Not Every College is Elite

Like many happenings in American society, the perception of the college selection process is driven by the most elite people and institutions. There are plenty of stories out there about how students apply to more than ten colleges, yet are lucky to get accepted to only their “safety school.” (For example, look at this blog from the newspaper of America’s elite.) But many prospective students and their families do not realize that the majority of four-year colleges are not highly selective and will admit most high school graduates.

An article in today’s Inside Higher Ed (titled “The (Needless?) Frenzy”) highlights the results of a national survey conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (membership required to see the full report). The results of the survey show that the average four-year institution admits about two-thirds of its applicants, with little difference between public and private colleges. I examined federal IPEDS data for 2010-11 admit rates for the 1569 colleges in this year’s Washington Monthly college rankings and also found that the average college admitted 65% of applicants. The below graph shows the distribution of admission rates:


Not every college is elite enough to be able to reject most of their applicants. Although students tend to apply to colleges which should give them at least a chance of admission, it is worth noting that top-rated colleges in the Washington Monthly rankings admit more students than the average. For example, my alma mater, Truman State University, admits 74% of its applicants while ranking sixth in the master’s university rankings. Truman is certainly selective (with a median ACT of 28), but it is far from elite. Prospective students and their families need to keep in mind that there are very good schools out there which are not absurdly selective, and policymakers should focus their efforts on making success for these institutions more possible.

Author: Robert

I am an a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville who studies higher education finance, accountability policies and practices, and student financial aid. All opinions expressed here are my own.

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