From Bloomberg:

March 9 (Bloomberg) — Applications dropped at seven of the top eight liberal-arts colleges in the U.S., led by a 20 percent plunge at Williams College in Massachusetts.


Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, ranked third-best among liberal-arts institutions by U.S. News and World Report, drew 10 percent fewer applicants than last year, and there was a 12 percent drop at fifth-ranked Middlebury College in Vermont. Amherst College in Massachusetts said applications fell 1 percent for the next school year. Amherst and Williams are tied for first in the ratings.

Applications also fell at Carleton College in Minnesota, Bowdoin College in Maine, and Pomona College in California. Only Wellesley College in Massachusetts reported an increase among the top eight liberal arts schools ranked by U.S. News. Wellesley said applications rose 2 percent, to about 4,200.

Applications at all eight Ivy League universities in the Northeast U.S. increased. Harvard College received about 29,000, a 5.6 percent gain from a year earlier, while Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, got 26,000, 14 percent more. The increase at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia was just four applicants.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Stanford University in California and Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, also attracted more applicants.


Feeling Squeezed

Families that once could afford private college are feeling squeezed during the economic meltdown, as many don’t qualify for financial-aid packages. While Yale provides aid for families earning as much as $200,000 a year, more than three times the median income in the U.S., the limit for aid eligibility is often lower at other schools.

The small liberal-arts colleges, like the larger Ivy League institutions, have enhanced financial aid in recent years. Williams eliminated loans in November 2007, instead giving students more grants.

Williams received 6,024 applications. Last year, applications at the school increased 17 percent to a record 7,552.

“Certainly the economy has to have an effect,” said Richard Nesbitt, director of admissions at Williams. “Some of these kids might have applied to 14 schools last year. Instead of 14, they’re applying to 10 now and maybe the last four are lower- cost public institutions.”

‘Extraordinary’ Applicants

Perhaps the “bigger-name research universities are being kept on the list” and smaller liberal-arts colleges are being dropped, Nesbitt said. Williams continues to attract “extraordinary” applicants, he said.

“We still have the third-highest number we’ve had in the history of the college,” Nesbitt said. “It’s not like were suffering for lack of quality.”

Perhaps now we can finally recognize that demand for a $180,000 college education is not immune to economic reality. The reality of falling demand should be kept in mind when discussing ways for Williams to address its own fiscal crisis (hint: raising effective prices / cutting discounts in this environment is a terrible idea).

We, of course, predicted this, more or less, in December.

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