Freshman applications drop; some blame I-200

An overall drop in freshmen applications has surprised UW officials, who are trying to track the reasons behind a 3.5 percent drop from 13,227 in 1998 to 12,692 this year.

Applications are down for all ethnic groups, but the numbers for African Americans and American Indians are particularly disturbing, reports UW Director of Admissions W.W. “Tim” Washburn. Freshman applications from African Americans are down 20 percent, American Indians down 14 percent, Latinos down 8 percent, Asian Americans down 7 percent and whites down 5 percent.

The UW is not alone in the applications drop. Washington State University reports a half percent drop in freshmen applications and a 3.5 percent drop in minorities. The Evergreen State College reports an 8.7 overall decline, but has no breakout for ethnic categories yet.

In contrast, applications are up at state regional universities, especially from minority students. For example, Western Washington University reports a 4.8 percent overall jump and a 14.5 percent hike in minority applications .

The recent passage of Initiative 200, which bans the use of affirmative action goals in state hiring and admissions policies, could have had a chilling effect on minority applicants, say some admissions directors. “I wonder if their perception is that they may not be admitted elsewhere,” Western Washington Admissions Director Karen Copetas told the press. “The whole thing is about perception, and perception and reality are quite different.”

“We are very, very concerned about that,” adds Washburn. “It makes it that much more difficult to maintain diversity. You will see expanded recruitment and outreach activities at the UW.”

Looking at the numbers a different way, another pattern emerges. In-state applications held steady, with just 27 more than 1998. But non-resident requests are down by 526, an 11 percent plunge.

Regarding the overall drop, the admissions director says high school students, especially from out of state, may be getting more realistic about their chances of attending the UW. “There is a lot of self-selection that goes on,” he reports. UW application packet includes detailed information and charts to help prospective student see how competitive they are.

Since there will be room for about 4,400 new freshmen this September, the UW will still be turning away more than half of its applicants. “We have many, many well qualified students that we would dearly lover to enroll, but we won’t be able to accept them this year,” Washburn says.

The average entering freshman last year had a 3.65 high school G.P.A. and 1155 SAT score, and Washburn expects this year’s class will be about the same. The slight drop in applications “won’t affect the quality of our in-coming class at all,” he says.

Some UW graduate and professional programs are also reporting a drop in applications. The law school, for example, is seeing a 41 percent drop in African American applications and an 18 percent drop in Latinos. However, the medical school saw a 14 percent increase in African American applications, even though its overall pool dropped by 2 percent.

Another blow to a diverse student population is the drop in applications from international students, says Washburn. There was an 11 percent drop, probably linked to the Asian economic crisis.

Since by law the UW cannot consider race when making an offer, at this point it is impossible to tell what the final classes will look like. But if acceptances follow the applications trend, the University will be less diverse than in previous years.

At a Diversity Summit held March 4 at Seattle’s Garfield High School, President Richard L. McCormick pledged to renew “our commitment to educating an increasingly diverse student population that reflects our state.” The UW will strengthen its partnership with K-12 schools and community colleges, expand high school recruitment efforts, maintain access for qualified students regardless of income, and support students from all backgrounds who are considering graduate and professional careers.

Freshmen application rates, 1999 vs. 1998

  • African Americans, down 20%
  • American Indians, down 14%
  • Asian Americans, down 7%
  • Latinos, down 8%
  • Whites, down 5%
  • Other/Blank, up 14%
  • In-State, no change
  • Out-of-State, down 11%
  • International, down 11%