162 colleges adopt “direct admission” to compete for students

According to the education companies behind the trend, at least 162 colleges and universities have begun accepting students through a “direct admission” process that bypasses applications to attract the best prospects.

The process allows officials to review high school seniors’ electronic profiles and look for perfect matches with scholarship offers, rather than waiting for applications. Supporters say it could help smaller schools recover from COVID-19 closures and connect low-income students with affordable options.

“This new process will help some of the smaller colleges gain access to students who would otherwise not apply,” said Ronald J. Rychlak, professor and former associate dean at the University of Mississippi School of Law. “It can also ease the minds of students trying to decide where to apply. In fact, they can apply to several schools at the same time.”

Concourse, the online platform recently acquired by education consultancy EAB, now has 125 schools making direct admission offers.

That’s more than last year’s pilot program, which involved 10 Chicago colleges known for their success with minority and low-income students. According to the company, more than 650 students have been offered admission and scholarships through this program.

Beginning Tuesday, the Common Application will share student profiles with 14 other colleges and universities: Augsburg, Austin Peay State, Frostberg State, George Mason, Iona, Keanu, Marymount, Montclair State, New Jersey City, Stockton and Virginia Commonwealth Universities; Mercy and Utica Colleges; and University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

Philadelphia-based Sage Scholars has signed up 26 direct-admission private schools, including Hendricks College, Millikin University, Loyola University New Orleans and Washington and Jefferson College.

High school participants must submit their email address, GPA, sophomore and junior year grades, favorite colleges from the Sage list, their extracurricular activities, and possible majors.

Experts say direct admissions could help more obscure four-year institutions better compete for dwindling enrollments.

“There will be fewer people in the traditional college age group because of the declining birth rate,” said Stephen S. Miller, an economics professor at Troy University in Alabama. “Most students haven’t heard of most colleges. Now that so many are losing enrollment, in the end they will all be fighting for the same students.”

Mr. Miller pointed to data from the Census Bureau showing that the U.S. birth rate gradually declined from 1990 to 2019.

According to the 1990 census, for every 1,000 women aged 15 to 44, there were 70.77 births each year. By 2019, that number had dropped to 58.21.

While Ivy League universities and other institutions of higher education are unlikely to accept direct admission, the process has moved quickly in some parts of the country.

A recent program in Minnesota offered every high school in the state the opportunity to create profiles for Direct Admission. According to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, 40 high schools and 50 colleges participate.

At Augsburg College, officials announced plans to convert all applications to direct admissions using the Common Application and the Minnesota State Program.

Augsburg officials told Inside Higher Ed on Monday that they have reviewed 639 students’ applications this year, a 70% increase from a year ago. The school accepted 487 of them, compared to 150 last year.

Robert Heinemann, a retired political science professor at Alfred University in New York, said the process is cheaper than applying to schools struggling to recover financially from the COVID-19 lockdown.

He expects the direct entry option to become more popular for this reason.

“At the moment, many smaller colleges are on the verge of closing due to fewer students and subsequent budget losses,” Mr. Heinemann said. “The caveat is that simply admitting students by no means guarantees they’ll get in, but it draws potential students’ attention to more colleges.”

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