Dropping Enrollment on College Campuses

Schools like Yale University reject thousands upon thousands of applicants annually. In fact, all of our nation’s Ivy League colleges this year — even in a down year overall in terms of application numbers for the batch — will reject thousands upon thousands of applicants.

For several years, as much of the media has focused on declining enrollment figures on college campuses, we’ve implored them to be more specific. Yes, it’s true that colleges across America have seen declining enrollment numbers in recent years, but our nation’s elite universities have seen no such decline — quite the opposite in fact with applications to these schools continuing to surge and schools like Yale University expanding the size of their incoming classes. But this year, of the six Ivy League schools that have thus far reported Early application figures for the Class of 2024, four saw fewer applications than for the Class of 2023. For so many years at the vast majority of elite schools, we write about record application numbers, record-low admission rates, and other new benchmarks. But this year, did our nation’s elite universities finally hit a plateau and, if so, what’s responsible for these recently released figures?

Students Are Not Desperate to Get Into Just Any College

Aimee Picchi recently wrote a piece for CBS News entitled “Students are desperate to get into college. So why is enrollment dropping?“. But we are not fans of this title because it’s perpetuating a misconception. Students are desperate to get into elite colleges. They’re not necessarily desperate to get into, say, for-profit colleges as an extreme example — a group of schools that are absolutely experiencing declining enrollment (cheers to that!). And our nation’s elite colleges are not at all experiencing declining enrollment. Far from it.

Students Are Desperate to Get Into Elite Colleges

Instead, they’re continuing to deny thousands and thousands of students who are desperate to earn admission. Don’t mistake an admission rate rising from 16.2% to 16.6% as a school getting less competitive — that’s preposterous. Finally, the vast majority of reasons for declining enrollment at less selective colleges just don’t apply to students applying to our nation’s elite schools, including lower high school graduation rates, the rising cost of college, and a growing economy. Students aren’t choosing to get a job instead of applying to Yale. It’s just not happening.

Wildfires, School Shootings Not Reasons for Decline in Applications

So why the decline in Early applications at several of our nation’s elite colleges this year? As Ashley Ahn reports for The Daily Pennsylvanian in a piece entitled “Here’s how Penn’s ED stats for the Class of 2024 compare to the other Ivies,” Harvard’s Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William Fitzsimmons attributes the drop to “uncertainty economically in the world.” We think that’s nonsense. Love America’s president or hate him, America’s economy is strong. Dean Fitzsimmons also named “wildfires” and “school shootings” as possible reasons for the decline. Ummm, no! It rained yesterday. Does that mean Early applications will be down next year? Come on, Dean Fitzsimmons. Use that Harvard education of yours.

Plateauing of Seniors, Years Since SAT Redesign Could Be Actual Reasons for Decline in Applications

Oh wait…he then offers up “plateauing” of the number of high school seniors. Now that’s much more reasonable! The University of Pennsylvania Dean of Admissions Eric Furda also offered up a reasonable explanation, as reported by Ahn for The Daily Pennsylvanian: applications surged after College Board redesigned the SAT because “he believed students saw themselves as more competitive applicants after SAT scores increased ‘along certain areas of distribution.'” That too we believe to be a reasonable explanation.


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