Why Does The George Washington University Need to ‘Right Size’?
I have visited The George Washington University several times over the past three decades. It’s my wife’s alma mater. She gave me my first tour the year after we were married. The George Washington University is the best located college in America for anyone who wants to become involved in politics and policy making. What better place to learn first hand than our nation’s capital?
Last week, the university’s president, Thomas LeBlanc, announced that George Washington University, aka ‘GW’, will reduce the size of the undergraduate student body by 20 percent over the next five years. President LeBlanc called this a “right sizing.” He also wants to improve GW’s reputation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.
Today George Washington University serves over 12,000 degree-seeking undergraduates. A reduction in size to 9,600 would likely start with the next freshman class. It would also mean that GW would have fewer openings for transfer students.
Last fall GW welcomed 2,800 freshmen, up 500 from 2011. The university accepted 42 percent of the students who applied to be in the class of 2022. Just under a quarter decided to come, about average for a private university. Admissions officers at selective schools are always concerned when acceptance rates rise and yield rates go down.
Suppose GW wanted to reduce the size of its undergraduate student body to 9,600 students and expected to improve its freshman retention from 91 to 95 percent. The size of the freshman class would need to drop by at least 400 students. The decision would reduce the size of the class that arrives next fall to 2,400.
The last year GW had a freshman class that size was 2010. Back then GW accepted 32 percent of the freshmen who applied and enticed over 35 percent of them to come. Directors of admissions at schools such as GW could be amply rewarded if their efforts led to a 35 percent yield rate.
GW’s transfer student population has risen dramatically. It went up from 300 in 2010 to more than 700 in 2017. Unlike cities such as Boston or New York, Washington DC does not have a large resident population enrolled in public community colleges. So, GW has to reach out to recruit Associates degree recipients from anywhere it can get them. It must also pursue students who wish to leave another four-year college. The marketing effort must be tough to manage when your school needs students whose families can pay over $50,000 in tuition and fees. An admissions director at a selective private university would prefer not to manage it.
GW attracts cross applications with selective urban universities including Penn, NYU, Boston University, Emory, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins and Northeastern. But a STEM major has many more possible job markets than a student who majors in Political Communication, Political Science, Public Policy or International Relations. However, the students who were interested in politics were more likely to have GW as a first-choice school. They have the opportunity to be involved in the legislative process from the first day on campus. I’m quite sure that the president of the university would like to have his school be the first choice for STEM majors, too. He would not only want to improve the reputation of the university. He would also want to see a better return on GW’s investments in those degree programs.
I understand why GW wants to go back to the “good old days” when it had fewer undergraduates. But it’s going to be more difficult to get into GW if a major in public or international affairs is in your future.