Phi Beta Cons

The High-Enrollment Model

Many private schools experience a tug of war between keeping student selectivity high (for the sake of U.S. News rankings) and keeping tuition coming in.

Furman University in South Carolina has chosen to expand its tuition dollars by boosting the number of students, even though that choice reduces selectivity. This year, the school increased its freshman class by 10 percent, explicitly to get more dollars. “We believe this will put Furman in a stronger financial position in which we can generate resources to invest in the institution,” the dean of faculty told a reporter at the student newspaper, The Paladin. The newspaper noted that “many of the larger rooms” in two dormitories would be converted so that they would house three (rather than two) students.

The result of the expansion was a “dramatic drop in admissions selectivity” this year, as the school changed the methods of selecting students, “focusing less on standardized-test scores and more on extracurricular involvement,” wrote the reporter, Emily Mitchell. She quoted the dean of faculty:

A lot of institutions are really struggling in this financial environment. . . . If we can . . . develop a model that will allow for the quality of the educational experience to improve and [still] have the resources that are needed, Furman is going to be one of those great success stories that will emerge among a rather gloomy [financial] environment in higher education right now.

Jane S. ShawJane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...