High Point University: Will Incentives Matter?
High Point University (NC) gained notoriety within the higher education press this semester when it openly announced incentives for prospective students to apply Early Decision.
The ethics of offering baubles such as a personal parking space or autographed books can come into question. But they are nothing compared with making promises of priority registration for housing and classes and earlier access to a Personal Success Coach.
While most college students can tackle college just fine without the first two incentives, they will all need to live someplace, take classes, and use student success services. It isn’t fair to let a student have earlier access to the same services that most of their classmates will also need to succeed in college because they were admitted Early Decision, and committed early.
The appeal of High Point University
I have not had the privilege of visiting High Point University. But I can see that there’s much to like about the school:
- High Point University has a really nice campus. From the virtual tour, I saw a nice mix of 19th-century architectural styles with tremendous attention to modern conveniences and technology.
- The on-campus living options are mind blowing for any college anywhere.
- The university has a lot of majors and special academic programs for a school with 4,500 undergrads, including Engineering and Pharmacy.
- It also has a reasonable sticker price for a private college. Direct charges—tuition, fees, room and board—are around $51,000.
- High Point awards merit scholarships. The largest awards will make the university price competitive with a state school, the smaller ones won’t.
This school’s appeal extends beyond North Carolina. Nearly 80 percent of the undergrads come from other states and countries. New Jersey ranks second among the states represented, followed by New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.
Has High Point’s appeal helped admissions?
High Point University offers practically anything that a college-bound freshman could want to feel comfortable, educated and safe on campus—except a high profile brand name.
High Point’s mix of amenities must be working: nearly 90 percent of the freshmen who arrived last year applied Early Action or Early Decision, according to data the school supplied to US News. However, their yield rate, the percentage of accepted students who decided to come, was only 15 percent, according the university’s latest posted Fact Book.
These numbers tell me that most of the class did not choose High Point through Early Decision. They also tell me that the university continually marketed to the students who were admitted Early Action without much success. Any university admissions office at any school wants to boost their yield. High Point can use aggressive marketing to entice more students to commit early when it has so many attractive opportunities, as long as it can attract families who have the funds to cover the costs. Hence the more open announcement of incentives to apply Early Decision.
But there was a sad data point. When I looked at High Point’s numbers in my US News College Compass I saw that 2017 graduates had an average debt over $37,000. Nearly a fifth took out private loans. The debt number is fine if you left with a Pharmacy degree, or a bachelors and a masters combined. Graduate school tuition and fees are higher than undergrads are asked to pay. Otherwise, it’s too high. The maximum that a student can borrow from the Federal Student Loan Program is $27,000 over four years, $31,000 over five.
Which schools are shopped against High Point?
My US News College Compass mentions that High Point’s most common cross-apps are the Elon University, UNC-Chapel Hill, James Madison University (VA) and the University of South Carolina.
Here’s some quick comments about the state schools:
- I cannot imagine that High Point will win out often over UNC-Chapel Hill for students, whether they are residents or non-residents of North Carolina, unless they were the most generously rewarded with scholarships.
- I have been to James Madison, which is a great buy for Virginians and less expensive for non-residents than most flagship state universities. This school draws well from the Mid-Atlantic states, with non-resident direct charges below $40,000. I can picture students from Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania shopping James Madison vs. High Point. But I cannot picture High Point beating or matching James Madison’s costs for anyone, excluding the strongest applicants.
- I have yet to visit the University of South Carolina. But it is quite popular with students up and down the East Coast. The difference between non-resident charges at South Carolina versus the sticker price at High Point is only $5,000. The non-resident who is in the upper third of the pool at the state school might get a merit scholarship from High Point to make up the difference.
Elon is probably the main competitor for students
I have to consider Elon, a larger school, to be High Point’s main competition for students, at least within New Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania. Like High Point, Elon attracts around 80 percent of its students from outside North Carolina.
The students who are interested in Elon (Average GPA: 4.0, Average SAT: 1250, Average ACT Composite: 27) are statistically better that High Point’s (Average GPA: 3.3, Average SAT: 1170, Average ACT Composite: 24). The largest percentages of alumni for both schools are in the Greensboro/Winston Salem area, followed by New York City.
The mid-pack student in a freshman class at Elon might qualify for High Point’s smallest merit award, the Presidential Scholarship, which is between $5,000 and $11,000. Elon’s ask on direct charges is $2,000 less than High Point’s; the smallest awards would not matter much when the student’s desired major is offered by both schools.
High Point has not openly promised scholarships to accepted Early Decision students. But when a school publicizes past award data on its Web site, the better students might take a chance that they could receive the larger awards.
Aside from costs, prospective applicants have to consider if “High Point University is the best school for me,” if they want to apply Early Decision. According to the school’s most recent Fact Book , High Point’s four-year graduation rate was 61% for the class that arrived in 2013. The school lost 23 percent of the freshmen who arrived that year. Since then the university still loses around a fifth of the freshmen.
These numbers are not impressive considering the breadth of academic programs and services High Point offers its students. Elon retains 90 percent of a freshman class. This university also graduated 78 percent of their 2012 freshmen arrivals on time. I know, I’m only looking at data points. But they show me that Elon is a better school that attracts and retains a better student.
The costs of autographed books and parking spaces are paltry for the university compared to the reward of meeting a revenue target earlier, and hopefully attracting better students.
But I also need to ask: will the extras really matter?
Or will they only help High Point University to attract more of the students that they are already losing after freshman year?
There’s no way to know until after this admissions cycle is over.