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College admissions guarantee heats up student search

In another indication of just how serious the college admissions wars are becoming, ten of Michigan’s 15 public universities have announced that they will guarantee admission for any Michigan student with at least a 3.0 high school grade point average. The schools, which include Central Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University, Ferris State University, Lake Superior State University, Northern Michigan University, Oakland University, Saginaw Valley State University, the University of Michigan-Dearborn, the University of Michigan – Flint, and Wayne State University.

The agreement, which is being called the Michigan Assured Admission Pact (MAAP), is an attempt to assure all Michigan high school students who qualify that they will have a spot at one of the 10 participating universities. The hope is that the agreement will encourage more high school students to apply for college.

For high school students who are seeking a bachelor’s degree, the move makes sense. Although enrolling at a community college and then transferring is always an option, only about one-third of students who attempt that make it to a university, and only about 15% actually graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years. That contrasts with about 60% of students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree when they enroll directly in a four-year university.

According to data filed by Michigan’s public universities with the US Department of Education and the State of Michigan, the five public universities that have not signed on to the agreement operated at 92% of their maximum undergraduate capacity in 2022. In comparison, the 10 MAAP universities operated at about 76% of their maximum undergraduate capacity.

College admissions guarantee, financial aid will draw students to universities

There’s good reason for the MAAP universities to offer the college admissions guarantee. If the strategy succeeds, it will draw recent high school graduates who otherwise would have attended a community college.

By itself, guaranteeing college admissions won’t attract a lot of students, but generous financial aid packages will. Many recent high school graduates cite the high cost of attendance and their unwillingness to take on long-term educational debt as reasons for not going to college. If applicants qualify for the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, that will reduce their tuition bill by $5,500 per year. The scholarship is renewable for up to five years and will be available to about 75% of the state’s high school seniors.

It’s worth noting that guaranteed college admissions are available only to students who enter a university in the same year they graduate from high school. Students who don’t immediately enroll will not be eligible for guaranteed admission.

The MAAP approach is simply the latest salvo in the competition for traditional college-age students. There is a finite number of these students, so attracting students to one school means taking them away from the others. And if it means reducing the number of these students who enter a community college, that will work just fine for the MAAP schools.

I am not suggesting that recent high school graduates should or should not enroll at a community college. I assume that students will do what they believe to be the best for themselves. But this strategy will require community colleges to respond with college admissions strategies of their own for either convincing recent high school grads to forgo direct university admission and the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, or another strategy that enables them to make up enrollment lost to universities.

Community colleges need competitive strategies

This goes back to something I wrote about last year: Michigan community college administrators are utterly blind to competition. That puts them (and our community colleges) at a significant disadvantage when they have to react to changes in the marketplace.

I will be interested to see the MAAP results next fall, but I won’t hold my breath for a competitive reaction from community colleges.

Photo Credit: Dr. Coop , via Flickr