percent the year before that.

“Although the admission process continues to rely heavily on personal contact and paper, technology is being used in specific ways to make the process more manageable,” the report states, noting that more students are going online to learn about college options, to contact colleges with inquiries, and to submit their applications.