Economy's effect on admissions uncertain

By David Hertz

The impact of the economy on admissions at Macalester remained unclear as the college sent out admissions decisions this month.Macalester’s admissions pool shrunk by about nine percent, almost 500 students, compared to last year. Macalester also admitted a larger share of the application pool, 46.2 percent, compared to 41.1 percent last year.

The college’s position is not unusual compared to other colleges this year, said Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Lorne Robinson.

Robinson declined to speculate about why Macalester’s application pool decreased, but said the overall decline in applications to small liberal arts colleges probably was related to the economy.

“The small, expensive, liberal arts colleges were down in applications this year,” Robinson said. “The likely explanation may be that we’re expensive. We’re pushing $50,000 a year. That number has to enter people’s consciousness at some point.”

Exactly how this will affect Macalester remains to be seen, Robinson said. Administrators are still waiting to find out by May 1 what this year’s yield, or percent of admitted students who attend the college, will be, and whether students will choose not to attend expensive private colleges.

“That’s a big unknown this year. We really have no good guess. We’ve never had a year like this, in terms of the economy.

“I think what I worry about is the good enough factor. Will students look at another college that may not be as good as Macalester, but it’s $5000 or $10000 a year cheaper, and say, well it’s not Macalester, but its good enough?”

Robinson said he could not comment on whether the college considered students’ financial need more in admission decisions this year as the economy worsens and overall need among college students increases. Since becoming need aware a few years ago, he said, the college looks at applications “with an eye towards bringing in students who will help the financial aid department meet its budget,” but the college does not track what percentage of students are admitted based on need aware decisions every year.

Academically, at least, the economy seems not to have impacted the applicant pool. Test scores were comparable to previous years, with this year’s SAT critical reading and math scores at 710 and 682, compared to 704 and 686 last year.

“It’s still a very strong, academically qualified class,” Robinson said.

Other trends include a continued increase of students from the west coast, with California sending the second most students of any state to Macalester after Minnesota.

The international applicant pool represented a bigger chunk of the pool this year, as the number of international applications remained almost the same while fewer domestic students applied. The percentage of international students admitted rose slightly after the college failed to meet its goal for international applicants last year.