Monday, April 28, 2008

Tougher than ever for Texas students to get into college

Pretty controversial line in this article: "Texas' growing population, fueled by an increase in young Hispanics, will make it harder for students vying for a limited number of seats and scholarship dollars in their home state" -- leave it to the media to suggest that Hispanics will be to blame for shifts in white students' college-going rates. -Patricia

By KAREN AYRES / The Dallas Morning News
Thursday, April 17, 2008

High school seniors applying to college this year are facing the stiffest competition ever seen, leaving many top students shaking their heads in disappointment and others waiting until the last minute to make up their minds.

The application ordeal is about to get a little easier for high school seniors across the country – but not for kids in Texas.

The number of graduating seniors is expected to decline from this year's high of 3.3 million students nationwide over the next several years, but it is projected to grow by 20 percent in Texas, according to figures from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

Texas' growing population, fueled by an increase in young Hispanics, will make it harder for students vying for a limited number of seats and scholarship dollars in their home state.

"The national picture is almost 180 degrees of what you can expect to see in Texas on the total numbers side," said Brian Prescott, a senior research analyst at the Western commission. "You're going to see a great deal of competition over scarce slots."

Boosting their odds

Population growth explains only part of the national pinch. The crunch is compounded by a growing number of students applying to a large number of schools – in some cases more than 10 – in hopes of boosting their odds of acceptance.

That phenomenon helped push acceptance rates to an all-time low at several elite national universities this year. Harvard, for example, accepted only 7 percent of applicants.

In Texas, the top 10 percent law, which guarantees admission to state universities for top students, provides assurance for some seniors, but makes it even tougher for others to score seats in the strongest schools.

About 81 percent of Texas students accepted at the University of Texas at Austin this year were admitted through the top 10 percent law.

"If you're not in the top 10 percent, then the competition you face to get into UT-Austin can be as intense as for an Ivy League school," said Gary Lavergne, the school's admissions research director. "It's very, very tough."

The competition has also helped prompt application surges at several other Texas schools.

At Southern Methodist University, the acceptance rate has dropped to an estimated 49 percent this year from 89 percent 10 years ago, university officials say. The number of applications has doubled to 9,000 during that time.

Facing rejection

This year's admissions race surprised many students who were rejected by their first and second choices.

Gabrielle Solis, 16, found out two weeks ago that she was not admitted to her top choice, Harvard. Gabrielle said she is ranked 12th in her class of nearly 700 seniors at Duncanville High School.

"Since second grade, I have wanted to go there," said Gabrielle, who will be the first in her family to go to college. "I had skipped two grades, so I thought that would help. It was a shocker to me."

Also rejected at Rice University, she now hopes to go to Dallas Baptist University.

The high rejection rates at top-tier schools have also put a damper on senior year for many students.

Kim Rose, director of guidance in the Highland Park district, said many students got into top schools, but they don't appear as excited as seniors in previous years. She suspects that's because they feel badly for friends who were rejected by their top choices.

"We haven't seen the level of enthusiasm, and I think that is because of the stress factor," she said.

Guidance counselors in Highland Park used to recommend that students apply to five to seven schools. Now, they suggest seven to 10 schools.

Common application materials and electronic filing have made it far easier for students to file multiple applications.

That application increase – multiplied by a few million students – makes it harder for colleges to predict how many of the accepted students will enroll. Many schools require students to put down a deposit by May 1.

"This is a very nervous time of year for us," said Alice Reinarz, an assistant provost at Texas A&M University. "We've sent out a lot more letters than we have seats."

Going forward, college officials in Texas and other high-growth states will need to review whether they have the buildings and staff to handle the boom, said John Barry, a vice president at Baylor University.

National projections represent overall averages. Demographers expect many southern states to grow, while declines are expected in the Northeast.

"The system only supports so many faculty members, so many students and so much housing," Mr. Barry said. "A boom in population will really tax those systems."

More than ever before, students who want to be competitive will have to do their research in the coming years. Students should no longer assume they will automatically get into a school because they appear to meet the average requirements, counselors say.

"We never use the word 'safety' anymore," said Veronica Pulido, director of college counseling at St. Mark's School of Texas. "Nothing is a secure shot anymore."

The growing number of high school graduates in Texas will make it harder to get into selective colleges in the coming years. High school counselors and college admission officials offer these tips to students and parents:

•Research college options early in your high school career.

•Apply to a range of schools, including at least one that's likely to accept you.

•Do not assume you'll get into the school your parents attended.

•If you're in the top 10 percent of your class, apply to at least one public university.

•Consider attending a community college before transferring to a four-year school.


Even more selective
Acceptance rates at some elite national universities:
2003 2008
Harvard University 10% 7%
Yale University 11% 8%
Princeton University 10% 9%
Stanford University 13% 10%
University of Pennsylvania 20% 16%
Note: Acceptance rates are rounded to the nearest whole number.

SOURCE: Dallas Morning News research

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