SOURCE: NextStudent

May 15, 2008 13:38 ET

College Enrollment Projections Complicated by Increase of 'Stealth Applicants'

PHOENIX, AZ--(Marketwire - May 15, 2008) - A rise in "stealth applicants" -- those students whose first contact with a college is often their computer-generated application -- is interfering with school officials' ability to accurately estimate just how many accepted students will ultimately enroll.

Generally, administrators use the information gleaned from their interaction with potential students on the Web or during information sessions and campus visits to estimate the school's yield rates -- the proportion of accepted students who will choose to attend.

But with an increasing number of stealth applicants, who forgo campus tours and other traditional ways of expressing interest in a school, colleges and universities can no longer rely on an applicant's "demonstrated interest" to gauge enrollment.

In a recent survey of admissions deans and enrollment managers conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education, 41 percent of the 461 college admission officials polled said the number of stealth applicants has increased greatly at their schools over the past 10 years.

Stealth applications have become prevalent, in part, because today's college applicants can easily gather information about their intended schools online, anonymously, without ever talking to an admissions counselor or anyone at the school.

"Students can find you on Google even if they can't find you on a map," one admissions consultant told The Chronicle.

This lack of personal interaction can throw off a school's ability to reasonably project how many students will move from being simply "interested" to actually enrolling, which, in turn, complicates a school's determination of how many students it should accept and of how it should apportion the limited financial aid funds it has available for grants and student loans.

"For colleges that try to bring 100-percent science to the admissions process, it is very disruptive," said Jeff Rickey, dean of admissions and financial aid at Earlham College in Indiana.

An increase in the number of stealth applicants is one reason admissions officers at Earlham have struggled to accurately predict the school's overall yield rate. Over the past 10 years, Earlham's yield rate has fluctuated between 23 percent and 34 percent.

To better account for these "out-of-the-blue" applications that are skewing the long-running standard enrollment formula, some schools, including Earlham, are sending out more acceptance letters. By increasing their potential freshman pool, these colleges and universities hope to avoid lower-than-expected enrollment numbers.

More acceptance letters, however, can mean more students who must be awarded a portion of a school's limited grants, student loans, and other financial aid funds.

Although colleges themselves may have compounded the stealth applicant problem by making it easier for students to apply online on the school's website or through the Common Application -- sometimes without ever registering a user ID, password, or personal profile -- not all admissions officers see that personal freedom as a bad thing.

"Education is a high-priced, intangible product," Rickey said, "and students will make decisions for their reasons, not ours."

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