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Sewanee, Ursinus and their bold moves: Q. A trend? A. Probably not yet.

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This week the New York Times covered two very interesting developments in the world of college admissions/enrollment management.  First, it was Ursinus “opting out” of the admissions frenzy. Next, it was Sewanee slashing its price by 10%. Both of these efforts deserve the recognition they’ve received and I admire the message both are sending to students, and others. Their efforts are particularly noteworthy in an environment that often sees institutions wait until their chief competitor does what they’ve always wanted to do.

I say good for Sewanee and Ursinus—and any others who might boldly follow.

However (and there has to be a however), I will be watching with great interest to see what happens.

Let’s take the Ursinus case first.

OK, they’ve identified that many of the applications they receive are simply noise in the system. I get it and understand the plight (full disclosure—I use a fast application program for segments of my pool). Their approach is to seek the cylinder within the funnel and work to improve yield. I applaud their approach and suspect they will see improvements in yield if they are working with a pool that has greater interest.

But, the last time I checked bond raters and Board are interested in “demand,” “selectivity” and “yield.” (Oh, and within the last ten years US News eliminated the yield factor because is advantaged all of those ED schools out there). The Ursinus case will be a great test of whether or not bond raters and Board really do care about the size of the applicant pool and selectivity. Again, conventional wisdom has always been that we do this (grow our pool to become more selective) because we are forced to do so. Let’s stayed tuned and see what happens at Ursinus. I am rooting for them.

Sewanee’s move is equally bold—cutting its$46,000 price by 10%. I say, WOW!

Now, let’s be honest about this though The University of the South is not the first college to cut its price. We’ve seen this happen periodically (examples include North Park University, Eureka and Muskigum). I think jury is out on the long-term success for the trailblazers in this area.

However, I do think this is probably the most selective and highest profile place to do so.  My good friend, conventional wisdom, has always dismissed this idea previously. It’s always been perceived to be a short-lived strategy that doesn’t pay off over the long-haul.

Will Sewanee prove us all wrong? Can lowering the price (and aid) work in the “new economy?” The argument against this has always been that a college loses revenue on those who have the ability to pay more than what is charged, while the college maintains the “liability” for the very needy in the pool. Many believe this compounds this issue for tuition-driven colleges. As an enrollment professional and watcher of all of these things I have the following questions: Can Sewanee grow? Will they make up lost revenues by increasing enrollment? Can they maintain a commitment to access for those with fewer resources? Will diversity suffer? Will their academic profile slip because they are reducing non-need-based aid? Is this part of a long-term strategy or a one-shot deal to “right-size” their price in the marketplace? Lots of questions, for which they probably have answers.

I must say, I admire Ursinus and Sewanee for their moves in an uncertain environment. From where I sit, because of the uncertainty, they could not have picked a better time to give these things the old school try.

Thoughts anyone?

Kent Barnds

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1 Comment

  1. Zachary George says:

    Kent- it seems that at this time, colleges like to make their “big announcements”. DePaul is test optional- Chronicle of Higher Education, Feb. 17th. Grinnell has 1 in 10 applicants from China- The New York Times, Feb. 12th. Grinnell (ironically enough) is also featured nicely on the Today Show for a segment called Inside Higher Education- February 16th.

    It’s obvious that moves like these, and those with Sewanee and Ursinus, come at a pivotal time of year, placing them in front pages of headlines and causing a buzz on blogs across the country. We all look for that thing that separates us from other institutions, and perhaps a front page headline is just the thing? Just my observations.

    I know a lot of us in the profession will be carefully following both Sewanee and Ursinus as they both step out of the arms race. My hope is that it wasnt just for the front page attention, and that they stick to their goal in the long run.

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