The admission arms race: Six ways colleges game their numbers

Prospective students have long looked to low acceptance rates, high number of applications and other factors to determine how prestigious a college is and whether they should apply. However, colleges have found ways to make their institutions seem more appealing

As college-bound students weigh their options, they often look to the various statistics that universities trumpet — things like the high number of applications, high test scores, and low acceptance rate.
But students may want to consider yet another piece of info: the ways in which schools can pump up their stats.
"There's no question about it," said David Kalsbeek, senior vice president for enrollment management and marketing at DePaul University. "There are ways of inflating a metric to improve perceived measures of quality."
Some of these tweaks — such as a more streamlined application — can actually benefit students. Others serve to make the admissions process more confusing. Here's a rundown.
1) Quickie, often pre-filled out applications 
Express applications — sometimes known as "fast apps," "snap apps," "V.I.P. applications" or "priority applications" — are often pre-filled with some student information and require little if anything in the way of essays. And especially when they're accompanied with an application-fee waiver, what's a student got to lose? Not much, fans of fast apps argue.
The school, meanwhile, has a lot to gain. The tactic, designed to broaden the pool of applicants, can help super-charge application numbers. Drexel University and St. John's University — the only two private colleges among the top 10 for most applied-to colleges in 2011 — both market broadly and use fast apps.
Both schools received roughly 50,000 applications in the fall of 2011, according to U.S. News data. Both schools enroll roughly 3,000 freshmen.
Getting in more applications can also boost the appearance of selectivity. Critics contend that some schools use fast apps specifically for this purpose — luring students in to apply to institutions they hadn't heard of and ultimately rejecting a portion of them. Neither school, when contacted, responded to requests for comment.
2) Shorter applications, Common Applications, and shorter Common Applications 
Another way to get more applications is to adopt the Common Application, as nearly 500 colleges have since its inception in 1975. The form, which lets students apply to multiple schools at once, has fueled the long-term rise in applications. And as more colleges have adopted it, other schools have felt pressure to start using it too.
Many schools have long required that students submitting a Common Application include additional answers or essays. Dropping the extra requirements can result in a spike in applications. That's what happened for Skidmore College, which saw a 42 percent jump in applications this cycle after it stopped requiring supplemental essays to the Common App. (Skidmore College's dean of admissions did not respond to a request for an interview.)
3) Dipping into early application pools 
Another statistic schools often try to control is their "yield" — that's admissions parlance for the percentage of students offered admission that choose to attend.
Though it's no longer statistically factored into U.S. News & World Report's ubiquitous rankings, yield rates are still a data point made available to prospective students. They're also inextricably tied to acceptance rates because schools use previous yields to calculate how many students they should admit to fill a class. Schools with low yields must extend lots of acceptances, knowing many accepted students will go elsewhere.
One way to increase yields is to draw heavily from the pool of applicants who chose to apply through early action, or to encourage early decision, which is binding. At the University of Pennsylvania, for instance, nearly half of the spots in the freshman class are filled through the university's binding early decision process.
Penn is hardly alone in leaning heavily on early decision. Many schools accept early decision applicants at a higher rate than students who apply later. American University, for instance, accepts about 75 percent of early decision applicants, though its overall acceptance rate is far lower.
One other thing to note: Because early decision involves committing before any financial aid is offered, it generally attracts wealthier families. Students who need financial aid or want to be able to make cost comparisons between different schools are typically advised not to apply early — which can hurt their chances.
4) Rejecting good students universities think are just using them as a backup 
While opening up early decision and early action programs is a way for colleges to force students to demonstrate that they're their top choice, schools use a variety of ways to divine the same information from regular decision students as well. This is perhaps the most common — and in some ways, common sense — method used by colleges to improve yield: simply to admit only those students who they perceive as likely to enroll.
"There are so many silent electronic footprints they're leaving nowadays," said Sundar Kumarasamy, vice president for enrollment management and marketing at the University of Dayton.
Kumarasamy said that his institution tracks many of these subtle signals of interest from applicants: They can tell whether individual applicants clicked to open email communications, logged into the system to check the status of an application, and not only whether they called the school, but how long that phone call lasted. If the school gets the sense that an applicant isn't interested, that's factored in. Kumarasamy calls it "recruiting for fit."
The interest — or lack thereof — can ultimately mean that the school rejects some candidates who on paper are more than qualified but failed to demonstrate interest.
5) Making tests optional 
One admissions trend within the past decade has been the test-optional movement. Colleges that have stopped requiring standardized test scores often cite equity and diversity as reasons to make the move, noting the strong correlation between socioeconomic status and test scores.
But going test-optional can also help universities' stats. Critics note that in addition to attracting more applicants, the move ultimately skews the average test scores that institutions report: Lower-scoring applicants are the most likely to withhold their scores and higher-scoring applicants are the most likely to submit them.
6) Making stuff up 
Some colleges actually cross the line with their creative number-crunching. Since the start of last year, five colleges have acknowledged overstating their admissions statistics: Bucknell University, Claremont McKenna College, Emory University, George Washington University, and Tulane University's business school.
Admissions data is self-reported and no outside party is responsible for verifying it. The recent scandals involving falsified data have only come to light after colleges disclosed the problems themselves.
U.S. News' Robert Morse has said there is "no reason to believe that the misreporting is widespread." But a survey by Inside Higher Ed last fall suggests that even admissions directors are skeptical of the reporting, with 91 percent of those surveyed saying believe they believe there's more misreporting than has been identified.
Of course, some colleges resist the pressure to pump up admissions numbers. Doing so is unusual enough that it attracts notice and media write-ups.
Boston College made "a strategic decision" this cycle to raise the admissions bar by adding an essay. It got the expected drop in applications — and a recent write-up in the New York Times. A handful of others, including Ursinus College, have done the same. In addition to requiring essays again, they dropped the fast app.
But for many other colleges, what's been called the admissions "arms race" is on — with these strategically achieved statistics as the scoreboard.




3 years ago

The American university "business" is far more mature than the Indian education "industry". It's just a matter of time before our own Indian institutions start copying (and improving!) these tactics.


P M Ravindran

In Reply to jaykayess 3 years ago

While american universities just look at the business prospects of education in India there is more to it than meets the eye. Ask A K Antony, our present Defence Minister, why he renegaded on his promise, as the CM of Kerala, of 50 pc seats in self financing professional colleges to be filled up as per norms of govt colleges.

Foseco India reports disappointing results; net profit down 16% year-on-year

Difficult industry conditions and lower sales led to disappointing results of the Pune-based foundry company

Foseco India reported 11% lower year-on-year (y-o-y) net sales for the current quarter ended March 2013, at Rs55.86 crore, when compared to the Rs63.04 crore for the same period last year. Its operating profit dipped 15% y-o-y while net profit for the quarter ended 31 March 2013 declined 16% y-o-y to Rs5.81 crore.

During the last two quarters, the company witnessed negative sales growth, declining 4% in the December 2012 quarter and 11% in the March 2013 quarter. The three quarter sales growth average is -4%. Its three quarter y-o-y operating profit growth is worse, at -27% but the company cushioned the downfall with operating profit for the quarter dipping 15%. Despite this, the company has maintained its net profit, which has in fact increased on a quarter-to-quarter basis. The company’s market capitalisation is valued at nearly 8 times its operating profit while the return on networth is an impressive 23%, for a mid-sized enterprise.

Pune-based Foseco India has a portfolio of over 400 complex products, including resins, coatings, feeding systems, ferrous and non-ferrous metal treatment products and additives. Integrated steel plants and foundries are among the company’s clients. The foundry industry has been going to a cyclical phase and some of the products depend on automotive sector which is going through a difficult time. The company exports its products mainly to the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Kenya, Ghana, Bangladesh, Singapore and Taiwan.

The board of directors of the company has declared an interim dividend of Rs1.50 per equity share of Rs10.

You can read other company reports here:


Power generation at cross-roads: Strong action needed from the government

It is time that the government announces a more lenient policy towards power related programmes. Why not give the oil and gas exploration industry a free hand instead of creating stumbling blocks?

It is common knowledge that power is in short supply. The public is also aware that the path to increase production of power is full of potholes, government hurdles, creation of unnecessary and avoidable intermediary clearances and the actual time frame required before power can be generated. Meantime, the demand for power grows by leaps and bounds.


Take the primary source of coal supplies needed to generate this power. The monopoly, Coal India, through its various mining units obtains coal of various grades. These, or at least a substantial portion, lie at the pit heads due to transport logistics. The Indian Railways is unable to move all the coal mined and deliver it to the required sites.


Why can’t we have power generating plants at the vicinity of coal production areas is still a mystery and no one has bothered to comment or shown willingness to set up such a unit.  Why not induce and encourage the concerned state governments to take the responsibility of setting up such power plants to make their own state self-sufficient or become a surplus producer, willing to pass the power generated to the neighbouring states?


Indigenous coal is insufficient to meet the national demand resulting in imports from various countries at higher prices. These have different grades in terms of caloric value, naturally higher in price as compared to their indigenous counterparts, and the coal price pooling arrangement proposed is not acceptable to all. Besides, this procedure is also not considered a panacea to our problems. The tug-of-war between NTPC and Coal India does not appear to be anywhere near an amicable solution.


According to media reports, efforts by Coal Secretary, SK Srivastava, to settle the payment dispute between two CMDs, Narasing Rao of Coal India and Arup Roy Chowdhury of NTPC is likely to affect the consumers, though Rao's offer to have a third party quality inspection at mines for determining the caloric value looks reasonable; but to expect this matter to be resolved in the next few months, so as to permit the system to be in place is not acceptable.  Why not appoint an arbitrator and set a time frame of 30/60 days to settle the issue?


Why this inordinate delay in FSAs and what is is preventing the government to give clear-cut directives on these matters?


In the meantime, two significant events have come to light that in the very near future may help to reduce the tension in power generation area.


Press reports indicate that, at last, Reliance Industries has got some good news emanating from its D-6 block. Preliminary reports suggest that, indeed, gas has been found in the D-6 block, but this is too early to predict the outcome as several site tests will have to be carried before the potential can be ascertained.


With the assurance of the petroleum ministry that the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) will conduct only an ‘audit’ as per the production sharing agreement, there is apparent enthusiasm at RIL that work will be carried without much hindrance and there is a glimmer of hope that all the four satellite fields, coupled with R-series discovered in the D6 block may yield up to 30 mmscmd additionally.


By a sheer coincidence, Cairn India has struck fresh oil in the Barmer block in Rajasthan.  This joint venture with ONGC had originally surrendered area in this block which, now they want to re-explore, which appear to have potential.


Cairn presently produces 175,000 barrels per day and feels that the basin and has the potential to increase it to 300,000 bpd.  But this will be only possible when government clearances are obtained to carry out the exploration work aggressively, bearing in mind that the time-frame to achieve this target would still be around three years.


It is time now that the government announces a more lenient policy towards such power related programmes.  Why not give the oil and gas exploration industry a free hand instead of creating stumbling blocks?


(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)


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