No longer a ‘safety school’

With record applications pouring in almost every year, the University is becoming more selective.

No longer a ‘safety school’

Tyler Gieseke

More applications from prospective University of Minnesota students are rolling in than ever before, which has helped push the University to become a more selective institution.

Record numbers of applicants to the University have poured in nearly every year for the past decade, and administrators are embracing the trend, saying it allows the school to accept more elite students.

“We’re in a different league than we were before,” said Bob McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education. “Over the last 20 years, we’ve shifted from what I would call a safety school … to a destination for high-quality students.”

The University received more than 44,500 freshman applications for fall 2014, McMaster said, which is more than two and a half times the number it received in 2003.

Over time, the larger applicant pool has allowed the school to admit more students with exceptional academic records, McMaster said, but students who would have been accepted in the past are now getting boxed out.

The average ACT score for a freshman enrolled at the University in 2003 was slightly below a 25. In fall 2013, it was nearly 28.

Evan Jobin, an incoming biology freshman who scored a 27 on his ACT, said the upward trend in applications will allow University admissions officials to admit a class of focused and capable students. However, he said it could be worrisome for students who might really want to attend the University and don’t have the high test scores that are now required.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” he said.

The University’s acceptance rate has tightened in the past 10 years, falling from about 74 percent in 2004 to just 44 percent last fall.

At the same time, the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll at the University has dropped over that time — a trend that McMaster attributes to admitting more highly competitive students who have many college options.

“We’re competing for better and better students,” he said. “I think we should be very proud.”

But McMaster said all students should have access to higher education and he thinks the state provides that opportunity through options like the University’s coordinate campuses and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, which includes schools like Minnesota State University-Mankato and St. Cloud State University.

Jobin said MnSCU colleges are a popular option among high school graduates, largely because they’re less expensive and easier to get accepted to.

Still, enrollment in MnSCU colleges is down, said Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, who chairs the House’s higher education committee.

“We’re going to be looking at declining enrollment as a potential issue for 2015 in higher education,” he said.

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler said he wasn’t concerned about the institution’s growing selectivity and said it could encourage high school students in the state to earn higher marks.

“This needs to be an aspirational place for good students in Minnesota,” he said.

Waiting for a drop in applications

Although the University’s admissions efforts have recently expanded, officials are expecting the decade-long growth in applications to taper off.

The number of Midwestern high school graduates has waned over the past few years, McMaster said, so it was somewhat surprising that the number of applications reached another record high this year.

“We’re always waiting for the shoe to drop,” he said.

But in the meantime, recruitment efforts have ramped up.

The University has extended its search for students to both of the country’s coasts, and students receive information tailored to their specific interests as part of their college search process, said Rachelle Hernandez, associate vice provost for enrollment management and director of admissions, in an email interview.

Jobin said during his college search, he went on a tour of the University in which he learned specifically about the school’s biology and pre-med programs.

He said he also considered going to Saint John’s University in Minnesota and Loyola University Chicago, but he eventually chose the University of Minnesota because he wanted to meet a lot of new people and experience a large college.

“I definitely think it’s one of the best schools in the country,” he said.