Why applications are pouring in at these 2 unique state universities

Affordability is just one of the keys to success for forward-thinking institutions in Vermont and Michigan.

Aside from its spectacular campus, ranked No. 1 in the U.S. by Travel & Leisure magazine, the University of Vermont is teeming with attributes that appeal to prospective students, including more than 10,000 internships, incredibly high job placement and a strong academic reputation.

Add to that its test-optional policy and low cost, and UVM has been well-positioned for this moment, says Jay Jacobs, vice provost for enrollment management. “We believe a leading factor behind the surge is our commitment to maintaining affordability by keeping our tuition frozen at the same amount for a fourth consecutive year.”

That surge is the record number of total applications UVM received for the second straight year, eclipsing 30,000 for the Class of 2026. UVM won’t be releasing final enrollment numbers until the fall—undergraduates total more than 11,000 on the Burlington campus now—but it is setting up to be its “highest-achieving incoming class ever,” according to officials. The applications rise is 20% year-over-year and 57% over 2019-20.

Other public institutions reported similar booming numbers earlier in the cycle, including Florida State University, which saw a record of nearly 75,000 applications for the fall, and the University of California, which not only received more than 210,000 applications but also saw its community college transfer numbers soar by 10% and the number of Latinx applicants rise sharply.

Several factors, including increases in financial aid and Pell grants and the embracing of test-optional policies, have made postsecondary education more accessible since the start of the pandemic. The Common App has helped fuel the surge for students to apply to its 853 member schools with ease. Applications have risen more than 14% year over year on the site, with students targeting an average of nearly six schools.

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But value is value, and institutions that don’t carry the prestige of a selective school or may be viewed as too pricey are not seeing the same application numbers. The decline of 6% in enrollments nationwide over the past two years, as noted by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, bear that out. Even some public universities that are very affordable, like Central and Western Michigan, have seen enrollments dip by more than 30% over the past decade.

At UVM, a school that has been around since 1791, interest isn’t a problem, largely because of its academic prowess and resource-rich environment. Jacobs says, “there’s growing awareness that UVM is a premier public research university that offers hands-on learning opportunities with an unwavering commitment to ensuring student success.”

Inside the numbers

This will be UVM’s most selective class in three decades—with selectivity being relative at a state public institution—at 59%. Highly selective privates such as Harvard and MIT have been in the 4% range. But the credentials of the incoming class at UVM are impressive: Average SAT score: 1347. Average ACT score 31. Average GPA: 3.8. While it doesn’t factor in scores, it does use those who submit as a benchmark. “The quality of the Class of 2026 speaks to an expanding recognition of our academic reputation that the university community has rightfully earned,” UVM president Suresh Garimella said.

One flaw UVM has had in its history is a lack of diversity. Just 12% of its undergraduate students now are students of color. That is not altogether surprising given the makeup of demographics in the state. According to 2020 Census figures, 89.8% of residents are white, and in many counties, that number is more than 90%. Multiracial individuals comprise the largest group other than non-whites at 4.6%.

But Vermont is also growing, with nearly 3% more residents than it had in 2010. So UVM, while still largely drawing students from within the state, said it is working to improve the numbers. It says 50% of its new students will come from outside New England, with 46 states being represented (as they were in 2021-22). It is increasing, just slightly, its students of color to 13%, and 9% will be first-generation. Comparatively, West Virginia University draws from similar demographics in its state (89% white), and its numbers are nearly the same, with white students outnumbering Hispanic and Black students 3,011 to 114 and 106, respectively, although it does have a big number of international students.

One institution that also saw record undergraduate applications and a huge boost in diverse students filing – in the fickle state of Michigan – was Michigan Tech. The university received applications from 8,800 students, or about 5% more than last year and 30% more than in 2019-20. Interest from underrepresented minority groups has doubled, while applications from women jumped by 66%, a great sign for the STEM fields. Cybersecurity and engineering software are especially popular. It is also seeing a lot of applications from outside the state, particularly from California, Texas and Arizona.

“Through excellence in research and education, and by listening and responding to the needs of our students, Michigan Tech has established itself as a premier niche STEM-based institution,” says John Lehman, Vice President of University Relations and Enrollment for Tech, which currently serves just over 7,000 undergrads.

The only question now is how to handle the influx of new students coming in.

“We’re committed to measured growth. Of course, we want every great student we can get, but we also want every student to get the quality of education they expect from us and the quality of life they deserve while they’re here,” Lehman said.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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