Admissions Office Aiming for Larger Class of 2020

North Bennett

While the story of college admissions is always a hectic one, this year’s admissions tale for Whitman College is especially frenzied. After falling short of its enrollment goals for this year’s incoming class, the college cannot comfortably afford another year of low student yield and has thus made many efforts to boost enrollment for next year.

Last year’s enrollment problems resulted from a variety of interconnected factors within the admissions process. While the Admissions Office does not know exactly what went awry last year, they did notice a few trends.

“It’’s difficult to pinpoint any specific factor that led to lower enrollment last year. We do know that our yield was particularly low among students who did not qualify for financial aid last year. We also know that the response from waitlisted students last year was lower than it had been historically. In the past we have been able to rely on using the waitlist to fill any open spots in the incoming class, but that strategy did not work as well as we expected last year,” said Director of Admissions Adam Miller in an email to The Pioneer.

Whitman’s budget allots money each year to handle the unpredictable nature of enrollment. However, the contingency funds could not cover the substantial financial impact of last year’s low student yield. According to Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Peter Harvey, the drop in tuition revenue forced to College to dip into other funds.

“We do keep some other money in reserve for bigger surprises, and this year’s was a pretty big surprise, and we had to use a little bit of that, but most of it got covered by the contingency [funds],” said Harvey.

In an effort to avoid depleting reserves further, the College decided to admit about 250 more students than usual and amp up its recruitment efforts. They offered free flights for about 200 promising applicants to visit campus, had faculty, students and alumni board members reach out to accepted students and also sent early hints of admission to promising applicants. The college additionally boosted most merit scholarships by about a thousand dollars per eligible student for this year.

Dean of Admissions Tony Cabasco hopes these measures will put Whitman back on track to grossing regular enrollment numbers.

“Our goal this year is to enroll 435 new students, first years and transfers. That’s…to help make up for the shortfall. And based on our modeling, if we’re successful with this first-year class doing that, we’ll get enrollment back up to where we need it to be and then next year we can get back to hopefully in that 410, 415, 420 range…We’ll go back to a more regular sized entering class for Whitman,” said Cabasco.

Importantly, the Admissions Office is not blindly probing through the dark, hoping to stumble upon the perfect incoming class. Each year, they hire a consultant that works with a collection of private colleges like Whitman to help guide them through modeled analysis.

“We provide them a lot of data…a lot of demographic data, financial aid data, and then they have a pretty sophisticated model they run,” said Cabasco, “They can run through their model and say, “Okay, given all this we predict that you’ll enroll X number of students and here’s how much financial aid you’ll spend. So we can look at the details of that and adjust things as needed.”

The Admissions Office makes adjustments on the margins of the admitted class based on the recommendations of the consultant’s models. Cabasco said that this year, for example, the Admissions Officers changed the admitted student pool by about 150 students to  secure a class that the College can afford.

However, this fancy modeling can only go so far. Humans act unpredictably, especially when they are young and facing life-changing, time sensitive decisions. The Admissions Office must always accept some level of uncertainty.

“Every year when we look at each group of students, there’s always the possibility that you’ll miss your target, because we are essentially trying to predict the behaviors of seventeen year-olds. This all comes down to how good are you at relying on the decision making skills of seventeen year-olds. ” said Cabasco.