Randall C. Deike, senior vice president for enrollment management and student success at Drexel University, is breathing a little easier these days.
The university this spring overhauled its admission process, adding a $50 application fee and discarding its "VIP fast application," which required neither essays nor recommendations. The move was designed to attract fewer applications but more students who are truly interested. In the past, only eight percent of the students offered admission actually enrolled, an abysmally low yield for a school of Drexel's stature. The school discovered that so many students were applying in the past that some didn't even know what city Drexel is in.
But the move was risky. Would enough students enroll? Would they be of the same or better quality than prior years?
Now, the early results are in.
"Given all the changes, I'm pretty excited about where we are," Deike said.
This year, with about half the applications it had the year before, its overall yield rate climbed to 13.7 percent, Deike said.
And the quality of the class, he said, improved in some ways and stayed the same in others. There was a slight uptick in SAT scores (three points), but more significant boosts in average GPAs (from 3.47 to 3.55) and percentage of international students (from 11.5 to 13.6). About 26 percent of the class comes from low income families as measured by guidelines for federal financial aid, same as last year.
But it looks like the university will have a smaller class than the prior year, Deike said. Last year at this time, more than 3,100 students accepted offers of enrollment, compared to 2,929 this year.
Just how much smaller the class will be depends on a common phenomena known as summer melt. At all schools, some students who initially say they will attend withdraw over the summer.
Drexel last year experienced a melt of about nine percent and ultimately enrolled a freshman class of 2,925, Deike said.
If the same percentage of melt occurs this year, that could lower the incoming class to about 2,670. The university's target was 2,900.
But Deike said he hopes to cut that summer melt to 5 percent by communicating more with students who already are a more interested bunch. And he expects some additional students may enroll.
"We already see evidence that we're doing better," he said.
So, the ultimate number could be closer to 2,800.
Deike emphasized that university officials have planned for the possibility of a smaller class, realizing that there was some risk in making such a major change in admissions in one year.
"We knew that this could happen. Our goal," he said, "was to focus on the long term. We've admitted the students who we believe are the right fit students."
There were some shaky moments. The university greeted 2,600 students at seminars for accepted students this spring, down from 3,600 the year before, he said.
On the positive side, a higher percentage of those students ended up enrolling, Deike said, indicating a more serious group of students - which was the goal. This year, nearly two thirds of those students enrolled compared to 47 percent last year, he said.
Ultimately, he said, Drexel officials believe more of the students who enroll will stay.
"We believe we will see an increase in retention, and that's our primary goal," he said. "We have a much better sense of our applicant pool. These are kids who are really going to be here."
I will check back at the end of the summer to see how things are going.
Also, on the Drexel front, the university announced last month that it would move its merit raises to the beginning of the new calendar year, rather than the beginning of the fiscal year.
The decision is connected to enrollment, Helen Y. Bowman, executive vice president, treasurer and chief financial officer, said in an email to staff.
"Drexel is a tuition-dependent institution, and it makes more sense to base the merit increase pool on actual fall enrollment rather than early projections made in the spring," she said.
The university projects having a two percent merit pool to be awarded in January, she wrote.