College applicants shop for best deal

by Paul Mullin

Although Rider administrators are not overly worried by evidence showing a decline in applications at private colleges, they say they have noticed a trend that shows applicants using financial aid as a bigger factor in school choice.

Although aid and scholarships have always been important when applying to colleges, Vice President of Enrollment Management Jamie O’Hara said that “people are doing a lot more comparative shopping this year.”

“What I’m hearing more than anything is that people are looking and saying, ‘I’m putting a lot of applications out there and seeing what kind of financial aid awards I get,’” O’Hara said.

But just because administrators aren’t worried doesn’t mean they aren’t watching closely, said O’Hara.

“I think worried might be too strong a word, but we are definitely concerned,” O’Hara said. “Because there is so much uncertainty in the economy right now it would be difficult to say it’s just going to be the same year as we had last year.”

According to O’Hara, Rider’s applications are, in fact, ahead of the curve by about 10 percent. He said he has heard similar results from other schools, public and private.

O’Hara said the university has “committed to additional resources in the form of financial aid for new and continuing students for next fiscal year” — approximately $3.5 to $4 million in the operational budget.

O’Hara also said that the university expects to have about the same acceptance rate as it had last year — an all-time low 74 percent — and that the freshman class should be around the same size.

But what this does mean, he said, is that the university is expecting to see an end to the rapid growth it had experienced over the past several years.

“Seniors have seen the institution grow significantly over their four years here, and right now from a perspective of where we are standing on undergraduate goals and graduate goals, the growth pattern is less than 1 percent,” O’Hara said.

Graduate applications as a whole are slightly down, O’Hara said, but only just behind in credit hours since last spring. But graduate business enrollment saw an increase, he said.

“I think that is a combination of people who were looking for different opportunities because they could not find full-time work, and they wanted to credential themselves, but we also saw an increase in international students,” he said.

In the College of Continuing Studies (CCS), which serves about 1,000 active students with 800 registered at any given time, there has not been the surge expected in such economic situations.

“It’s interesting because the traditional school of thought has always been that during recessions our types of programs always boom, and that has been the case in most other recessions where people realize that without a bachelor’s degree they cannot qualify for a job or get ahead,” said Dean of CCS Boris Vilic.

Vilic’s theory on the matter is that, just as people are waiting to make major purchases, they are afraid to make “investments in their education.”

Dean of Students Anthony Campbell said the university is working to help students, and urged those experiencing difficulties to seek help.

He also said the university will be announcing a new form of aid in a housing letter later this month. Called the Alumni Senior Housing Grant, it will award $2,000 to 65 seniors — 50 in Lawrenceville and 15 at Westminster — who opt to live in standard double rooms.

According to Jonathan Millen, chair of the Department of Communication and Journalism, course selection has been moved up to early March, from last year’s March 28 deadline.

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