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Why getting into college isn't that hard

A new Gallup survey reveals a dramatic disconnect between reality and one of the biggest fears that parents and teenagers experience in the college admission process.

Media coverage has convinced many families that it has become extremely difficult to get into the vast majority of colleges and universities. The Gallup survey clearly shows that this is untrue.

Sixty-one percent of senior admission administrators at state and private colleges and universities told Gallup in an annual survey conducted for Inside Higher Ed that they did not fill their freshmen classes for the 2014-2015 school year. That's up a percentage point from last year. Rather than being a seller's market, buyers clearly have an edge at most schools.

The numbers were even starker for private colleges, which are much smaller than universities and typically don't enjoy brand names. Seventy-one percent of these institutions didn't meet their freshmen targets for the 2014-2015 school year, which is up considerably from last year when 59 percent of private colleges didn't meet their frosh targets.

"This has been a very tough year for admissions," said Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed's editor, who discussed the finding at the annual conference of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. "Most people in admissions are more concerned about filling their classes than sifting through applications,"

Pamela Horne, the dean of admissions at Purdue University, agreed with the assessments. "Our challenges will only continue to grow." While she noted the number of high school students will soon begin to increase again, she added that much of the growth will come from first-generation Hispanic students.

People in the higher-ed field noted at the conference that schools can't continue to market their way to better admission numbers. College presidents and boards of trustees cannot expect miracles from admission administrators, who are increasingly in the hot seat and facing the threat of losing their jobs if they don't produce. Horne spoke with emotion when she mentioned several of her friends at other schools who lost their admission jobs recently despite being excellent in their fields.

According to the survey, admission administrators do not think the numbers are going to improve any time soon. Forty-seven percent of senior officials said they are "very concerned" about meeting their enrollment numbers for the 2015-2016 school year. Roughly a third are "moderately concerned."

David Hawkins, NACAC's director of public policy and research, summed up the feelings of higher-ed insiders when he noted, "It seems apparent that something has to give."

But what that will be remains to be seen.

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