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Private Colleges In Mass. Not Experiencing The 'Cliff Effect' Expected02:33

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In difficult financial times, the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority reports applications for school loans are up. Schools expect requests for financial aid to rise too. But area colleges that had worried the recession might discourage students from enrolling are finding that's not the case.

To find out how the admissions process is panning out for private schools in Massachusetts, we spoke with Richard Doherty, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts.

In light of the recession and its impact on student families, how have private schools here in the Commonwealth navigated the admissions process this year as it compares to previous years?

RICHARD DOHERTY: I think it's been filled with a little more angst. The biggest dip in the economy occurred back in September and I think that gave everyone pause very early in the admission applications cycle to think, "Can we afford the colleges we initially had put on the list?"

But we have to remember that this year is the next-to-highest peak year of high-school graduates in the country. So I think that as a result, we're not seeing the sort of "cliff effect" that some people may have predicted occurring with applications to private colleges.

In fact, we are having as many private colleges saw an increase in applicants as saw a decrease. Last year was the highest year, so even some of those schools that saw a decrease this year were still seeing a big increase over, say, four or five years ago.

What do we know so far about the next step in the process, which in admissions is called the yield rate. That is the number of accepted students that actually decide that they're going to send their check in to attend a particular school. Were schools on target with their predictions? Are admissions yields on target?

DOHERTY: We just actually did a survey of our membership and 84 percent of the colleges are seeing their student deposits for next year track higher or equal or within just a single-digit percentage difference from last year. So by and large, I would say our schools were on target.

Do you think schools are going to have to reach more deeply into their wait lists than they have in the past in order to get the appropriate number of freshmen?

DOHERTY: Well that was a question we also asked them, and surprisingly there was not a difference in how colleges and universities in Massachusetts have used their wait lists this year.

Do the schools seem confident that the students who've sent in their deposits will actually show up on the doorsteps of those schools this fall?

DOHERTY: September will answer that question. I don't know whether folks are fully confident. I think that folks realize that we're in an economy that's in flux.

Is there a reportable difference in where these kids are coming from — whether they're coming from in state to go to the private schools or whether they're coming from out of state to go to the private schools?

DOHERTY: Relative to the other 50 states, we're the second-highest net importer of students coming to Massachusetts to go to private colleges.

And that continues?

DOHERTY: And that continues. In fact, again in our survey, 40 percent of our schools reported an increase in out-of-state applicants.

Are you surprised by any of this?

DOHERTY: I was particularly surprised by the increase in out-of-state students coming to Massachusetts colleges. We've always done well, but I just thought that the economy may temper that.

I know that schools reported in the fall that they were getting slightly fewer students coming for campus visits or, if they were coming, they were coming for just one day with perhaps one parent. But it doesn't seem to have affected the number of students that actually applied.

What's ahead for these schools and these incoming students, do you think?

DOHERTY: We have a great diversity in the mix of colleges we have here in Massachusetts, so I don't know that we can generalize, really, what's ahead.

For the larger schools that have large endowments, they've been hit. But, you know, hopefully with time and recovery, that will build back up and so that those schools will be able to sort of weather that storm.

Most of our schools are tuition dependent, so the ability to help their prospective students pay for college will continue to be one of their biggest challenges.

Any alarm bells going off anywhere?

DOHERTY: There is a concern that particularly with the demographic change in high-school graduates over the next 10 years, there'll be many more first-generation students graduating from high school who perhaps have not grow up in an environment where all the ins and outs of going to college would have been built into their sort of family upbringing.

And I think that there's more work that colleges and student-loan agencies might be able to do to make students and their families more aware of all the possibilities available to support their son or daughter going to college and achieving their full potential.

This program aired on May 19, 2009.

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


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