Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Highest endowed schools see enrollment increase

Marielle Fibish/Collegian

What makes a school truly great? That’s the question that Sandy Baum, a professor of economics at Skidmore College in New York and Michael McPhearson, president of the Spencer Foundation, asked themselves after they recently attended a conference at the University of Southern California. Their conclusion: a great endowment. Baum said he was “motivated by the sort of arms race of college admissions,” to consider this question, and the conference suggested there had been an increase in the number of freshmen admitted to the top 20 schools in the country.

“They have so much money at these [types of] institutions,  the top 20 schools, you know, like Harvard and Princeton, have huge differences in endowments versus if you look at schools like Vassar,” Baum said, “So they’re always trying to think of new ways to spend money on students, when they could use this money to enroll more students, hire more faculty, and provide the same high quality education, while still having the highest endowment in the country.”

Baum and McPhearson “looked at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s list of endowments per student,” as their definition of the top 20 schools in the country. “We’ve looked at the endowments per students at these schools and figured that even if they increased their enrollment by 50 percent it wouldn’t even be a drop in the bucket,” Baum said.

As of Jan. 27,, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the top 20 highest endowment institutions have reserves stretching well beyond $3 billion, with the highest (Harvard’s) coming in at close to $ 28 billion.

“One option would be a cooperation among these colleges,” Baum said, “we suggested some kind of consortium where you could apply to a group of universities and colleges.

“For instance, suppose you had a 1500 SAT score and a 3.7 average, they would promise you admission into one of these consortium schools. And, of course, the student could rank the schools they wanted more,” she added.

Caroline Cummings, a freshman at the University of Massachusetts, based her work in high school on what would be expected of her in college, including volunteering at a local hospital and running for class president.

“I tried to take advantage of every opportunity I got to do something that would ‘look good on a college application’ [in high school],” she said. “If I hadn’t been so aware of what colleges wanted, I doubt I would have put myself through as much as I did.”

According to Baum, cooperation would allow students more freedom in their education.

“This decision would make for less intense competition, and more students would be picking classes where they could do the most learning instead of just focusing on getting into college,” she said. “It would make for a richer learning experience.”

Cummings added that she lost confidence in where she would wind up and became more stressed while applying.

“There was certainly a lot of pressure during the whole college application process,” she said. “A lot of classmates were applying to the same top schools as me, so I lost a lot of confidence.”

“The application process was stressful,” she added. “I was so afraid of making mistakes or accidentally leaving something crucial out.”

According to U.S. News and World Report, the fall 2009 acceptance rate for the top three schools was Harvard University, with seven percent, Yale University, with eight percent and Princeton University, with 10 percent. Most of the other 17 schools don’t hit anywhere near 40 percent, with the exception being the University of Michigan, with an acceptance rate of 50 percent. However, the top 20’s collective acceptance rate average comes in at around 20 percent.

“Some institutions could have a lot more students because they simply have a bigger campus, like the small liberal arts schools really don’t have the room for many more students,” said Baum.

“You also get the response, ‘Well there’s no space for more buildings on campus,’ but it seems to me colleges are always building more,” she added.

Baum said with different colleges having different make-ups and configurations, a straightforward answer to how many freshmen schools should admit isn’t clear.

“So the answers to this question would be very different at different colleges. That said, this is important because these are very high-quality institutions,” Baum said, “and they offer some of the best education and turn out some of the most productive citizens.”

Michelle Altman can be reached at [email protected].

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