Tuesday, February 22, 2005

 

In the "gosh, I wonder why?" category

C.U. applications are down by 19% from last year. Now, this likely doesn't reflect much yet on the Ward Churchill flap, but rather more on the football sex-for-recruitment scandal and the alcohol-overdose death of Lynn Gordon Bailey, both from last year. But you've gotta wonder what those numbers will look like next year, when parents who aren't willing to pay Churchill's salary send their kids somewhere else.

CU's out-of-state applicants drop 19%
Decrease may mean $15 million loss in tuition revenue
By John C. Ensslin, Rocky Mountain NewsFebruary 22, 2005

BOULDER - The number of out-of-state students applying to attend the University of Colorado this coming fall has dropped 19 percent compared with last year, school officials said.

If actual enrollment figures for the next school year follow that trend, CU officials project the decrease could translate into a loss of $15 million in tuition revenue.

CU and higher-education officials differ on the reason for the drop. Some cite a grueling year of bad press that included a football recruiting scandal and controversy surrounding CU professor Ward Churchill.

Others counter that a steep climb in out-of-state tuition, coupled with a soft economy, is the real culprit.

But everyone is concerned that the numbers are down.

By the Feb. 15 application deadline, CU had received 9,553 applications from potential freshmen living outside Colorado. Last year, the school received 11,771 nonresident applications.

That is the second decline in two years and the lowest number of out- of-state applications the university has fielded in five years.

The drop is significant because CU relies heavily on revenue from nonresident students to subsidize the cost of education for its Colorado students.

Roughly three in-state students are subsidized by every out-of- state student, said CU spokeswoman Michele McKinney.

"This is important to us," McKinney said.

In addition to the out-of-state applicants, in-state applications are also off by 4 percent, she said.

Last fall, the Boulder campus enrolled 5,149 freshmen, of whom 2,165 were nonresidents.

Typically, 9,000 applicants will not yield 9,000 students.

Five percent of the initial applicants fail to fill out the necessary paperwork. Another 5 to 10 percent are rejected for not meeting CU's standards. Of those nonresidents who are admitted, only about 20 percent actually enroll.

Reasons behind the drop in applications are in dispute.

Rick O'Donnell, executive director of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, blames 15 months of bad press that started with a sex-and- recruitment scandal in the CU football program.

In December 2003, CU found itself enmeshed in a scandal after Boulder District Attorney Mary Keenan accused CU of condoning the use of sex and alcohol as recruitment tools for the football program.

Her allegations stemmed from a lawsuit in which three women said they were raped by CU football players or recruits in December 2001.

The story went national after former CU football kicker Katie Hnida alleged she was sexually assaulted by a former player.

None of the allegations resulted in criminal charges. However, the controversy led to an independent investigation that recommended sweeping reforms in how CU administers its athletics department.

The matter also resulted in a still-sealed grand jury report that sharply criticized CU officials for failure to properly manage the football program.

Then, three weeks ago, another national controversy erupted over an essay written by Churchill.
Churchill wrote that some of the victims in the World Trade Center attack were not innocent victims. He called them "little Eichmanns," referring to the Nazi technocrat who oversaw the systematic execution of the Jews during World War II.

CU Regent Thomas Lucero said he believes "distorted media coverage" of the football scandal, plus the Churchill matter, have soured parents of prospective students.

Lucero said he has received e-mails from parents whose children have been accepted to CU or are already attending the university but who intend to send them elsewhere by the fall.

CU admissions officers said about 99 percent of the current applications were received before the Churchill controversy began. They know of no one who has withdrawn from the school over the matter.

O'Donnell, however, said the cumulative controversies are having an effect. "Parents are smart people, and they want to send their children to a college with a great reputation," he said. "I would say this decrease has a lot to do with CU damaging its reputation."

School officials acknowledged the impact of what they called "negative media coverage." But they also pointed to another factor behind the decrease: steadily climbing out- of-state tuition rates.

Since the fall of 2000, out-of-state tuition has increased from $15,244 to $20,592, a jump of 35 percent.

CU is not the only public university in Colorado experiencing a drop in out-of-state applications.
At Colorado State University, where the price of out-of-state tuition also has climbed, the number of nonresident applicants fell from 5,735 in 2002 to 5,031 in 2004, a decrease of 12 percent.

That trend appears to be continuing this year. As of last week, CSU had received 3,998 nonresident applications, with a deadline of July 1.

CU Regent Michael Carrigan said he believes the costs imposed on out-of-state students have a lot to do with dwindling applications.

"While it's easy to point to the negative issues last year, the real story is how incredibly expensive it is for out-of-state students to attend CU- Boulder," Carrigan said. "It's time for the state to show leadership and recognize that excellent universities don't come for free and that tuition can't cover the whole costs."

Barbara Schneider, executive director for admissions at CU, said the cost of tuition is the most frequent reason she hears from out-of-state high school guidance counselors when they are asked about the declining number of prospective CU students.

"The counselors are telling us, 'You're pricing yourselves to the point where some of the students here can't do it anymore,' " she said.

Schneider is hopeful that the 9,553 students who have applied this year are serious candidates and that their group will yield the same number of nonresident students as last year when the enrollment deadline arrives in May.

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