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College-Bound Students Turn Admissions Tables

Daily Staff Report
Special to the DailyColden King and Jarron French
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College-bound high school seniors have fretted for months about which four-year schools will accept them. Now it is the admissions officers’ turn to sweat.

Although colleges have gotten more sophisticated in predicting how many of the applicants they admit will show up in the fall, administrators endure high anxiety until just after May 1, the commitment deadline for incoming freshmen at many schools.

When a college’s enrollment falls short ” costing the school revenue, not to mention academic talent ” “admissions deans are on the carpet,” said Richard H. Shaw, Stanford University’s dean of admission and financial aid. “Careers have been made and broken on this basis.”

On the other hand, if too many freshmen decide to attend, the result often is overcrowded classrooms and a race to come up with enough housing.

And forecasting incoming freshman classes has grown harder lately because the most academically competitive students are applying to more and more schools.

What’s more, administrators at four-year schools worry each year about students being scared off at the 11th hour by a natural disaster or another episode, such as the violence that erupted in late April 1992 following the Rodney King verdict.

“Every now and then, you wake up in the middle of the night and wonder what’s next?” said Bruce Poch, dean of admissions at Pomona College.

After the riots of 1992, Poch said, he received calls from families from other parts of the country who complained, ” `We sent in the deposit. We want our money back. I don’t want my kid going anywhere near Los Angeles.’

”Whatever predictors we had,” Poch said, ”got tossed out the window.”

This year, admissions experts said, the outlook is particularly uncertain for New Orleans schools damaged by Hurricane Katrina and for Duke University, whose reputation has suffered amid news of an alleged rape of an exotic dancer by members of the school’s lacrosse team.

To minimize unwelcome surprises, college administrators and their consultants have turned calculating yield rates ” the percentage of accepted students who enroll ” into something of a science.

It is a little-known fact of college admissions that schools typically accept many more students than they can take, knowing that most of them won’t enroll. So they rely on their yield rate predictions to determine how many students to admit.

For instance, schools such as the University of California, Berkeley and UCLA have seen their yield rates hover at about 40 percent in recent years. As a result, they accept more than twice as many freshman as they can accommodate, on the assumption that more than half of those students will choose to go elsewhere.

This year, UCLA has accepted 12,094 prospective freshmen for the fall and is aiming for a class of 4,625.

Thomas Lifka, UCLA’s assistant vice chancellor for student academic services, said his campus and other large universities often have more flexibility with yield than their counterparts at other types of institutions.

Big research universities with substantial government funding do not lean as heavily on tuition for their operating budgets. Also, the sheer numbers of admitted students mean that being off by 100 or more in the annual yield is not a disaster.

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