Changes mark the Class of '10

By Matthew Stone

A lower percentage of students with financial need, a marked jump in the number of athletes, and a greater percentage of students of color have set this fall’s first-year class apart from others in recent memory.The class of 2010 is the first to have been admitted under the college’s new need-aware admissions system, through which admissions officers considered applicants’ ability to pay tuition in making their acceptance decisions.

As a result, 66.9 percent of this fall’s 501 first-year students received need-based aid awards, down from 70.1 percent in the class of 2009 and 70 percent in the class of 2008.

“It’s clearly a bit of a decrease,” said Lorne Robinson, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid.

The switch to need-aware admissions followed a contentious debate in the fall of 2004 that pitted administrators against a group of students who organized against the change. Students alleged that the college was abandoning its commitment to access to low-income students. Administrators held that the college could not afford to continue admitting students on a need-blind basis.

The Board of Trustees voted in favor of the change in January 2005.

Ability to pay tuition was a consideration in approximately five percent of admissions decisions for the first-year class, Robinson said. That factor came into play only in the final round of deliberations as the admissions committee molded the class to its desired profile.

“As we’re zeroing in on that, we also had to watch the financial aid budget and tailor to that,” Robinson said.

The college budgeted $25.1 million for financial aid this year with approximately $7 million designated for incoming students. The average need-based award for domestic first-years, $25,653, covered 66 percent of the $39,020 comprehensive cost. Awards for last year’s domestic freshmen averaged $23,862, or nearly 65 percent of the comprehensive cost, then $36,500, financial aid documents show.

According to budget figures, the college’s expected overall tuition discount rate–the percentage of total tuition covered by financial aid–dipped by a percentage point to 44 percent from 45 percent the previous three years. The decrease in discount rate has been a stated objective of the transition to need-aware admissions.

The admissions office did not apply the need-aware system to all applicant groups.

Students of color, who make up 19.2 percent of the first-year class, were exempt, as were students accepted under the college’s early decision program. Robinson said the college sought to reduce overall financial need in this applicant group and “tipped in” some applicants with low financial need who may not have otherwise qualified for the early decision pool.

Robinson told The Mac Weekly in February that some high-ranking athletes would potentially be exempt from need-aware admissions. In an interview Tuesday night, Robinson said: “That’s actually never been guaranteed.”

If the admissions committee ever came to a point at which it would consider denying a high-ranking athlete admission because of high financial need, “we certainly would try not to do that,” Robinson said.

Whatever the effect of need-aware admissions, Vice President of Student Affairs Laurie Hamre called this fall’s first-years “one of the more diverse” groups.

Nineteen percent of first-year students are students of color, compared to 16 percent of Macalester students overall.

According to Hamre, 380 first-year students participated in high school athletics, a jump from 309 in the class of 2009. The class’ athletic makeup adds to the diversity, Hamre said.

“We’re continually trying to create a diverse population here,” she said.

Travis Feezell, beginning his second year as Director of Athletics, attributed the jump in athletes to “a successful recruiting year, both in terms of quantity and quality.”

Under new management, the football team’s roster, for example, has jumped to 51 players, up from 28 last fall, Feezell and Hamre said.

The coming construction of a new athletic facility to replace the aging fieldhouse is likely figuring into such recruiting conversations.

“I’m sure it comes up in the first ten minutes of conversation,” Feezell said. “My guess would be there’s a correlation. Clearly, it’s been part of the conversation.”

The result of more athletes, Feezell said, is not only stronger athletic teams–for which he predicted 110 new first-year athletes–but more enthusiasm overall for the Scots.

“I think what you get in terms of the institution is a group of participants rather than watchers,” Feezell said, noting the “phenomenal student crowds” he saw at sporting events last week. “I think that brings an interesting quality to the class.”

Hamre said that although the college did not set a goal to recruit a “more athletic class,” increased numbers of athletes can aid the college in meeting another goal–attracting more males to campus at a time when their test scores are falling behind their female counterparts’.

“Many of the schools like us are having a very difficult time recruiting males,” Hamre said.

The class of 2010 is 44 percent male compared to 42 percent of the student body overall.

Without an overt institutional goal to attract more of them, why are more athletes arriving at a division three college with some historically laggard teams?

Robinson noted stronger and better organized recruiting efforts by athletic staff this past admissions process than he has seen in previous years.

“The coaches give us input in much the same way as a music teacher would give us input on an audition,” Robinson said. “The coaches are probably a lot more active and aggressive.”

Feezell described coordination between athletics and the admissions office as “a relationship of communication.”

“I think there is an interest in our needs from admissions,” he said. “I think they’ve been fantastic.