Bigger, Better and by Surprise

October 10, 2003

Mark Miester
Phone: (504) 865-5714

When the Office of Undergraduate Admission implemented its admission strategy last winter, a tough recruiting year looked all but certain. There was the prospect of a war in Iraq. There were lingering fears regarding travel.

studentsThe unemployment rate was high. The economy was sputtering and the stock market was anemic. All those factors weighed heavily on the model undergraduate admission developed. But then something unexpected happened: Things got better.

Between December 2002 and August 2003, the uncertainty about war with Iraq was resolved and the economy began a remarkable resurgence. The result was an unexpected jump in the number of students accepting Tulane's offer of admission.

"We had a larger yield than we expected," says Richard Whiteside, vice president for enrollment management and institutional research. "We had actually projected a decline in yield because of the economic factors and we ended up getting a point higher than we did last year, which was almost two points higher than we predicted. It makes a big difference."

When the dust finally settled, this year's freshman class, at 1,684 strong, was the largest in school history, 9 percent larger than last year's incoming class and 109 students more than undergraduate admission's projected enrollment.

"Clearly, housing became a problem, but the folks over in residential life did a tremendous job accommodating everybody," notes Whiteside. "We were able to place all the students. We had a few triples, but they were a very small number, relatively few in comparison to where we thought we might be when we first realized we were going to be so far over."

Despite the larger-than-anticipated size, the quality of this year's class showed a slight improvement over last year. This year's regular admits had an average SAT score of 1331--a four-point jump over last year--and 67.5 percent were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

"It was a pretty good year, all things taken into consideration," Whiteside says. In addition to the largest-ever freshman class, 2003 also saw the largest applicant pool in history: 14,113 prospective students applied to Tulane, an 8.6 percent increase over 2002. Whiteside attributes the rise to a number of factors, including Tulane's growing national reputation, an increase in the number of college-bound students and the effectiveness of his office's communications program.

"We invite them, we remind them, they register for the program and then we send them reminders," Whiteside says. "Each time we add an element to the program, we see that we're getting a better and better response."

Another contributing factor to the surge in applications is the growing popularity of online applications, which this year surpassed paper applications for the first time. "Last year, it was about 40 percent online and 60 percent paper applications," Whiteside says. "This year it was about 70 percent online and 30 percent paper. So it's moving very quickly to almost an exclusively online model."

While higher than initially expected, this year's yield--21.58 percent--still falls short of Whiteside's long-term goal of 25 percent. "Improving yield has proven to be our most challenging aspect of the whole program," Whiteside says. "As we get better, our competition changes. If you look at the top 30 competitors we're currently engaged with, 17 or 18 of them come from the U.S. News & World Report Top 25, and 25 rank above us--Yale, Harvard, Brown, Columbia, Penn, Emory, Vandy, Wash U. We're running with a pretty prestigious pack at this point in terms of competition."

And while the larger-than-anticipated class worked out in the end, Whiteside adds it does not signal an institutional strategy to increase the size of future freshman classes. "Our intent is to return to what our goal was for this year for next year. We're going back to the target of 1,575."

Mark Miester can be reached at

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