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UConn Enjoys 23.1 Percent Surge In Applicants; But Financial Aid Packages Likely Delayed

Officials say Common Application drew in bumper crop of applicants

Kathleen Megan

February 22, 2011

A banner year for the University of Connecticut admissions office has hit a potential snag because of uncertainty over the school's budget.

Applications to UConn soared by 23.1 percent this year because of intensified recruiting and a switch to the Common Application, which makes it easier for high school students to apply, university officials said Tuesday.

Freshman applications this year totaled 28,100 for the combined Storrs and regional campuses, an increase of 5,265. It was the highest percentage increase since 2003, when applications went up 27.5 percent.

"We were expecting maybe a 10 percent increase," said Lee H. Melvin, vice president for enrollment planning and management. "It's been great for us. We just need to manage the workflow."

However, because of uncertainties about the state budget and the implications for UConn, the university is likely to delay making its financial aid offers by a week or two or possibly longer.

The UConn trustees had planned to consider tuition at their meeting Tuesday, but decided to table the discussion, possibly until March 23. Without tuition figures, university admission officials can't calculate financial aid awards. Grants alone totaled $186 million last year for undergraduates.

"I'm not going to make a move on [tuition] until we get exact numbers," Larry McHugh, chairman of the board of trustees, said Tuesday. Last week, the governor proposed a budget that included a 10 percent cut in the block grant for UConn a cut of about $35 million for next year.

Melvin said that a delay on financial aid "does put us at a disadvantage because students and parents are trying to make decisions based on the full financial aid package, and they have to wait for ours."

Ordinarily, financial aid offers go out at the end of March and in early April, Melvin said. He said it was crucial for students to have the offers in hand by April 16 the date of a large on-campus open house for accepted students.

Melvin said the dramatic jump in applications reflects a sharp increase in applicants from out of state. Freshman applicants from out of state for the Storrs campus went up 37.9 percent; the increase for in-state freshman applicants was 6.5 percent.

Melvin said he does not anticipate changing the ratio of in-state to out-of-state students, which has stayed at about 65 percent in-state and 35 percent out-of-state. He noted that admissions standards for out-of-state students are more demanding than those for in-state students.

Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers said that, ordinarily, the switch to a Common Application results in about a 10 percent increase in applicants.

"A 20 percent increase is huge," said Nassirian. "My suspicion is that it is more attributable to how the university is positioned in terms of its offerings and costs. Flagship public institutions are generally viewed as compelling value propositions, particularly in times of economic uncertainty."

Nassirian said that many families that might have sent their students to private colleges are now considering state institutions. A university that offers "world-class teaching at a publicly subsidized cost that is very compelling," he said.

Melvin said the university thought it would be "a good strategic move" to join the Common Application program, which enables students to use the same basic application to apply for any of about 400 schools.

"We wanted to simplify the application process," Melvin said. In addition, when students throughout the country use the Common Application, they see UConn listed along with many other prominent schools in the Northeast.

"It provides us with more visibility with a group of schools, particularly with schools in the Northeast region," he said.

Melvin said the university has been making a particular effort to attract out-of-state students. In the past, he said, guidance counselors at exclusive private and high-achieving public schools in other states have said that students were not interested in UConn, but in recent years that perception has changed.

"We have been networking like crazy," Melvin said. "We really try to sell the university, to get guidance counselors to our campus and we track all this. We are seeing the traction."

Last year, Melvin said, 53 percent of applicants were accepted. The goal is to be more selective possibly driving down the acceptance rate to 49 percent or 48 percent without shrinking enrollment.

Nassirian said that a 20 percent increase in applications doesn't mean the university will become "20 percent more selective."

A huge swell in applications can be like "buying a pig in a poke," Nassirian said. Until the university finds out how many of those admitted students actually enroll, it won't be clear whether the surge reflects serious applicants or students who tossed in an application because it was easier than in the past.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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