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EDUCATION | Can “direct admissions” fix a college attendance slump?

Students at University of the Pacific. University of the Pacific

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The California-based University of the Pacific is sending letters of acceptance across the country to an unusual group of students: those who haven’t yet applied. That’s because the school uses an increasingly popular recruiting method called direct admissions, in which students who meet a predetermined set of criteria—usually weighted GPA or test scores—are automatically approved and invited to enroll.

Many schools have begun adopting this admissions model. This October, Gov. Brian Kemp announced that 45 Georgia colleges would offer direct admissions, joining states like Hawaii and Wisconsin. Direct admissions appears to be a low-risk option for schools to boost declining enrollment rates and tailor their expectations. Schools might also use it as a back door for minority recruitment.

In 2022, University of the Pacific partnered with Niche, a college search site, to provide direct admissions. Some 1,300 students accepted direct admissions offers at Pacific this year alone. Vivian Rendon, the school’s senior director for first-year admission, says the new process gives students a wider view of their options and allows colleges to set academic standards. “Kind of like a matchmaking process where we have our set of criteria,” said Rendon. “If the student matches what we’re looking for, they automatically get the direct admissions offer.”

Before rolling out the nation’s first direct admissions program at its public colleges in 2015, Idaho had the lowest college enrollment rate. A report published in Research in Higher Education last year indicated that direct admissions boosted enrollment in Idaho by about 12 percent.

And many colleges need the boost. According to the U.S. Department of Education, college enrollment dropped 15 percent between 2010 and 2021. Adam Kissel, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, says enrollment has declined for multiple reasons, including high costs: The average college student shoulders over $37,000 in student debt, so many Americans choose alternatives like technical schools. University of the Pacific has a daunting sticker price (over $70,000 for on-campus students), so it includes a potential scholarship amount in its offers of acceptance. Direct admissions might encourage young people to consider college if they’re on the fence. “There’s a psychological effect of being told that you’re already admitted,” says Kissel.

Direct admissions may help colleges compete for those dwindling applicants. Because Americans had fewer children around the 2008 recession, there will be fewer college-aged students after 2025.

The end of affirmative action has played a role in the direct admissions trend. When the Supreme Court ruled against race-conscious admissions this year, the Biden administration recommended direct admissions as a way for universities to pursue campus diversity. The Common App, another college planning website, has a direct admissions program that targets low-income and first-generation students. Out of 33,000 admissions letters recently sent out through Common App, though, only 6 percent of students subsequently applied.

Students from abroad, often lacking parental support, may find it especially difficult to apply to U.S. colleges, according to Rendon, who was once an international student herself. She hopes direct admissions can aid these students and American students, too.

Pacific is helping to “remove the hurdles and obstacles for students,” Rendon says. “And that is really the future of admissions.”

Bekah McCallum

Bekah is a reviewer, reporter, and editorial assistant at WORLD. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and Anderson University.


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