NU cites varied factors as deepening admissions pool

Sheila Burt

Northwestern’s football team might have lost the Motor City Bowl to Bowling Green last month, but the university won on a different field: application numbers.

Enrollment officials announced last week that 15,575 students applied to NU this year– the highest number since 1997, the year after NU’s appearance 1996 at the Rose Bowl.

Although football and application numbers generally are not connected, almost anything, from cultural and economic factors to a football game, can cause fluctuations in the number of students who apply to NU.

This year’s 10 percent increase follows a small decline last year, when 14,137 students applied: about 150 less than in 2002.

NU’s Motor City Bowl appearance “certainly didn’t hurt,” said Mark Murphy, NU’s director of athletics.

Murphy said students hear hype about the game even weeks before kickoff, which can lead students to give NU a second look.

That’s exactly what happened in 1996. “The Cinderella experience” of the football team fueled NU’s biggest increase in applications, said Rebecca Dixon, associate provost for university enrollment .

But football is not the only factor affecting admissions. In 1997 admissions numbers leveled off as the football dream faded and students faced a big tuition increase.

For the fall of 1998, the university raised tuition by about 17 percent — a big jump compared with the average 6 percent increase, Dixon said.

“Reality began to set in as students, particularly in the Midwest, became aware of the high cost,” said Dixon, adding that the university lost applicants in early 2000 and 2001.

In addition to reporting a high number of overall applications, Dixon said the highest number of Latinos, blacks and international students in NU’s history applied this year.

Minority recruiters did not do anything dramatically different for recruitment this year but emphasized individualized e-mail contact for black and Latino students, said Elizabeth Enciso, assistant director of admissions and co-coordinator of Latino recruitment.

Enciso said all of the office’s efforts seemed to come together this year, even though numbers of Latino student applicants have generally increased over the past four years.

“(We’ve) really developed high school relationships over time that can make a difference,” said Enciso.

She said she received two e-mails from Latino students in the fall who asked the university how they had responded to the hate crimes and what the student communities feel in both of those cases.

“I explained what the administration has done and then had a student volunteer respond to the student,” said Enciso, adding that she was surprised she only received two inquiries but could get more in the spring when people are accepted.

Even international students, who face strict limitations when applying for visas and travelling to the United States, increased in number.

Simple “word of mouth” and added visibility perhaps contributed to the increase in international students, said Sheppard Shanley, senior associate director of undergraduate admissions who works with international applicants.

Whatever the reason for NU’s increase in applicants in several categories this year, past fluctuations leave little evidence of precise explanations or trends.

“Admissions is not an exact science,” said Chris Simmons, an assistant director of government relations at the American Council on Education, adding that when he worked in the admissions office in Harvard, he “never knew what the factors were.”