Oct 12, 2009

Ithaca College Pays Admitted Students $10K to Defer Enrollment

A funny thing happened at Ithaca College this year. Someone miscalculated, and the incoming freshman class is overenrolled by about 20%. Expecting the class of 2013 to come in somewhere between 1700 and 1750, enrollment officials were surprised to find 2027 students accepting offers of admission. No doubt the economy played into a series of decisions affecting Ithaca’s numbers, but the fact that the college experienced a decline in freshman enrollment in 2008 evidently made officials a little too anxious to make up ground.

Ithaca certainly wasn’t alone in underestimating freshman numbers. The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities reports that dozens of private colleges experienced record enrollments this year. Baylor, Clemson, DePaul, Eckerd, Gonzaga, Guilford, Princeton, the University of Tampa, and Rice were among those institutions with record-breaking freshman classes. Locally, the University of Richmond, American University, Johns Hopkins University, Loyola of Maryland, and Trinity DC also exceeded projections for freshman enrollment.

So what now? Ithaca offered admitted students up to $10,000 each to defer enrollment for a year and provided $2,000 in incentives to upperclassmen to move off campus. Ithaca also quickly built a new dorm constructed in six weeks to the tune of $2.5 million. Johns Hopkins leased a small bed and breakfast and reopened a dorm due for renovation. Gonzaga rented a wing at the local Red Lion River Inn, replacing hotel furniture with much sturdier dorm items. Other schools converted study lounges to dorm rooms or shoved freshman into “forced” triples (defined as requiring three students to peacefully co-exist in space designed for two). Clemson asked resident advisors (RA’s) to give up their coveted singles and bunk with freshmen. To avoid an uprising, however, RA’s have been promised that this is a temporary arrangement.

Adjustments also had to be made in course offerings and financial aid. Additional lectures and class sections were brought on-line as colleges and universities hired more staff or found adjuncts willing to cover the overflow. Even though the extra students brought in more revenue, schools uniformly had to dig deep into their coffers to cover the financial aid needs presented by the larger-than-expected enrollments. Most, like the University of Richmond, with an over enrollment of 15%, expect a net gain. But then again, they’re not building a new dorm to house the extras.

For many of these schools, future enrollment policies will have to be carefully examined to avoid continued crowding or long-term stress on facilities. Too much of a good thing can have consequences. Here is how Ithaca is adjusting policies and spending:
  • Early Decision will be reinstated thereby giving the college more control over admissions earlier in the year
  • “Selectivity” will be raised to reduce total admissions for next year’s class
  • $1.2 million in additional funds will be allocated to hire nearly 50 part time and two new full time faculty members as well as to pay 30 current full time professors overload pay for teaching extra courses
  • Students housed in lounges will receive a 20% room reduction as well as free cable TV

And, 31 incoming freshmen paid to defer enrollment for a year for a total cost of $250,000 will most likely all show up this time next year making even fewer spaces available for the class of 2014.

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