Miami University has extended its confirmation deadline for incoming students to June 1 in response to challenges caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic and lower than average admission numbers, especially among international students.
Miami is expecting a smaller than average class of 2024, said Director of Admission Bethany Perkins, though it’s difficult to predict just how much smaller. Enrollment officers always use historical data to predict admission trends, but there is no such data that can accurately represent the circumstances of a pandemic — an unprecedented event for most living generations.
“All of our trends, all of our internal institutional history as well as external history can no longer be trusted,” Perkins said.
According to data obtained from Miami’s annually released Common Data Sets, in the past five years, applications and enrollments to Miami have remained steady overall, with admissions gradually increasing; the circumstances of the pandemic will almost certainly disrupt those trends.
With more confirmations coming in every day, Perkins wouldn’t say what the new overall rates would be, because they are changing so quickly.
However, one of the more pronounced downward trends in admissions and applications for the fall is concerning international students.
Aaron Bixler, senior associate director of international enrollment, said as of May 15, international student admissions were down 22 percent from where they were this time last year. Additionally, international student confirmations were down 48 percent. This is a more dramatic manifestation of an ongoing trend.
“Over the past couple of years, there has been a general downward trend in international applications and enrollments, but this year it is more pronounced,” Bixler said.
There are a number of factors that contribute to this trend, Bixler said, including the high cost of higher education in the United States, increased competition in other countries — especially Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom — and the current world geopolitical climate.
“Of course, this has all been accelerated and made more pronounced by the global pandemic,” Bixler said.
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The main concern the office of admissions has heard from potential first-year students is an uncertainty regarding whether on-campus classes will resume in the fall. Financial concerns due to the loss of jobs during the pandemic is another major factor.
For international students, there is the added problem of getting student visas in time for the fall semester while U.S. embassies and consulates are closed around the world. Students are also hesitant to commit to coming to a campus they haven’t been able to visit in person.
As of the end of the spring semester, administrators plan to be on campus in the fall, but nothing is certain. The confirmation deadline was pushed back from its original date of May 1 to give students more time to decide in this time of uncertainty. The university has tried to offset the lack of campus visits by offering virtual tours, which Perkins said have been positively received. More than 30 percent of current confirmed incoming students have never been to campus — twice the historical average.
If newly admitted international students are not able to make it to campus in the fall, Bixler said the university would work with them to provide a full schedule of online courses.
As for financial roadblocks, one major step the university took was to institute the Emergency Needs Fund, meant to help students attending both Oxford and regional campuses pay for necessities and educational expenses, as well as compensate for the loss of student employment. As of May 15, the fund had raised more than $580,000.
In addition to this, Perkins said the financial aid office is reviewing many cases affected by the circumstances of the pandemic.
Despite the hits to fall admission, some aspects of student population size remain unchanged. Enrollment in summer 2020 courses — many of which were already designed to be online — actually slightly exceeds the number of students who were enrolled for summer classes at this time last year, said Brent Shock, vice president of enrollment management and student success. Though summer registration halted abruptly in mid-March as Miami went online and quarantine orders went into effect across the country, it began rebounding in early April.
Additionally, retention of first-year students coming back for their second year remains steady so far, Shock said, though the university won’t have the official retention rate until mid-October.
Shock participated in the calling campaign administrators undertook earlier in the semester to check in individually with students and found that many students shared a common sentiment: they were eagerly hoping to return to campus in the fall. He attributes the steady rate of retention to this, at least in part.
“It would not have surprised me to see an uptick in people withdrawing, but we didn’t see that at all,” Shock said. “I’m anxious to get back to campus myself. So, you know, I think that a lot of students are feeling that same way and that they are looking forward to getting back to campus in the fall.”