Dec 29, 2014

Will UVa follow Michigan’s lead by deferring thousands of early action applicants?

University of Virginia

It’s no secret that the University of Virginia over-enrolled its freshman class last year.  What is a secret, or at least in question, is by how many students the UVa Class of 2018 is actually over-enrolled.

And even more importantly, will this over-enrollment affect admissions decisions for UVa’s early action applicants to the Class of 2019?

If the University of Michigan example provides any clues, this year’s early applicants to the University of Virginia could be in for a long year as the admissions office attempts to gain control over class size by deferring huge  numbers of early applicants to the regular decision pool and making heavy use of the wait list.

UVa’s problem evidently began last winter, when the Virginia admissions office admitted a large number of early applicants.  According to figures given at the time, the University of Virginia received 14,819 early applications—about a seven percent increase over the previous year.

According to “Dean J,” 4590 students were admitted out of the early action pool—about 20% more than for the Class of 2017.  Of these, 2057 were from Virginia and 2533 were from out of state.  Typically, more offers are made to nonresidents because the “yield” among students faced with out-of-state tuition is significantly lower.

The increased numbers reflected plans to expand the freshman class according to a multi-year growth plan implemented by the university several years earlier.

But reports suggested that admits from some low-yielding feeder schools like Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) in northern Virginia were substantially down while higher yielding schools saw increases in the number of admitted students.

And many students admitted early couldn’t wait to sign-up. So many in fact that the admissions office began to see rumblings of an even bigger problem by the time regular decisions were scheduled to be released.

Usually very open about numbers, the university suddenly got quiet as admissions staff attempted to deal with what looked to be a serious over-enrollment problem, which would limit regular decision admits and effectively close off the wait list.

 “Small precise movements get the plane from the runway to the gate,” Dean J explained in a curious blog post comparing the wait list process to landing an airplane.  “We’re trying to get to the gate right now.  We landed way closer to it tha[n] we have in past years, so the change in speed was pretty dramatic.”

For a school that is so dismissive of “demonstrated interest,” it appeared that those who didn’t get into the early action pool—a strong demonstration of interest—were not going to be admitted at nearly the same rates as the applicants who submitted by November 1.  And as UVa grappled with much larger numbers than originally projected, many highly qualified students were sent to the wait list.

This is where they would remain until ultimately rejected in June.

At that point, Virginia officials were forced to scramble.  Dorms scheduled for demolition were brought back on line and temporary limitations were set on the number of credit hours freshmen could sign up for.

But still, UVa wasn’t as forthcoming as the University of Michigan about its over-enrollment problem.

Repeated requests for information from the admissions office as well as from the press office were ignored.  After several emails, McGregor McCance, UVa senior director of media relations, finally responded with some numbers in early September.

We have not taken an official census yet but the current size of the 1st-year class is 3,709, which is 139 over the target of 3570,” explained McCance, in an email.  “Being over is not unusual, though this year it’s a bit higher.”

He went on to outline previous over-enrollment numbers, “Fall 2013 we were 32 students over target. Fall 2012 was 37. Fall of 2011 was 74 over target.”  The pattern was the same as that causing a problem for the University of Michigan.

These numbers, however, did not exactly correspond with numbers that had been provided to parents during the Days on the Lawn program.  One parent and her daughter reported that the admissions office admitted to having over-enrolled the Class of 2018 by several hundred students (this could have included some projected growth).

But judging by the large number of dorm rooms hastily refurbished and reopened, the university was clearly reeling from an abundance of freshmen.

In fact, once administrators saw during summer orientation that some courses were filling up, UVa reduced the number of classes that students could register for during orientation from five to four (plus a first-year seminar ) and later was forced to add classes so that students were able to register for more credit hours between August 1 and the add/drop deadline.

So why is this important?  The extra freshmen were ultimately housed and for the most part, got the classes they wanted.  And although the university declined to give numbers, the whole miscalculation was probably a little costly to the university which had wanted to move forward with demolition of old housing.

But over-enrollment is not only costly, it also can have a long-term impact on admissions decisions made for future classes.

As demonstrated by the University of Michigan, Virginia’s admissions staff may need to take proactive measures to control numbers and bring enrollment under control.

In fact, Dean Gregory Roberts suggested as much to a group of independent educational consultants who visited campus this fall.

Similar to Michigan, Virginia will likely reduce the number of students admitted from what appears to be a highly robust Class of 2019 early action pool and make heavy use of wait lists to ensure that the class is exactly “to spec.”

And what will this mean for this year’s applicants?  They could be in store for a very long wait until the dust finally settles on the mini-crisis caused by failure to accurately predict yield for several years in a row.

In a strategy very much designed to protect yield, the University of Virginia gives itself until the end of January to post early action admissions decisions.   

In the weeks immediately preceding, the university launches an aggressive campaign to make sure those students who have committed to early decision schools or those who have otherwise decided where they will attend college in the fall remove themselves from consideration at UVa.  This reduces the likelihood of admitting students who are already committed elsewhere.

And using “customer relations management” software acquired by UVa several years ago, which serves to “acquire, track and assess data about prospective students,” the admissions office will make a series of strategic decisions affecting early applicants to the Class of 2019—who to admit, defer or deny. 

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