Data for incoming freshmen delayed

Northwestern administrators might be uncertain of the ethnic breakdown of the entering freshman class, but at least they know teenage heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas could be a Wildcat.

“We’ve accepted him,” said Rebecca Dixon, associate provost for university enrollment. “I don’t know if he’s accepted us.”

Although administrators mailed acceptance letters to Thomas and 5,149 other high school seniors during the last week of March, Dixon said no definite statistics are available on the students’ genders, ethnicities or test scores because the information was inaccurately entered into NU’s new SES computer system.

Preliminary results show fewer Latino and African-American applicants than in the past, but Dixon said no concrete numbers are available because not all of the applications have been coded.

“In order to get through the (admissions) season, we temporarily put aside getting all the data in,” said Dixon, whose office had to hire 20 temporary data entry operators to fill in the information. “We could not train them in the work very well. One day we woke up and found all the AP scores in the SAT column.”

Another indicator that the information was inaccurate: The number of applicants who checked the “other” box when identifying their ethnicity increased by 20 percent this year.

Dixon said most of those students probably identified their ethnicity but that the information was coded incorrectly. But the number of students who check “other” is increasing every year.

So Dixon’s office is auditing the admissions results — going through each of the 14,723 applications and double-checking them against the information in the computer — and she said complete data probably will be available in September.

Plans are in the works to simplify the data-entry process with a graphical user interface. Currently, the information is entered directly into the system under a complex set-up.

“To speed up data entry, we need to get a front end that’s easier to teach and type,” Dixon said. “Inexperienced people can learn that.”

NU staffers — not PeopleSoft Inc., the makers of SES — will create the interface.

NU admitted 250 fewer students than last year because too many of the accepted students enrolled. But the target enrollment for Fall Quarter 2000 will remain 1,900. Dixon said reducing the number of admitted students will let administrators use the wait list.

“I wouldn’t be at all unhappy if we could make more use of the wait list,” Dixon said. “We always like to take those people when we find out they really want to come.”

The only significant increase in applications came from overseas students, including both U.S. citizens and international students. For the past five years, NU has sent a recruiter every other year to Europe and Southeast Asia, which might have been responsible for the increase in overseas applicants. Asian countries, which send the largest portion of overseas applicants, also are rebounding from a widespread economic crisis that hit a few years ago and the rise could reflect current improvements.

Although administrators will have to go through each application, they have 741 fewer to check than they would have had last year — the total number of applications dropped about 5 percent from last year’s 15,464.

The decrease is part of “normal fluctuations” in the admissions process, administrators said.

“Northwestern is getting to be understood as a very selective place, and when that happens — and this is only a hypothesis — some people just aren’t applying who might have,” said University President Henry Bienen. “We don’t need 16,000 applications. It puts a burden on the staff.”