Bad economy increases interest in state schools

  • Some public colleges and universities in the U.S. are seeing increased applications
  • The increase doesn't seem to exist in the UW System
  • Could have negative effect on private universities

Public colleges and universities from multiple parts of the country are reporting a large increase in applications for the upcoming school year.

However, the increase does not seem to be reciprocated in Wisconsin, with some state schools actually reporting a decrease in applications.

Among the states that have reported increases in applications to state schools are New York, Oregon, Ohio, Connecticut and, most recently, Georgia, according to Wes Henricksen, founder of Seize the 'A', an academic counseling organization. Henricksen said the increase is due to the recent financial crisis.

"The down economy has turned on its head the normal course of business of accepting an incoming class at public universities," Henricksen said.

The increases are quite dynamic. Georgia State University received 10,504 applications from freshmen for the fall 2009 semester, a 25 percent increase over the previous semester's record of 8,409. Transfer applications were up 13 percent as well, from 2,107 last year to 2,390 this year.

Similar jumps do not seem to be eminent in the Midwest, however. Overall, public colleges and universities have been holding steady with enrollment and admissions, but some schools, such as the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, saw a slight decline this year, said Jill Endries, admissions director at UW-Oshkosh.

"Most of the institutions (in the UW System) are experiencing a slight decline," Endries said.

Endries was careful to point out that the economy might not be the sole cause of this decline, however, and that it might not continue even if the economy remains weak for some time.

"It's very hard to predict, given the economy," Endries said.

She said a declining population of graduating high school seniors in the state could

potentially further alter the application rate in the future.

Paul Fischer, budget and policy analyst for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, agreed with Endries. He said predicting what will happen to enrollment and admissions will always be complicated.

"To draw conclusions at this point would not be appropriate," Fischer said.

Fischer said enrollment at UW-Milwaukee next year would be 29,265, which is slightly less than this year's enrollment.

However, he said that enrollment at the school has gone up in the last decade, and that the school's mission does not focus on growth.

"The mission at UW-Milwaukee has changed in the past," Fischer said. "We're not sure if we want to continue to grow or not."

For private schools, this boost could cause problems, losing students that might have otherwise attended such universities. Henricksen suggested that the schools that will be hit worst will not be what he calls "name-brand colleges," like Harvard or Yale, but less well-known schools that charge admission similar to that of those "name-brand" schools.

Marquette could technically fall into this second category, but the lack of an increase in the UW System's applications could bode well for the school. The Office of Admissions reported that applications at Marquette have increased by almost 20 percent each year for several years, and they have recently decided to increase the freshman class next year.

Even if Marquette is impacted by the overall trend, Henricksen said that it will probably be better off than lots of other private universities in the same boat.

"Schools like Marquette will be affected somewhat more than top private universities. But since it has a solid reputation regionally and, to a lesser extent, nationally, Marquette will not be as hard hit as lower-caliber private institutions," Henricksen said.