By Mike Sherr
The Signal met with President Kathryn Foster on March 1 to discuss several topics regarding the spring 2023 semester, including acceptance rates and diversity.
Historically, the low admission rates at the College have been a selling point to prospective students. Being conscious of how many students are being admitted is vital to national rankings which affects the College’s perceived prestige. It is also important to be conscious of the makeup of the student body to create an inclusive environment for every student. With the class of 2027 almost solidified, President Kathryn Foster is focusing on these issues that affect the future of the College.
Admission rates at the College have gone up. 49% of applicants were accepted for the fall 2019 semester and 64% for the fall 2022 semester. This increase, however, is not entirely due to an influx of first-year students.
“When [the pandemic] came, the number of applications dropped,” Foster told The Signal. “Even though we accepted the same number of students…the acceptance rate shot up.”
Aa an important factor for any college or university, admission rates could indicate the standard of education at an institution. The College has prided itself in how selective admissions are, but is unable to control admission rates as long as there is a desired number of students to admit.
“It’s not a conscious choice,” Foster said. “We’ve always had relatively low acceptance rates, and they still are relatively low.”
“This year our applications are back up again, so you will probably see that acceptance rates will fall when [we] report them in the fall,” Foster added. “The question for all of us is whether this is a two year [Covid-19] blip or is this a new norm, and we just don’t have that information right now.”
According to Foster, the College is focusing more on “where [they] want to land” in relation to the number of applications. Part of this involves the College’s marketing, including advertisements on billboards and on the sides of buses.
“Part of it is to be visible…to make sure that people are aware of us,” Foster said.
Being more visible may not be enough for the College to raise application rates, however. A 2023 report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that while national fall 2022 college enrollment numbers increased, there is still a larger declining trend among all undergraduate institutions.
“It is a declining market,” Foster said. “There are fewer 18-year-olds today than 15 years ago.”
To combat this decline in national undergraduate enrollment, the College plans to grow its graduate programs. This can relieve some of the pressure of having a traditional number of students in a first-year class. If not enough students apply to the College one year, tuition may have to be raised in order to continue operating sustainably.
“[A student in] the ‘+1 program’ is still a student here, but it is a student who has already gone through a program,” Foster explained. “[We want to] replace the pressure on the ‘funnel,’ and put it on these other markets.”
Traditionally, according to Foster, the fastest way to sustain a college financially is to continuously grow the undergraduate population. The Colleges undergraduate population has been growing steadily at about 1.5% per academic year. With Foster’s plan, the College intends to supplement that growth with increased graduate programs for students to either continue at the College or transfer in from elsewhere.
The College also plans to seek out more transfer students from other institutions and to create partnerships with local high schools to support the student population.
Last month, Foster and Mercer County Community College (MCC) President Deborah Preston signed a renewed agreement to automatically extend an admission to MCC students who apply as long as they have the required GPA. Foster explained that there was a need to reexamine agreements with community colleges to allow for a more seamless transfer to the College.
“Historically, [the College] did not take in many transfer students,” Foster said. “We retain our students at high levels, and if you have a class that comes in and only a few of them leave, there is no room for more transfers.”
The College is also planning on focusing more on “early college” programs, or programs aimed at high school students who can gain college credit for their classes.
Foster intends to create agreements where “professors [will go] into schools like Trenton High or Ewing High and teach courses at the high school level.” This program could lead into high school students starting at the College with some credits already, similar to AP programs.
The College also intends on vetting and training high school teachers who teach advanced courses to certify that those courses are at the college level. If students pass those classes, they could be eligible to leave high school with credits from the College. This may influence high school students to choose to apply to the College over other institutions.
“If the student comes to [the College] those credits could come over with them,” Foster said. “If [the student] goes to another school, like Lafyette, there is no obligation for them to take these credits.”
Foster hopes that already having credits, as well as exposure to professors, will persuade high school seniors to attend the College.
“It’s all recruitment,” Foster said. “We can be introducing ourselves earlier to students at the high school level. It’s all strategy.”
While the College is focusing on sustaining its student body, it is also focusing on becoming a more diverse institution at the same time. When asked about the College being a predominantly white institution, Foster responded by saying, “It is, but increasingly less so.”
“We started at least five years ago saying, ‘let’s consciously say we need to have more diversity,’” Foster said. The College created the Division of Inclusive Excellence after several incidents of racism at the College in 2019.
According to Foster, the class of 2026 is the most racially and ethnically diverse class in the history of the College.
“This first-year class…is about 55% white, down from about 75% in a short number of years,” Foster said. The class of 2025 was similarly described two years ago as the most diverse class in the history of the College.
“That is a conscious part of our strategy and to say that we are a school for all races and ethnicities,” Foster said.
Foster and the College’s administration has been focusing on the gender of its incoming students as well. “This fall was about 57% female-identifying and 43% male-identifying with about 20 students who said ‘I’m not in those categories,’” Foster said.
The College has had issues with data of the student body makeup and is trying to find ways to include more options for students.
“We’re trying to get more precise about the data and reporting but also give people the chance to say: ‘Here is how I identify,” Foster said.
The College takes data when students are admitted but individuals may change their identity over the four years they are at the College.
“I believe there has been progress there, but no one says ‘mission accomplished’ on sense of belonging,” said Foster.
With accepted students day approaching on April 1, it will be interesting to see what the class of 2027 will bring. Admission rates and diversity are important aspects to not only future classes of students but also the College. With the College’s plan to grow and sustain itself, these factors will be focused on to form the future of the College.