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Saint Mary’s addresses budget cut problems

Angela Saoud | Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Despite a depleted freshman class coupled with enrollment drops at women’s colleges nationwide, Saint Mary’s is confident it will recover from negative admissions trends.Director of Institutional Research Mary Lelik said Saint Mary’s is in the norm as far as declining admissions among the top ten women’s colleges in the country.Of the 10 institutions, eight have experienced declines in the number of entering students between 1999 and 2003, Lelik said. While Wellesley and Barnard experienced the greatest enrollment stability, with five-year declines of only .7 percent and .4 percent respectively, the average decrease in the entering class size for the six remaining colleges that lost enrollment was more than 10 percent.However, while Wellesley and Barnard boast the smallest losses, the two schools also boast the lowest admissions acceptance rates among the top 10 colleges: 47 percent and 34 percent respectively. The acceptance rate for Saint Mary’s is 82 percent.When students apply for college, the yield rate – the number of accepted students who actually choose to attend a given institution – is roughly 30 percent. Traditionally, Saint Mary’s has had a higher yield rate – 49 percent in fall 2003 alone.But this year, it was a different story. Only 36 percent of accepted students committed to Saint Mary’s – higher than the national average but lower than what Saint Mary’s typically experiences. According to Director of Admissions Mary Pat Nolan, a new process the admissions department tried last year caused more applications than ever before to come in, but resulted in a much lower yield.Nolan said the College received 1,269 applications for the class of 2008, the most she had seen in her 21 years here at the College. “Part of [the jump] is due to a new enrollment process we tried last year called the Scholars Advanced Application Program,” Nolan said. “This program sent pre-completed application forms to over 400 students.” Since each application already had a lot of information included, students had to do less work to get their applications back to Saint Mary’s. However, the mailing of these applications did not occur until January, making it fairly late in the game for students who were already interested in other colleges. Of the 969 students accepted to Saint Mary’s, only 350 committed to entering the freshman class. Lelik said the 36 percent yield was, therefore, to be expected. “While this is down from past years, it is because we received more applications and accepted more students than usual,” she said.Nolan said a decision would be made in the next few weeks regarding whether the Scholars Advanced Application Program will continue. According to Lelik, admissions are also down because of the competition for students will other schools.”We have many students who cross apply with other schools, but many of them don’t cross-apply with other schools like us,” Lelik said. “They apply to big public schools like [Indiana University], Purdue, Michigan or Illinois. Or, they apply to a different school of religious affiliation like Notre Dame, DePaul or Marquette. This makes it tough because some of those schools can offer things that we can’t – and at the same time, we can show students what we can offer them that they won’t be able to find elsewhere. There is a higher level of competitiveness among these schools.”The U.S. has only 65 all-women’s colleges and five all male colleges remaining. Lelik and Nolan said that for these institutions, fluctuations in admissions are a normal occurrence. “There is going to be a little bouncing around the admissions numbers scale when dealing with colleges,” Lelik said. “For example, St. Catherine’s admissions are up this year, but largely because they appeal to a different crowd than we do. They appeal to a regional area, and they have weekend and evening classes to bulk up their admissions. We’re looking at the national level, trying to appeal to people from all over.” Lelik said despite a loss in the number of students, she feels the college will continue to grow and seek students nationally because Saint Mary’s has seen these types of fluctuations before.”Clearly, women’s colleges nationwide struggle with the realities of an increasingly competitive higher education marketplace,” Lelik said. “But in time, these fluctuations will bounce around, eventually landing up.”On average, Nolan said, she and the admissions office workers send mailings to between 24,000 and 26,000 students each year who show interest in Saint Mary’s. Students who receive a mailing, or check a box on the SAT or ACT saying they would like to hear from colleges interested in them, are sent a complete set of Saint Mary’s materials. While many are seniors going through the admissions process, some students start receiving these mailings early on in their high school careers. Saint Mary’s also conducts College Board searches to match certain students who meet the College’s criteria, and does a separate mailing to markets that have traditionally yielded a good field of students. Saint Mary’s representatives also visit high schools in 30 to 35 states and last year they conducted a cold mailing to see what type or response the College would get from the public.