Private liberal arts colleges, including Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs and Union College in Schenectady, are seeing a decline in admission applications and increased requests for financial aid.
“It’s no surprise, looking at the economic climate,” said Robert Shorb, associate dean and director of student aid and family finance at Skidmore.
Some students’ parents have lost their jobs, he said. Some families’ college investments have declined dramatically with the stock market.
At the same time, the small liberal arts colleges have also lost money on their endowment investments. Skidmore’s $223 million endowment, for example, is down 23 percent from a year ago.
But students are seeking more financial aid because of the economic crisis.
At Skidmore, admission applications have declined 14 percent from 2008. At Union College, admission applications are down 9 percent. But at both colleges, the declines come after several years of record application numbers.
Skidmore set a record in 2008 with 7,400 applications for 650 openings in its freshman class. The college on North Broadway in Saratoga Springs has a total of 2,400 students.
At Union College, applications were down this year but are still very strong, according to Phillip Wajda, media and public relations director.
“Applications were down 9 percent this year, but we still had [our] third best year ever,” Wajda said. The Union applicant pool is 4,811 this year.
Time magazine reporter Laura Fitzpatrick profiled Skidmore’s admissions process and problems in a lengthy, detailed article in last week’s edition. The story said Skidmore’s problems are in line with application declines at “seven of the country’s top eight liberal arts colleges.”
The major Ivy League universities did not see such a decline, nor did state universities and community colleges, the story said.
Shorb said the Time reporter spent several days at Skidmore, gathering information and observing the financial aid and admissions process. “It is a good overview of how it all works,” Shorb said.
Shorb and Union College officials are confident they will be able to fill their incoming freshman classes this fall, despite the application declines. Skidmore’s target is again 650 students, while Union is planning for a freshman class of 565.
But the difficult economy remains on the minds of college admission officials.
“Will people be able to afford it?” Shorb said. “It’s a real different climate.”
Skidmore is increasing its comprehensive fee (tuition, room and board and college fees) from just under $50,000 to $51,196 for the 2009-10 school year. Union’s comprehensive fee is increasing from this year’s $48,552 to $50,439.
At the same time, Skidmore has increased the amount of financial aid it will provide. Shorb said Skidmore’s financial aid has generally increased at a greater rate than the comprehensive fee.
Most Skidmore students don’t pay the full cost, with about 60 percent of the students receiving aid.
The Time magazine story gave examples, confirmed by the college, of who might pay the full cost and who may pay just a fraction.
A New York City family of four with no other children in college and an annual income of $169,007 would receive no financial aid from Skidmore.
However, a Midwestern family of five with one other child in college and an annual income of $89,800 would pay just $7,969, with the rest of the $51,196 being paid through grants ($39,000), loans ($2,500) and a federal work-study job ($2,000).
Skidmore has tightened its belt this year, freezing most hiring and putting off any major new construction projects.
An exception is the new Zankel Music Center, which has been under construction for almost two years.
Skidmore President Philip Glotzbach issued a detailed plan last fall on how the college will reduce spending so it can continue to provide its current curriculum and programs. The college has had no layoffs.
At Union College there will be Accepted Student Days on Monday and April 20.
About 1,000 visitors are expected in the two days, according to a college statement.
“We have accepted a strong and diverse group with students representing 41 states and 41 countries,” said Matthew Malatesta, the college’s vice president for admissions, financial aid and enrollment.
“The college pledges to meet the full financial needs of all admitted students,” says a college statement on its Web site (www.union.edu). “Approximately 60 percent of Union students receive scholarship assistance, with the average scholarship totaling over $20,000,” the statement says.
some see UPSWING
On the other hand, at the University at Albany, applications have increased this year, according to university spokesman Karl Luntta. UAlbany has received more than 22,000 applications this year, compared to 21,800 in 2008.
“Our applications have steadily increased for the past four years,” Luntta said.
Financial aid requests have also increased by 15 percent this year, according to Beth Post-Lundquist, director of financial aid.
At UAlbany, the comprehensive fee for 2009-10 will be $16,936, an increase of about $350 from the current academic year. For out-of-state students, the comprehensive fee exceeds $20,000, according to the university Web site (www.albany.edu).
Post-Lundquist said the good news is that federal money coming to SUNY for work-study programs has also increased by 10 percent this year, thanks to the stimulus bill.
She said federal Pell Grant funding has also increased, meaning qualifying students will get about $500 more in the 2009-10 academic year.
Siena College in Loudonville and the College of Saint Rose in Albany are also seeing increases in applications.
Applications at Siena are up 11 percent, according to Ned Jones, acting director of enrollment management. He said this year Siena received 7,200 applications.
Jones said requests for financial aid are up slightly.
He said 86 percent of the students attending Siena receive some sort of financial aid. Siena is planning for a freshman class of 775.
The college comprehensive fee is $36,000 for the coming academic year.
At Saint Rose, applications have increased 5 percent this year, according to Mary Grondahl, vice president for enrollment management. Saint Rose is planning for a freshman class of 600.
The comprehensive fee is $32,546 for the 2009-10 academic year.
“We sent out 24 percent more financial aid packages this year,” Grondahl said.
Saint Rose has also seen a steady increase in applicants, with approximately 4,000 this year, an increase of 1,000 compared to four years ago.