VAIL VALLEY, Colorado " As high school students in Colorado's Vail Valley experience the first major recession of their lifetimes, the thought of going to college can become a far-off dream for some.
Colleges are seeing differences in their applicant pools, and they're also changing acceptance criteria and procedures. Community colleges like Colorado Mountain College are seeing big spikes in enrollment, as the schools are generally the most inexpensive option for students looking to go to college.
When a lot of the bad economic news was surfacing earlier this year, the Vail-Eagle Valley campus of Colorado Mountain College had a 25 percent increase in enrollment for credit courses, said Peggy Curry, the school's dean.
"It was incredible," she said.
This year was an interesting year for college admissions, said Jan Abbott, a guidance counselor at Battle Mountain High School.
There are more students graduating from high school than ever, making college admissions more competitive. Throw in a struggling economy and there are a lot of wrinkles in the process, she said.
"Credit is tight, student loans are harder to get," Abbott said. "Even on a local basis, some local family foundations (that have given scholarships to local students in the past) are not giving this year."
Students have to commit to the schools they're going to attend by May 1. That's the date many also require a deposit.
"At this point I think (students) are having some pretty frank conversations with their parents," Abbott said. "They have to sit down and say, 'If I go to this college, I'm going to graduate with x amount of student loans, as opposed to another college where I can graduate with maybe no loans. Those are some of the hard issues they have to deal with."
Dual-credit courses, courses that students take in high school that earn them college credits at the same time, are a smart way to go for students with concerns about paying for college. Eagle County high school students can graduate with as many as 30 college credits, eliminating an entire year of college tuition.
The Eagle County School District pays Colorado Mountain College the tuition for the dual-credit courses each year " taking the classes is like getting a year of college free, Abbott said.
"I'm not sure they realize the value of those dual-credit classes and what that could be worth," she said. "We're really trying to encourage kids to take as many as they can. It's like free money."
The school district paid about $90,000 for the courses this year. And because the community colleges get together with four-year universities, the credits for these courses are almost guaranteed to transfer. Abbott said she's seeing most private universities also accepting the transfer credits too.
Abbott also said she sees a new trend in private universities wait-listing more students because the schools aren't as sure about the number of accepted students who will actually attend, known as the "yield of students." Those students could end up choosing a less expensive option, so schools' yields are much less predictable this year, she said.
The University of Denver, a private school, had a 29 percent increase in applicants this year as of this week. The school had a 90 percent increase in international applications.
While the University of Denver had a decrease in endowments like many schools had this year, the school is in good shape financially, said Jim Berscheidt, spokesman for the school.
The school plans to release more information about additional financial aid options for students and parents soon, he said.
The University of Colorado at Boulder is having a tough time figuring out which changes in its applicant pool are due to the economy versus the new admissions procedures it rolled out this year, said Kevin MacLennan, director of admissions.
The school went from a rolling admission process, meaning it accepted qualified students as it received their applications, to an early action process where it waits to receive a number of applications by a certain date and then selects the best ones from the entire pool.
It's a more selective process that tends to weed out applications from less serious students, MacLennan said, so it's hard to tell how much of the dip in applications is because of that.
University of Colorado's resident applications were down about 6 percent this year, and out-of-state applications are down about 19 percent, he said.
Even with the decline, University of Colorado had the second highest number of applicants in its history this year " last year was the record.
"The bigger drop in out-of-state applicants guides me to think there's an economic factor," MacLennan said.
Abbott said she suspects some universities are looking at a student's ability to pay as part of the acceptance process. MacLennan said University of Colorado doesn't look at any financial data when accepting students, and Berscheidt wouldn't comment on the University of Denver's acceptance procedures.
Abbott said it will be interesting to see what students decide by the May 1 commitment date.
"It's just a really unique year," she said. "Nobody knows."
Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org