Economy seen behind shifts in college application numbersby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
Applications are up at the U of M and state colleges and universities, while applications are down somewhat at the state's private colleges for the fall semester. The economy is one big reason. But the full effect of the economy on college applications and enrollment may not become apparent until the following academic year, in 2010.
St. Paul, Minn. — There are seats for only 5,350 students in this fall's freshman class at the University of Minnesota. Applicants however, far exceed that number.
"The Twin Cities campus has received more than 33,000 applications for fall 2009," according to Wayne Sigler, the U of M's admissions director.
That's 4,500 more than last year at this time, a 16 percent increase, Sigler said.
Sigler cites the economy as one of the reasons for the increase. More students and their families are considering the cost of tuition as they make their college decision, he said. A year at the U of M costs about $10,000.
"The cost of the institution is always a major factor for most of us," Sigler said. "I think that's especially going to be important this year given the very difficult economic situation our state and our country is facing."
Officials at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System think that may also be the reason behind an increase in fall applications at their colleges and universities. It costs about $4,500 a year to attend one of the state's community colleges. At a state university, like St. Cloud State, the tuition bill runs around $7,000.
Applications are up eight percent in MnSCU's system. That's a total of 68,700 applications, nearly 5,000 more than last year.
Anoka-Ramsey Community College received 148 more applications for fall classes this year. More people are looking at community and technical colleges as the economy suffers, said Anoka-Ramsey spokeswoman Mary Jacobsen.
"There are so many people being laid off. There's people with some time, and they want to improve their skills," Jacobsen said. "They want to get back to work, they might want to take a computer course to enhance some of their skills, or look into a complete program."
The recession could also be behind a decrease in the application count for Minnesota's private colleges. On average, applications for fall are down 2 percent among the 17 colleges that make up the Minnesota Private College Council.
Private colleges shouldn't worry too much about those numbers, the council's executive director Dave Laird said.
"One or two percent is not a serious deviation from anything," Laird said.
The decrease comes after several years of record application numbers at Minnesota's private colleges, Laird said.
At the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, where tuition runs $26,000 a year, applications are down about 2 percent over last year. But that's still higher than the total from two years ago. Admissions officials are happy about that, especially in this economy.
The real enrollment test may still be looming for colleges, according to Eric Berg, Scholastica's vice president of enrollment management.
"We may have a strong effect and possibly a more negative effect to measure with the fall of 2010 class, than we will for the fall 2009 class," Berg said. "Just because a lot of families are willing to sacrifice still to make sure that students end up where they most wanted to be."
Berg puts less stock in the number of applications colleges receive and is more interested in the number of students who actually attend once they're accepted.
All Minnesota colleges will soon have a better idea of how many students they'll see on campus this fall. May 1st is the deadline at most schools for students to make their intentions known.
- Morning Edition, 04/17/2009, 7:25 a.m.