Despite hard economic times, college admissions are on the rise

Recession? What recession?

At top area colleges, applications for admission are actually up, despite continuing economic stagnation at the national level.

At Georgetown University, for example, freshmen applications for fall 2012 admissions were up 5 percent from 2011, according to spokesperson Rachel Pugh.

Earlier this week, Theresa Sullivan, the president of the University of Virginia, where move-in kicks off Friday, said the college had received a record number of applications — 28,200 — and accepted 3,416, or 12.1 percent of first-year students. (This compares with 34,302 students applying to Harvard, with an acceptance rate of 5.9 percent.)

Colleges tend to admit applicants from their waiting lists based on calculations of how many students who are initially committed ultimately forfeit their deposits, according to Jim Miller, coordinator of enrollment research at the University of Wisconsin — Superior.

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Since the 2008 economic meltdown, “no shows” have been a sign of hard economic times. They had increased in many colleges as families ran into financial difficulties. But the top colleges are finding that even their no-show numbers dropped this year.

Ms. Pugh said no-shows at Georgetown were 10 percent less compared with 2011.

At American University, according to insiders, expected no-shows showed up after all last week — in numbers larger than anticipated. But the university had in the meantime filled the anticipated vacancies with students from the waiting list, resulting in some overcrowding in the dorms — and irate parents.

The intake of international students has likewise risen, reaching an all-time high of 214,490 in 2010-11, reported the International Institute of Education in its annual Open Doors Report. The increase was 4.7 percent above 2010 enrollment. Students from China topped the list with 23 percent of the total, continuing a recent trend.

Students from Brazil also showed a sharp increase, reflecting the economic progress in that country.

But the positive numbers from elite schools appear to be outliers. More disquieting trends have emerged at the other end of the spectrum, where U.S. colleges are beginning to see a drop in the demand for freshman places as high tuition costs and financial problems force families to think twice about taking on the burden of paying for their children’s higher education.

The Arlington-based National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) reports that 375 colleges find themselves this year with vacant places: Last year, the figure was 279.

“We are seeing the beginnings of a cool down,” said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

According to a new, nationwide survey of 1,600 families by the international market research firm Ipsos, the average amount that American families are spending on their children’s college this year was 5 percent less than in 2011, as “more families report making their college decisions based on the cost they can afford to pay.”

Ipsos reports that families are taking 22 percent less out of savings than last year to pay for college, and 4 percent less from their current income.

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