Provost announces plan to curb over-enrollment

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By Sam Gringlas, Daily News Editor
Published September 18, 2014

This fall, the University enrolled 6,532 freshmen — an increase of 307 over last year — and about 500 more than University officials had intended.

At Thursday’s meeting of the Board of Regents, University Provost Martha Pollack detailed several steps the Office of Admissions plans to take to reduce the size of future classes — including shifting more early applicants to a wait list. She also outlined the University’s plans to handle this larger-than-expected freshman class.

“We have been over-enrolling every year for the past five years and we have to stop this,” Pollack said. “I'm not happy about it.”

This year, the University received a record-breaking 49,731 applications for Fall 2014 admission. Though the University’s adoption of the Common Application in 2010 provided a bump in applications, the growth has continued well beyond that change.

Additionally, more admitted students are choosing to actually enroll at the University at a time when officials are actively planning to shrink the freshman class. The University admits more students than it can enroll, anticipating some of those applicants will ultimately select other schools — a standard practice in higher education admissions.

The proportion of applicants admitted who actually enroll is called an institution’s “yield.” This year, the yield for freshman applicants increased by 1.3 percentage points for in-state students and two percentage points for out-of-state students.

“In a sense, there’s a bit of good news, but of course, there’s bad news because this isn’t what we had planned,” Pollack said.

Pollack said the University’s Office of Admissions would consider placing more early applicants on the wait list and offer comparatively fewer early admissions.

“We’re going to set a target that is well below actual and we’re going to make very intentional use of the wait list,” she said.

Pollack added that she’s working with the University’s new vice president of enrollment management, whom the regents appointed in June, to implement more advanced prediction tools for modeling enrollment figures.

The target freshman enrollment number will require approval of the provost and the Office of Admissions will also have to clear any adjustments to the target with Pollack.

“I feel pretty comfortable that we won’t be in this situation next year,” she said.

Officials are also working with colleges and schools to ensure the University can provide a high-quality undergraduate education for this year’s larger freshman class over their next four years.

LSA added 41 class sections this fall and plans to add an additional 45 for the winter semester, mostly in popular core subject areas such as Spanish, mathematics and economics. The College of Engineering has hired new instructors to teach additional discussion sections for the college’s key first-year courses.

On top of the accommodations that have already been made, Pollack said the University is increasing funding by 10 percent for the faculty expansion program included in the fiscal year 2015 budget that was designed to keep class sizes small. Those faculty will be hired this year and arrive on campus next fall.

Housing was also a primary concern for administrators, since more than 97 percent of freshmen live on-campus and West Quad Residence Hall remains closed as it undergoes a massive renovation project. To cope with a shortage of housing, the University incentivized returning students with University Housing contracts to seek off-campus accommodations. More than 330 of those students ultimately signed off-campus leases — freeing space for the larger freshman class. When West Quad reopens next fall, it will mark the first time in eight years that none of the University’s major housing facilities are closed for renovation.

Despite the University’s failure to meet enrollment targets, Pollack assured the board that this year’s influx of freshmen won’t impact the student experience. In 2010, the University enrolled a similarly large freshman class without a noticeable dip in retention.

“I don’t want to leave the impression that it’s more of a disaster than it is,” she said.

Correction appended: The University's in-state yield increased by 1.3 percentage points, not 1.3 percent. Out-of-state yield increased by 2 percentage points, not two percent.