Colleges continue to struggle to fill classes

  • Around 450 U.S. colleges still have spots to fill in their incoming class past the traditional May 1 admissions decision deadline, according to data compiled annually by the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC). That marks a continued increase over previous years in the number of colleges listed by NACAC as of May 1.
  • The full range of institutions — two- and four-year, private and public nonprofits — are in the mix, MarketWatch notes. In addition to seats, many are offering financial aid and housing and say they can accept transfers.
  • Some institutions are on the list because they have rolling admissions while others are fending off demographic declines, according to MarketWatch.

Dive Insight:

NACAC’s list is primarily a tool for students still seeking a spot at a college, offering an unofficial lineup of the schools that have space. It also shows the scope of the growing struggle among some types of colleges to fill their classes by May 1.

Many say they need until June 1 or July 1 to do so, according to a survey out last fall from Inside Higher Ed. Of nearly 500 administrators surveyed, 38% said they had filled their classes by May 1. It was the third-straight year in which fewer than 40% of respondents said they had met that goal.  

Not all colleges are struggling to fill spots, however. A recent surge in applications to public doctoral universities contributed to 54% of those administrators saying they made the May 1 deadline, Inside Higher Ed reported, compared to 27% of administrators at public master’s and bachelor’s institutions and 26% at community colleges who said the same. Historically, this has not been a strong priority for two-year institutions and colleges with rolling admissions, the publication noted.

That data also puts into perspective the hype over elite institutions’ ultra-low acceptance rates. In a recent review of 1,364 four-year colleges and universities, the Pew Research Center found that just “17 admitted fewer than 10% of applicants in 2017.” That group includes Stanford and Harvard universities. Meanwhile, more than half of the reviewed institutions admitted at least two-thirds of their applicants that year.

One factor making yield rates difficult for institutions to predict is that prospective students are applying to more colleges, according to Pew, though it cautions that the reason for the increase is not the use of the Common App, which makes it easier to apply to more schools.

Even with incoming classes filled, colleges still must ensure students show up on the first day of class. After all, around one-third of high school graduates who plan to head to college don’t end up enrolling, according to data cited by the U.S. Department of Education.

In response, institutions are using a variety of tactics to slow that summer melt, including “nudges” in the form of digital alerts that remind incoming students of critical deadlines and offer guidance around financial aid resources.

This summary was published by Education Dive. The author, Hallie Busta can be followed on Twitter with this link: Twitter