The Decision By Stanford to Not Publicize Application Numbers
Stanford University recently announced that the school would no longer publicize undergraduate application numbers. And why? As Stanford’s provost Persis Dreill is quoted in a university press release about the decision, “We want students to know that when we encourage them to apply to Stanford, it’s not because we wish to be known as a most competitive university with a low admit rate. It is because we want promising students of all backgrounds to seriously consider the educational opportunities and possibilities at Stanford. Each year, we strive to put together a class that is academically excellent, intellectually nimble and enormously broad in backgrounds and perspectives. By focusing on the admit rate, talented students who would thrive at Stanford may opt not to apply because they think Stanford seems out of reach. And that would be a shame.”
The Unsurprising Support for Stanford’s Decision to Cease Reporting Application Numbers
Unsurprisingly, folks around the college admissions community are voicing their support for Stanford’s decision to stop publicizing application figures. As Jim Jump writes in a piece for “Inside Higher Ed” entitled “Ethical College Admissions: The Cult of Selectivity,” “Making a statement that selectivity is not important does not expose any trade secrets (unless the secret is that selectivity is an end in itself for colleges). It also helps us find a possible escape route from the vicious circle into which we’ve all fallen. Students and parents see the stories about how impossible admission has become, and in response submit more applications. Colleges aren’t sure which applications are serious, and in response place more students on wait lists. That leads to stories about how college admission is impossible, which starts the cycle all over again. Stanford’s announcement is not a move against transparency, but rather a stand against overemphasis on application numbers and admit rate. I hope others in our profession will speak out in support and help ‘de-program’ the cult of selectivity.”
The Naiveté of the Supporters Championing Stanford’s Decision
But of course it’s not that simple. You see, Jim Jump, well, he’s sporting a pair of rose-colored glasses. Not reporting application figures will not in any way make students and parents feel that Stanford’s easier to earn admission to. Most students and parents weren’t born yesterday and they’re not going to be fooled that Stanford is any less selective just because they’re not reporting their figures. All they have to do is do a quick search and find application numbers from years past to Stanford. They’ll quickly notice a trend — how the university receives more and more applications just about every year. These folks will not then think that just because the university has ceased publicizing application figures that this trend has reversed. No way.
And let’s not pretend that Stanford’s decision to no longer report undergraduate application figures is purely benevolent. While it may seem benevolent on the surface, we would argue that it could actually lead to a rise in applications and, ultimately, provide a boost to the school’s “US News & World Report” ranking, a ranking that doesn’t exactly match up to Stanford’s selectivity, which is on par with Harvard University. In fact, we previously penned a post after Stanford’s announcement in which we suggested that Stanford may very well be Moneyballing their ranking by no longer reporting application figures. We stand by this argument. In the end, oh loyal readers, every college cares first and foremost about its ranking, including Stanford.
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I think Stanford is at a rather unique position along with Harvard, in that they dont have to care about their USNews ranking. Their brand and dream school status are just too strong.
More than anything, I would think Stanford is afraid of losing the bragging rights of being the most selective school to Harvard, if the application numbers decline due to applicants getting discouraged by the abysmally low admission chances.