This year was supposed to be terrible for admissions to private colleges, at least those private colleges that are unlucky to have billion dollar endowments and an international reputation.
But it has become clear that for some private colleges outside of those rarefied ranks of Harvard and Stanford universities, the class that enrolls in 2021 will exceed expectations in numbers, diversity, tuition income, and other factors. for which admissions officers lose sleep.
Here’s a look at how Eckerd College, Emory & Henry College, the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and Xavier University (Ohio) have all filled their courses. They used a variety of strategies, but had one characteristic in common: they remained widely open for business during the 2020-21 academic year. Another is that discount rates were generally at or above the national average of 53.9 percent.
Eckerd, Florida, has a record 664 new students this week, up 29% from last year’s class (at the start of the pandemic) and 27% from the previous year, which had set the previous record.
John Sullivan, vice president of enrollment management, said: “When COVID hit, this community really came together.”
He said the key to attracting students this year was that Eckerd had students last year on campus – for the entire academic year. “We had security protocols in place,” and people were following the rules, he said. “It was a pretty normal year.”
To recruit students at the start of 2020-21, Eckerd relied on videos – doing a lot so that they could be personalized.
Over the year, in-person visits were added. “It was huge for the students to be able to see what we look like.”
Over the summer, the Parents Council sent handwritten notes to the parents of each incoming freshman. As a result, Sullivan said, the summer melt rate is lower than it was two years ago.
Jacob Browne, director of admissions at the college, said its location in Florida meant the college had planned 50 outdoor spaces for classrooms. This meant that visiting potential students could really see the classes and faculty in action.
Another advantage for Eckerd: taking the optional test for three years. And Browne added, “we’re really optional tests,” including merit aid.
Sullivan said the discount rate has increased slightly and will be 53%, up just over a point from the previous year.
Florida is a state where the governor has banned even private colleges from requiring anyone to be vaccinated. Eckerd therefore urged his students to get vaccinated. Of the students who enroll in the fall, just under 85 percent are vaccinated. Browne said: “We’re not there yet.”
As for the Delta variant, said Sullivan, “we are encouraged by the high number of vaccinees, and we will be pushing for the number to be higher.”
Emory & Henry College
As Eckerd emphasizes its historic strengths, Emory & Henry College in Southern Virginia is trying new strategies. They resulted in a 63 percent increase in the number of new students in one year. It will educate 467 new students.
John W. Wells, President, said, “There is no one quick fix. Rather, the college acted on a range of issues.
He added nursing and business programs to attract students who wanted a clear path to financial success after graduation. “It’s a market strategy,” he said. He stayed with a high discount rate – 55% – but Wells said he was comfortable with that rate during a transition period.
And the college has made a major change to its financial aid strategy designed to attract more middle-class students and fewer low-income students.
Wells said the college found it was enrolling wealthy and very low-income students, and was suffering in the middle.
He pointed out that the college is still very committed to educating low-income students. In the new class, 44% will be eligible for Pell Grants, a higher percentage than in many private colleges, up from 54% the year before.
The discount rate is flat — at 55 percent.
Wells said the goal is to better connect with the region, “which has been affected by the decline of coal.”
The pandemic was a factor, he said, but was not the college’s only focus this year.
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
At Rose-Hulman, officials expect not only a 15% increase over last year (620 students, a record for the institution), but a more diverse class.
The class is 24% female, which is not a statistic many would brag about, but the second highest share in the class for females. Thirty percent of the class is racially or ethnically diverse – a figure that’s good enough for a college in Terre Haute, Ind.
Tom Bear, vice president of enrollment management, said last year the college enrolled 547 new students. The increase in class size is not the result of overspending. The discount rate is high at 58 percent, but is down one point last year.
“We’re looking more at net tuition income,” and Rose-Hulman exceeded her goals there, he said.
While working on recruiting students, admissions staff focused on those “who were going to be the best fit.” Rose-Hulman is small for a STEM-oriented college, but it appeals to some students who want to work closely with faculty members, Bear said.
Rose-Hulman also froze tuition fees. “I really think it has helped. Families are trying to figure out ‘how to manage in the new economy,’ Bear said.
Given the emphasis on a rare style of education, he said, it was very important that the college was open all last year. “It really touched the students,” he said.
Bear remembers a young woman who visited him and just said “she has found her place” on campus.
Xavier University of Ohio
At Xavier, more than 15,000 high school students have applied for admission, the highest total in university history. The closest was to enroll in fall 2018, said Aaron Meis, vice president of enrollment management and student success.
The key to expanding the pool of applicants has been to remain open throughout the last academic year, he said. “We have decided to commit to being open,” he said.
And Meis said staying open extends to classes. In many “open” colleges, most of the courses were online. At Xavier’s, 80% of the lessons were face-to-face. “We were telling this story throughout the recruiting cycle,” he said.
Keep the campus open extended to campus tours. “Families kept saying ‘you were the only school open’,” he said.
The discount rate fell 1 point to 55 after increasing 6 points last year.
The end result is a freshman class of 1,202. The university had only budgeted 1,150.
“We got involved early and we stuck to it,” Meis said.