Behind the Building of a Freshman Class

by ALLY HUTZLER, Editor in Chief & ANTHONY CAPOTE, Editor

Most students thinking back on their senior year of high school probably have a very particular memory of the admissions process.

In many cases, students might remember the fear and anxiety of applying to a range of programs and schools, and the overwhelmed excitement when they finally were accepted.

Few, though, probably consider how hard that process might have been on their school of choice, or what connections, if any, there were between a school’s final decision and the hoard of mailers and emails were sent put as early as two years before the admission process really started.

“The schedule or the cycle of enrollment planning over the last few years, things are happening much faster than they were 15 to 20 years ago,” Bill Bissett, the vice president for enrollment at Manhattan College said. “Because the process has sped up so much you’re actually beginning to look at bringing students in and attracting students as early as their sophomore year.”

Freshman Nicole Murphy recalls Manhattan College recruiting her as early as her junior year of high school.

“Manhattan was one of the schools that really began emailing me early on,” Murphy said. “My older brother also attends Manhattan, so once I put that I had a relative at the college the contact by the school and admissions was immediate.”

Bisset described the process as a sort of funnel, one where students are classified as potential prospects right after taking their PSAT, based on what kinds of schools they expressed interest in. From there, he said, admissions counselors and directors begin vetting students and narrowing the recruitment pool.

“This is where the science of enrollment management comes into play,” he said. “We are really starting to develop our funnel, and we are really starting to cultivate our funnel for the 2017 group that coming to us now.”

This model, in addition to a slew of other factors including the financial needs of the college, financial aid capabilities and what Bissett called a capital plan, or the college’s plans to expand and grow.

In some cases, Bissett said, the model over performs and, despite best efforts, a class comes in larger than expected.  This was the case with the class of 2019, which included 896 enrolled freshmen, a 20-percent increase from previous years.

“We were planning for that class two years out and as we got lower and lower in the funnel, and as we began to design to strategies to enroll that class, we were anticipating that a specific percentage student we offered admission to were going to take us up on that offer and a certain percentage opt to would go elsewhere,” Bissett said.

As it turns out, they were off by 2-percent, which would seem like a success from a financial standpoint, but the abnormally large class put a strain on the college’s resources.

As a result, Bissett said, his department resolved to enroll a smaller group for the class of 2020.

“We developed a financial aid model and we developed a recruitment strategy around a smaller class,” Bissett said. “We intentionally designed our enrollment model around a class of about 70 to 70 students less.”

The college achieved that goal by accepting more students of a higher academic profile.  According to Bissett, the applicant pool for the class if 2020 was higher than it had been in previous years, allowing him and his team to accept more students while keeping financial aid packages the same, expecting them to have more options and inevitably, pick other schools.

“It was important to me that I didn’t control the size of the class by reducing financial aid awards of students,” he said. “I had seen this happen in other years and I had learned no to panic and to just let things happen but to hedge a bet on accepting more students knowing that your conversion rate was going to drop a little bit.”