The Great Mistake or What Happens Going Forward after College Admissions Have Over-enrolled a Freshman Class?
Over the past two weeks you might have read that the University of California-Irvine has reinstated admissions for 290 students whose acceptances had been previously rescinded. The university had enforced close-of-year requirements that accepted students maintain their grades and submit their final transcript by a stated deadline. There was concern that caused the university’s admissions office to be more forceful than they might otherwise by. They had over-enrolled the incoming freshman class by 850 students! The university would have welcomed over 7,100 incoming freshmen this month, instead of 6,250.
Over-enrollment of a freshman class is not a major disaster in most college admissions cycles. The numbers are much smaller at other schools. “Summer melt,” where students deposit at one school, then change their mind towards another, is also quite commonplace in the college admissions world. But when a very large university over-enrolls at the magnitude where it cannot keep all of its promises to incoming students, there are ripple effects on that freshman class as well as the class that will arrive next year.
For the incoming class at UC-Irvine the greatest problems are likely to be larger classes and housing. Double rooms could become triples. Students who could commute would be encouraged to do so. Access to academic advising would be more difficult if the university does not hire more people to help, even on a temporary basis. It is also possible that more majors could be added to the “impacted” list.
But what about the classes that come next year, and the year after that?
In 2016, UC-Irvine welcomed approximately 6,500 freshmen. Of these students, 92 percent, or just under 6,000, returned for their sophomore year. The class that arrives next year might not have 7,100 students, but it is fair to presume that there will be somewhere between 6,700 and 6,900 after the recision mess is sorted out. The university had intended to have only 6,250 on campus but will need to accommodate between 450 and 650 more people. The sophomore class at UC-Irvine in 2018-19, presuming freshman retention is at 90 percent could have between 6,000 and 6,200 students. If it stayed at 92 percent—and no college wants to see its freshmen retention go down—UC Irvine could have between 6,200 and 6,350 sophomores.
When a university has 200 to 350 more sophomores than it had planned, it can take several actions, the most likely being to seek a smaller freshman class for the next year. That would be the least expensive course of action. But it would make the college admissions cycle more selective. It would also cause the fewest marketing problems.
It is easier and less expensive for the admissions office to apologize for what happened in the previous year and promise that the that policies that had to be implemented (tripling up students in residence halls, a commuting radius, larger introductory classes) will be in the past. They would not want to scare off the students that they truly want, nor face the wrath of their parents!
Those who are looking at UC-Irvine as a “dream school” or “safety school” for the coming college admissions cycle should be ready to realize that the odds have become less in their favor.