By BRIANNE BENELLI
Eight years ago, Mary Washington College accepted 55 percent of the students who applied for admission to the school.
This year, the acceptance rate, which has been steadily rising since the year 2000, topped the 70 percent mark, raising questions about the school’s possibly waning entrance standards, and its selectivity.
Over the same period, fewer of the students accepted by Mary Washington have been choosing to actually attend the school. Eight years ago it was 36 percent. This year: 28 percent.
The declining interest concerns UMW students, who say they’re worried about their school’s public image.
“Knowing that this is a top quality university, it concerns me that our reputation does not live up to our capabilities,” junior Lauren Shaffer said.
The significant decline in selectivity could hurt UMW’s ranking as a top university. At U.S. News & World Report, for instance—which puts out one of the leading guides to colleges and universities—selectivity accounts for 15 percent of a college’s overall ranking. University officials acknowledge the current difficulties in recruiting.
“The admissions process nationally has become a more difficult game,” said Roy Weinstock, vice president of planning, assessment and institutional research for UMW.
Martin Wilder, vice president for enrollment and communications in the admissions office, says that the average UMW applicant applies to six other schools and is accepted by five of them.
Prospective students are flocking to JMU, UVA, Virginia Tech—and even Christopher Newport—for better scholarships, athletics programs and academic offerings.
“It is a very very competitive marketplace for the top students,” Wilder says.
The admissions office discussed the falling numbers at the department chairs meeting in August, where Wilder said the reasons for declining admission ranged from superior financial packages and scholarships at other schools, to the opportunity to participate in Honors and Leadership programs offered by competitors.
Virginia Tech and George Mason University are both in the top five among schools many students accepted by UMW are opting to attend instead. Tech has had a successful athletic program to impress applicants for years. GMU became a hit in 2006 when its basketball team made the Final Four.
CNU, which only became a four-year institution in 1971, recently completed a $400 million building campaign. The CNU website describes its brand-new residence hall, center for the arts, athletics facility and library.
“The economy itself is playing a role in college choices and what families are willing or able to do,” Wilder said. “We’re competing with a lot of schools that are offering students a lot of scholarships.”
Admissions is aware of those areas where students feel UMW falls short of expectations. At the chairs meeting in August, Admissions discussed data from the 2007 Admitted Students Questionnaire and outlined suggestions to combat the deficiencies at UMW.
The renovations on Seacoback Hall and Lee Hall are two changes UMW officials are pointing to as evidence of their attempts to improve the school’s image and stay in competition against other Virginia schools.
Freshmen during the last two years have gotten a much sweeter deal during orientation than their predecessors. UMW has started offering rafting trips, tours of Fredericksburg, and even trips to Paramount’s King’s Dominion at the end of orientation week.
Admissions is also encouraging on-campus programs to attract potential students to the school. “We feel if we can get the students here, [the campus] has a lot of power to attract students,” Wilder said.
The Admissions office hopes faculty can help the University get its story out by explaining their programs and what makes them distinct, advertising their accomplishments and available student opportunities, and informing potential applicants about the successes of their alumni.
“It’s not just an admissions issue,” Wilder said, emphasizing that the whole school needs to be involved in promoting UMW.
UMW is stepping up its efforts just in time. At their July 17 meeting, the Board of Visitors discussed the dwindling number of prospective students in the future. By the 2014-2015 school year, researchers project 21 percent fewer high school graduates from states like Vermont, Pennsylvania and New York, from which UMW mainly draws its out-of-state students.