Correction appended: This story incorrectly reported that John Matlock is associate director of admissions. He is associate vice provost and director of the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives.
For the second year in a row, the University has exceeded its freshman enrollment goal by hundreds of students. At 6,115 students, this year’s freshman class is the largest in University history, breaking last year’s record.
Admissions officers overshot their target enrollment by 755 students. The high numbers are the result of more students than expected accepting their admissions offers.
According to Ted Spencer, director of undergraduate admissions, yield rates – the proportion of students who decide on the University after receiving acceptance letters -have been outpacing admissions officers’ predictions for the past two years. Administrators said the increase is indicative of the University’s strong international reputation.
“The growth in our enrollment is a reflection of academic strength, and we’re gratified that students continue to see Michigan as one of their top choices,” interim Provost Ned Gramlich said in a written statement.
This year also saw record numbers of minority students enrolled as freshman, despite the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, which struck down the University’s policy of awarding points on the basis of race as unconstitutional. While the Court found the point system to be a crude method of admission, it did not prohibit admissions officers from using race as a factor, as long as the process for admitting students was a holistic one.
The freshman class contains an unprecedented number of both Hispanic and Asian students, and although freshman enrollment numbers for black students are not at an all-time high, they are roughly equal to pre-Grutter levels. While freshman enrollment for black students is up, the overall black population at the University has decreased by 38 students since last year.
John Matlock, associate vice provost and director of the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, said he attributes rising enrollment to intensive recruitment efforts on the part of the admissions team. He said the University has aggressively targeted minorities, citing University President Mary Sue Coleman’s recruitment visits to several black churches.
“What you see is the fruit of all of that work, as well as Michigan just continuing to be a very popular place that students want to go to,” Matlock said. “We have a commitment to diversity across the board, – racial and ethnic diversity, as well as diversity from students all over the country and all over the world.”
The intensive recruiting drive was spurred by the drop in minority enrollment after the Supreme Court ruling in 2003. After the ruling, the University changed the undergraduate application to reflect the “holistic” admissions approach advocated in the Court’s majority opinion. Administrators have speculated that the new application, which is significantly longer than the last one and includes more essays, was the reason the University received more than 4,000 fewer applications last year than in 2003. This year, the number of applicants rose by 12 percent but remains below levels prior to the new application.
This year’s incoming class, in addition to being the biggest, is also the most academically qualified, said Chris Lucier, associate director of undergraduate admissions. He added that he often hears high school counselors use the word “hot” when describing Michigan’s popularity among high school seniors applying to college.
But high enrollment levels, while they may be indicative of a good reputation, also present problems, most notably with on-campus housing. Last year’s record freshman class forced the University to place undergraduate students in Northwood family housing units on North Campus.
But Matlock said the University has the problem under control.
“Adjustments are made, and classes are added,” Matlock said. “It’s not like the first day of class we say, ‘Whoa! What happened?’ “
Donald Heller, a researcher at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at Penn State University, said increased enrollment is the result of a national trend of more students going to college that is expected to continue until the end of the decade. He added that he also expects minority enrollment to increase, saying the court ruling was not as anti-diversity as some think.
He said a “holistic” approach to admissions is better for minorities, whose test scores and grades often lag behind those of white students.
“All other things being equal, universities ought to continue to see more applications,” Heller said. “The more selective and popular institutions, like the University of Michigan, are more likely to be able to enroll a larger class if they want.”
If an unusually large freshman class is a problem now, it may be a larger problem next year, when the University will lose 500 on-campus beds while Mosher-Jordan Residence Hall is closed for renovations. Matlock, the associate admissions director, said he did not expect the University to increase its enrollment target next year but rather to take steps to bring the student population back to normal levels.