Doonesbury foresaw the trend 20 years ago: Desperate to counteract falling enrollment, colleges are admitting students who haven't applied, reports Susan H. Greenberg for Inside Higher Ed.
"Direct admissions" boosts applications -- but not enrollment -- at four-year colleges and universities, according to a new large-scale study.
Half of 32,000 students who'd used the Common App in 2021-22 received an admissions offer and fee waiver; the rest were the control group, Greenberg reports. "Six higher ed institutions — a mix of public and private, and varying in size and location — participated, setting their own GPA threshold for automatic admission somewhere between 2.5 and 3.3."
Direct admissions recipients were 2.7 percentage points more likely to apply to any college or university: Application rates rose more for low-income, first-generation and underrepresented minority groups. But there was little or no difference in enrollment. Almost certainly, it's the money.
At Virginia's George Mason University, 200 students accept the offer of direct admission, but only 32 enrolled, said Alan Byrd, director of admissions. “When they received their bills in July, they realized that Mason wasn’t affordable for them.”
Direct admissions are the future for open-admissions, low-cost institutions, such as community colleges, says Mary Churchill, director of the higher education administration program at Boston University. “Many states now offer free community college. The biggest advantage of direct admission is the demystification of the application process, and for the population that wasn’t already planning to apply to college, it’s a life-changing moment. Because they now know that it’s a possibility in their future.”
Idaho, which began offering direct admissions in 2015, has seen enrollment rise in community colleges, reports Emma Davis on EdSurge.
Of course, encouraging students to try college is a positive only if they can pass their classes. But community college students usually don't borrow, so the cost of failure is low.