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A College President Opens Up On Admissions In A Recession

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Wheelock College President Jackie Jenkins-Scott. (Sarah Bush/WBUR)
Wheelock College President Jackie Jenkins-Scott. (Sarah Bush/WBUR)

To find out how private colleges are navigating the admissions process in the stormy economy, WBUR visited Wheelock College in Boston and spoke with Wheelock President Jackie Jenkins-Scott.

BOB OAKES: Has the admissions process this year, given the economic time, been a little different than it has in the past, and if so how?

JACKIE JENKINS-SCOTT: Well, I think one of the big differences is that students and parents are being even more thoughtful and careful. We've had more students visit more times than ever before, we've had more early-decision applications than ever before, and parents are asking questions about value.

OAKES: Many colleges across the nation, especially the most competive colleges, have reported an increase in applications this year, but other schools are seeing their applicant pools dwindle? What's your case here at Wheelock?

JENKINS-SCOTT: We have about the same number of applications that we had last year, but what is interesting is that we have had triple the number of students who decided to apply early decision.

OAKES: Why is that do you think?

JENKINS-SCOTT: My sense is that students and parents are really trying earlier to understand what decisions and choices that they have to make. So while we have had more students apply for early decision, we've actually had a slight decrease in deposits right now.

And we think parents are saying, 'Let's look at everything. Let's get the financial aid package. Let's visit the school more than once. And then we'll make a decision.'

OAKES: Given the economy and given what you're seeing, have you changed the pitch at all to prospective students, to get them to take a closer look — once they're accepted to actually decide that they are coming here and put that deposit down?

JENKINS-SCOTT: We are talking to them more, communicating with them more. So, the pitch is probably the same, but the level of communications has increased.

OAKES: We're hearing that many colleges in this financial climate are increasing what they are able to offer in financial aid for this coming fall. What will Wheelock be doing?

JENKINS-SCOTT: We have two situations. We have what we offer incoming students, but we also have students who have been here and who are struggling to stay. So we're trying to balance how we use our limited financial aid resources. We have had a triple-fold increase in students applying and appealing their existing financial aid package.

OAKES: They're asking for a little more money or much more money than you were able to give them in your first financial aid offer?

JENKINS-SCOTT: Circumstances for many families have changed. Parents are out of work now or ability to get home-equity loans have changed dramatically. So, we have really tried to be responsive as best we can.  But bottom line is, yes, we are allocating more of our budget to financial aid.

OAKES: As the need for financial aid goes up, both in the case of incoming freshman and existing students, does that result in looking for more applicants who can afford to pay all by themselves?

JENKINS-SCOTT: Our philosophy is we really try to look for the best student to be at Wheelock. But, you know, the number of families who can actually afford this is dwindling. So, is there a targeted effort? No.

But of course we would love to have the balance of more students who can pay the full freight, because that allows us to spread the financial aid resources we have to a larger base.

OAKES: Are you confident about the immediate future and the distant future?

JENKINS-SCOTT: I'm very confident about the immediate future and very hopeful for the distant future. I think the commitment to education, the commitment to the mission of Wheelock — we train people who are commited to making a difference in the lives of children and families.

We think that the leadership in this country and in this state recognizes the importance of the investment in education. And that bodes well for us as a nation and I think it bodes well for Wheelock College.

This program aired on April 15, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

Bob Oakes Twitter Host, Morning Edition
Bob Oakes has been WBUR's Morning Edition anchor since 1992.

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