Colleges awash in enrollment flood

Students will have to make tough decisions sooner

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— Increasing college enrollment and a weakening economy could leave high school seniors with more questions this year than those they'll have to answer on college entrance exams.

As seniors settle back into the rhythm of the new school year, Steamboat Springs Careers and College Counselor Gale Dudley said this is a crucial time for deciding what school to attend. As most seniors enter into late fall with college visits and SAT and ACT tests under their belts, Dudley said now is the time to start narrowing down college choices to three to six schools.

"They need to make some of those decisions before they do their applications. Before they spend the time and energy on applications, they should get (their choices) down to the schools they would really like to go to," Dudley said.

But with more students applying to colleges throughout the country than ever before and an uncertain economy, those choices can be hard to make.

The United States Department of Education announced that college enrollment has increased for the fourth straight year. Those numbers are not expected to go down anytime soon and college enrollment records are anticipated to be set in the coming years until 2011.

Officials at the admissions departments from the top three schools that Steamboat's 2001 class enrolled in this fall Colorado State University, University of Colorado at Boulder and Colorado Mountain College said their applications and enrollment have been increasing for the last few years.

As enrollment continues to grow and colleges are faced with limited resources in expanding campuses and faculties, college admission standards could become more competitive.

That trend is already being felt at CU, the same school almost 40 students from Steamboat's graduating class entered this fall.

This year CU is setting a goal to limit its enrollment to 4,900 freshman students, a decrease from the 5,095 that entered last fall.

Matt Lopez, an admission counselor at CU, said part of the reason for limiting the enrollment is the housing crunch the school suffered a few years ago, but also to become a more selective school.

"It's the chancellor's goal to bring the University of Colorado in the top five as far as reputation and with the same elite classes offered as Stanford, and Harvard," Lopez said.

Although the program is focused on retaining the top students from Colorado, it also means its entrance standards have become more competitive.

And, applications to the school are increasing. Lopez said that CU usually receives 15,000 applications, but jumped to 18,500 applications last year.

"Its definitely more competitive. Any enrollment restrictions causes things to be more competitive," he said. "Competition has gone up, criteria has gone up, however, it is not an extreme jump or drastic change."

Although CSU and CMC, schools that enrolled 44 and 29 students from last year's senior class, said they have not capped off their freshman class sizes, they do say enrollment has increased.

Executive director of admissions at CSU, Mary Ontiverous said the school plans to continue to increase its enrollment and has been able to meet the needs of the increasing demand. But, she did admit CSU could only grow so much.

"Right now we are definitely planning to increase next year, but we are also having discussions on at what point do you start to consider limiting enrollment. Our goal now is to increase, but you can't keep growing forever and ever, you have to consider faculty and classrooms and residence halls," Ontiverous said.

Under CSU's current admission's policy if students meet the minimal requirements of grades and test scores then they are seriously considered. Those requirements are well known and students should know what their chances for acceptance are even before they apply, Ontiverous said.

Although enrollment has been increasing steadily in the last 20 years at CMC's Alpine Campus, Dan Schassrick, the student services counselor, assures that enrollment will never be limited.

"Our policy is to never deny acceptance to anyone, anyone can come and enroll. Most academic classes need proof of preparation and there is a screening process once you register for classes," Schassrick said.

While CMC has not restricted its enrollment, Schassrick said he has noticed a subtle shift in better prepared students coming into the college over the last 19 years. He also said schools have gotten more competitive in accepting CMCtransfer students.

"I've seen some students with decent transfer GPAs denied enrollment because schools have reached enrollment caps. Before similar students with the same GPAs would be accepted for enrollment," he said.

With the downturn in the economy, officials at CSU and CU said it is a strong possibility more instate and continuous state seniors will consider their schools.

Lopez said that even last year CU noticed more instate applications, especially those close or right after the February 15 deadline.

Ontiverous said the economy would suggest that public schools would be favored over the more expensive private colleges.

For CMC, a economic downturn often brings in its highest enrollment as students go back to school to develop marketable job skills.

"When times are good and jobs are available, you don't think about going back to school. But the long range impact, if an economic slow down continues, is your not doing anything else, it is a good time to go back and get training for your career," he said.

Increasing enrollment and the downshift in the economy might be two factors far beyond high school seniors' control, but Lopez said there are basic steps students can take to help them get into the college of their choice.

He said the earlier students apply the faster schools can send back decisions.

For students seriously considering CU, he recommends sending applications in prior to Thanksgiving. He also recommends college visits and interviews.

Though Dudley would also offer this suggestion, her biggest piece of advice is for students to make sure they feel comfortable with the schools they are considering.

Dudley said that while Steamboat has a high percentage of students, about 75 percent, who enroll in colleges, only 25 to 35 percent complete their education there.

"What that tells us is that half the kids that live here are going to school not knowing what they want to do or for the wrong reasons," she said.

To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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