Admissions up, applicants down for the Class of 2014

Josh Goodman

A record number of prospective students received the good news that they have been admitted to Whitman this year. In total, the Office of Admission admitted 1,490 of the 3,191 applicants for the class of 2014.

The increase in admitted students, up from last year’s 1,443, comes despite the first dip in applications received since 1995. A record 3,309 students applied last year, though this year is still the second-highest on record. The percent admitted rose from 43.6 percent last year to 46.7 percent for the class of 2014.

Director of Admission Kevin Dyerly attributes the decline in applications to a decreasing number of high school seniors nationwide, as well as economic concerns.

“This year’s dip has to do with families making decisions in the middle of the recession related to their college search and ultimately some students not deciding to pursue Whitman because of cost, whereas a year ago they had already made their decision before the market tanked,” he said.

However, a declining yield, or percentage of admitted students who ultimately enroll, prompted the increased admissions. Dyerly said that Whitman’s growing reputation accounts for those declines.

“Ten years ago we were competing more with a regional peer group in the northwest,” he said. “While we still cross over with the likes of Puget Sound, Lewis and Clark and Willamette, more and more of our admitted students [are deciding between] Stanford and Whitman or Dartmouth and Whitman. We don’t win that one as much as we lose that one.”

Whitman plans to enroll 390 to 395 first-year students this fall, consistent with previous years.

In response to increased economic concerns, for the first time, the Office of Admission  mailed out financial aid awards with admission letters. While a higher percentage of applicants applied for financial aid than in previous years, President Bridges is confident that Whitman’s financial aid system will help the college continue to attract talented applicants during this economic downfall.

“I think parents and family members who are thoughtful about the decisions they make regarding colleges [will] consider the actual cost and less so the stated price of tuition and fees,” he said, referring to the cost families pay after financial aid awards. “Inevitably [high tuition] will probably steer some families away, but given Whitman’s reputation both regionally and nationally, I am not particularly concerned at this juncture.”

Bridges was also unconcerned about the slight decrease in the number of applicants.

“I don’t see evidence of a trend,” he said. “Now, if the decrease continues for three or four years, we will be concerned, but remember also that we’ve reached the end of the baby boom echo. There are fewer students in [college students’] age group than there were before . . . so the picture on applications is unclear.”

Even with slightly fewer applicants, the Office of Admission had no shortage of qualified students to select from. Positions on the waitlist were offered to 565 students, and Dyerly notes that the quality of waitlisted applications is often comparable to those of admitted students.

“We don’t get a lot of fluff in our applicant pool,” said Dyerly. “There are so many colleges and universities out there who, especially in this economic climate, are struggling to make a class and are admitting everyone they can. We could go another 550 to 600 students and not sacrifice quality almost at all.”

Now that students have been admitted, the Office of Admission is focusing on getting them here. That includes Admitted Students Day on April 17, phone calls and the added touch this year of handwritten notes by admissions officers and A-Team members.

For Dyerly, that makes this one of his favorite times of the year.

“These are the fun conversations. They’ve been admitted. They’re not worried about the whole mystery of the admissions process of ‘Will I get in?’ Now it’s the time to go and recruit them and see if they’ll be a future Whittie come August.”