Acceptance rate falls, tuition and diversity rise: explaining the Class of 2016

    Perhaps you awoke Tuesday morning to find an inbox stuffed with Northwestern News updates, heralding both a tuition hike and a “banner class.” Perhaps you also spent your Tuesday juggling classes, fighting the back button on CAESAR and savoring the warm weather. (We did all of the above.) So to save you time, here are the most important questions – and the answers we have now – about the changing demographics of Northwestern.

    What makes the Class of 2016 so banner?

    It moves two figures in the direction University officials have wanted to see them moved: Our acceptance rate has gone down, while the diversity of the class has gone up.

    Specifically, Northwestern accepted 15 percent of students who applied for the Class of 2016. The University’s press release on the class touts that “interest in Northwestern is at an all-time high.”

    Wow. But how has diversity changed, exactly?

    We don’t know for certain. The press release says only it is “the most diverse in at least 25 years.”

    NU couldn’t know the true specifics of the class yet, as it has to wait for students to commit on May 1 before the class’s diversity figures could even exist. But Christopher Watson, dean of undergraduate admissions, comments in the release that “[t]he quality of the pool and the diversity of the pool were up, so we expect that we will enroll a very strong class next fall.” The school seems to have estimates, in other words, but it’s not sharing.

    But Northwestern clearly takes seriously the diversity of this class, and it looks like they plan on trumpeting it: In the press release about the class, the class’s diversity is mentioned before anything is said about its academic excellence.

    Have we always been into trumpeting diversity?

    No, this seems new. The number of high schoolers applying to Northwestern has been breaking records for almost a decade, but in the late 2000’s, academic excellence seemed to get credence over diversity. A 2008 NBN story about current seniors, the Class of 2012, reported that ‘12-ers had the “highest SAT scores in university history” but never mentioned their racial, gender or general demographic spread. A 2009 University press release about current juniors heralded in its first paragraph that “[h]igh school seniors who submitted admission deposits…have the highest average SAT scores and class ranking in the University’s history,” but, again, never mentioned diversity.

    But race relations seem to perennially hang over Northwestern. It’s little remarked on today that, in his first quarter as president, at a caucus on racial prejudice, Morty said that “minority enrollment numbers should be at record numbers” and that Northwestern would “redouble their efforts at improving enrollment and curriculum to reflect diverse cultures,” according to a Daily story from the time.

    “If I can’t solve those kinds of things, Northwestern deserves someone who can,” President Schapiro said.

    While it is hard to say for sure, the Class of 2016 (and its recent, diverse predecessors) looks to be the result of those policies.

    Back to that 15 percent acceptance rate. How big a deal is it?

    According to the press release, the current junior class survived an acceptance rate of 27.1 percent. Current sophomores were part of the 23.1 percent of the class admitted, and current freshmen were part of the eighteen percent admitted.

    It is a huge drop, in other words. The University’s press release comments:

    “The number of students denied [admittance to the Class of 2016], in fact, equals about the same number of applications received just two years ago.”

    How much is tuition going up?

    It’s increasing by $1,788. This year’s $41,592 tuition will grow to become $43,380, according to a separate University release.

    And room and board, too?

    Yes. Both tuition and room and board increase by 4.3% from this year, so that “total undergraduate tuition, feeds, room and board” will weigh in at $57,108. That’s an increase of more than $2,300 over this year’s total, $54,763.

    Is financial aid increasing, too?

    Northwestern financial aid will “continue to increase at a more rapid rate than tuition.” Northwestern will, through scholarships and grants, discount tuition and total cost some $118 million. Its release adds:

    “Financial aid for undergraduate students has increased by 71 percent from $68 million in 2005-2006.”

    Why did tuition rise?

    A good question. Laura W. Perna, an Economics professor at Penn, commented to Inside Higher Ed that “[Colleges] have lots of applications and don’t need to reduce price to meet enrollment needs,” which the Atlantic Wire summarized pithily as “because they can.”

    Middlebury is this year, actually, limiting its tuition growth to 1 percent above the Consumer Price Index, according to Inside Higher Ed. The same story calculated the average increase for private, four-year colleges at 4.4 percent, just above Northwestern's planned increase of 4.3 percent.

    So tuition’s rising everywhere. What about percent admitted?

    We won’t know until our “sister schools” release their admission rankings, which won’t happen for another few days. Looking at last year’s comparable early spring acceptance rates, though, Ivies linger in the single digits and Big Ten schools anywhere from the thirties to Iowa’s 75.51%.

    Northwestern’s 15% rate does slide us past Cornell’s 2011 rate, but the Ithaca, N.Y. university’s own rate could drop as dramatically as ours.

    What does this mean for our rankings?

    This reporter’s already shown his hand when it comes to rankings, but Northwestern’s lower acceptance and its historic interest can’t hurt. Check our US News & World Report’s most recent rankings data and you’ll see they seem to think acceptance rate is very important. US Newsexplanation of its own methodology doesn’t mention anything about diversity, but the rankings also take into account surveys from administrators at other schools – which is where respect for Northwestern’s increasingly diverse student body could appear.


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