Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

The Admissions Squeeze

As freshmen in Florida adapt this month to the routine of college life, many can take satisfaction in being there at all, having made the cut in an intensifying admissions competition.
Most colleges and universities in Florida report increased numbers of applications for 2006. Applications increased by as little as 1% at large institutions such as Florida State and the private University of Miami while jumping 21% at the University of South Florida and doubling at the private Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne.
The increases are not a one-year phenomenon. The number of applications this year for the University of Florida is up 30% from 2001, and most institutions reported similar or larger increases, some substantially more.

In part, the rising number of applications reflects the ease of applying online. Nationally, students are applying to more schools.

Trend #2
Falling Acceptance Rates

With most of the state's large institutions aiming to keep their freshman class size on par with recent years or only modestly up, acceptance rates are falling. To be sure, Florida as a whole tracks the nation with nearly seven of every 10 applicants winning acceptance to a four-year college or university. But the acceptance rate at some institutions is markedly lower, and the overall trend at most institutions is toward being more selective. At the University of West Florida, the acceptance rate fell to 68% in 2005 from 83% five years ago. The GPA of incoming freshmen rose over the same period from 3.04 to 3.45.

» The chances of moving from a college wait list to admission are one in five, says the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Trend #3
Higher Student Quality

At nearly all institutions in Florida, measures of student quality for those accepted are up. At UM, 91% of students accepted for this year were in the top 10% of their class, up from 86% in 2001. At UF, 44% of accepted applicants were in the top 10th of their class, compared to just 22% in the top 10% four years ago. FSU's average GPA for incoming freshmen stayed stable, even after cutting in half the bonus points it counted toward applicants' GPAs for high school honors and dual enrollment classes. "If we used the same formula, our current GPAs would be much higher," says Janice Finney, FSU's admissions director.
The state's Bright Futures scholarship program, giving full and partial rides to the state's top students regardless of need, has kept better students in Florida who otherwise would have gone out of state -- driving up the qualifications of new freshmen and competition for seats. At USF, the number of students on Bright Futures now numbers 8.5 out of 10 compared to six out of 10 five years ago, says Robert Spatig, director of admissions at USF.

High School Graduation Facts

» The number of Florida public high school graduates increased 48% to 129,000 from 1990-91 to 2003-04, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

» Florida will see a 23% increase in the number of public high school graduates between 2002 and 2014.

» From 2014 to 2030, the number of Floridians 15 to 19 is expected to increase 30% to 1.5 million, according to the economic forecasting firm Woods & Poole, based in Washington, D.C. That age group in Florida reached 1 million only in 2000.

» Nationally, increases in high school graduates result from population growth, not significant increases in the percentage of students graduating.

» Nationally, the number of high school graduates peaked in 1976-77 at 3.15 million.

Trend #4
More Students on the Way

The escalating application and declining acceptance rates illustrate "the most important, emerging education issue in Florida," says Valencia Community College President Sandy Shugart. Florida's growing population, the increasing propensity of people to choose to go to college and Florida's improvements in high school graduation rates have combined to create "an extraordinary demand for freshman seats," he says.

By one measure, the state will need the rough equivalent of two and a half new UFs in the next five years. Grant Thrall, a UF professor of business geography, estimates the state will have 135,000 additional potential college students over the next five years. Thrall researched the question for the Florida Association of Colleges and Universities and expanded the potential student population to take in non-traditional students older than 22. The Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the 11 state institutions, estimates the total number of undergraduate and graduate students at its universities increasing by 74,032, or 26%, by 2012 to 360,414, up from an estimated 286,382 this year.

The board staff is scheduled to recommend options in November for addressing the coming increases. The state could bulk up its existing universities. Spreading the board's growth estimate over 10 of the 11 public universities, each would have to accommodate 7,400 more students by 2012 just to keep up with the population growth. The 11th public institution, New College of Florida in Sarasota, has an enrollment of only 760. Sizable additions of faculty would have to be made to maintain student-teacher ratios, an often-cited measure of institutional quality. Classroom space would have to be added.

The state could choose to establish new institutions or expand summer school. Or, the state could offer more four-year degrees at community colleges. Another possibility is following the example set by UCF and the community colleges in Orange, Seminole, Brevard, Lake and Sumter counties, which last year forged an agreement that allows students there who can't make UCF's admissions cut to earn a two-year degree at their community colleges and then be guaranteed a slot at UCF. Meanwhile, increasing demand allows universities to prosper in the selectivity paradox -- the schools deemed the best by parents and students are those hardest to get into. (U.S. Department of Education research into graduates' earnings shows what students do with their education at college matters more than where they attend.) UF in July said it no longer needs to offer as much incentive to draw National Merit Scholars and cut the amount of four-year scholarships for instate National Merit Scholars to $5,000, from $22,000. The students already got free tuition through Bright Futures, but the scholarships gave them additional reason to go to UF, which in 2004 was second only to Harvard in the number of National Merit Scholars.

» "We've got more high school students. We've got more who are applying for our state universities for several reasons," notably Bright Futures. "It's a matter of supply and demand."
-- Laurie Sutton, guidance coordinator with Broward County schools

Percent White/Black/Hispanic/Other

"It's much more diverse," says USF admissions director Robert Spatig of the 2006 freshman class.
The number of Hispanics admitted reached 16%, compared to 12% last year. The number of African-Americans rose to 10% from 8.3% last year.
The number of Asians admitted increased more than a full percentage point while the number of whites fell to 62% from 69% last year.

University Snapshots

University of Florida
» 7,211 of the 7,673 who were admitted had accelerated coursework in high school. UF accepted 346 of the 369 valedictorians and salutatorians who applied. 4
» UF not only has some of the state's brightest kids but also its wealthiest, regardless of race or ethnicity, according to UF economic geography professor Grant Thrall. Over half of newly enrolled students in 2005 came from households making more than $65,000 per year, and 44% came from households making more than $94,000. About 10% of UF students come from households making $37,000 or less.

Florida State University
» FSU accepted 228 of the 252 applicants ranked first or second in their high school class. 96% of incoming, instate students received Bright Futures scholarships in 2006. Overall, 67% of FSU undergrads are on Bright Futures. The university's acceptances averaged five English credits in high school, 4.5 math, 3.5 science, 4.5 social studies and 4.5 foreign language.

University of West Florida
» UWF has seen an increase in the number of students applying from Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.

University of Miami
» UM admitted 65% of its students from out of state. 95% of the in-state students received financial aid, called Florida Resident Access Grants, from the state.

Florida Gulf Coast University
» Driving the jump in applications at Florida Gulf Coast University: Increased awareness among high school counselors and students and a growing number of programs, says Marc Laviolette, admissions director.

New College of Florida
» 24, or 4.6%, of New College's accepted freshmen were valedictorians, up from nine, or 2.2%, last year and 11, or 3.7%, in 2001. 58.2% of accepted students were in the top 10% of their class; 88.5% were in the top quarter of their class. 485 of the 522 accepted students took accelerated coursework in high school: IB, Cambridge/ AICE, AP classes or National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science and Technology (such as MAST Academy in Miami or the Center for Advanced Technologies at Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg).

Florida Atlantic University
» 36, or 0.7%, of FAU's accepted students were in the top 1% of their class.

» "While the number of high school graduates has increased, the share of the high school-aged population that graduates from high school has not. Over the past 35 years, the graduation rate of the population aged 17 has remained relatively constant at just over 70%."
-- National Association for College Admission Counseling, State of College Admission 2006