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Admissions and the Numbers Game

FAU broke a new admissions record for Fall 2012 by enrolling 30,038 students overall, with 23,660 calling the Boca Raton campus home. Last year the media talked about our increased enrollment but I guess they didn't want to write that story this year, so I will.

Our freshmen class size was 3,237 students. The average GPA was 3.5, the average ACT was 23 and the average SAT was 1600 (out of a possible 2400, which translates to ~1090 by the old "1600" SAT system).  The GPA went up 0.1, the ACT stayed the same and the average SAT increased slightly... I'd like to see it around 1200-1300 by the old SAT system, so we're still a ways from that. Maybe in the next five years.

Everybody likes to talk about selectivity and some students are still under the wrong impression that we "accept everyone." For Fall 2012 there were 27,888 FTIC (first time in college, aka freshmen) students that applied of which 10,876 were admitted (39%). The overall number (including the 2,913 students who applied for the highly-coveted 63 medical school spots) was only slightly higher at ~40%.

So, have we gotten more exclusive? The short answer is "yes." Over the years FAU has admitted the following percentages of FTIC applicants:

52% (in Fall 2006)
55% (2007)
46% (2008)
46% (2009)
51% (2010)
36% (2011)

It fluctuates a bit year to year because we have to admit and enroll X number of students to make our budget. That's automatic. But depending on the year, for instance in 2011 we had a surge in applications because of the opening of the new football stadium. As you can see, we literally turned away 15% more students in 2011 than in 2010, and it's got to be because of the stadium. We've increased from 36% to 39% primarily because Mary Jane Saunders supposedly wants to increase the freshmen class size every year to grow enrollment (that's the rumor, anyway), and I'm with her on that. After all, 39% is still pretty respectable. 50, 52, 55% is not. You want to keep that number down around 25-30% to maintain a certain quality of student.

And once they're admitted, what are these students pursuing, anyway?

Well, the three most popular colleges by enrollment are: Business (5,847), Science (4,994) and, surprisingly, Arts & Letters (3,819) - I really thought Education (2,943) would have been in the Top 3 considering our reputation for developing good teachers!

Remember that "Business" covers about 10 different degrees and four certificates, so perhaps it's more important to look at degrees instead of colleges.The top 3 degrees are Biology, Psychology and Elementary Education at the undergraduate level, with Business Administration, Nursing and "Educational Leadership" (future University Presidents?) as the top 3 at the graduate level.

Not ocean engineering, huh? We're really dropping the ball there...

Anyway, in the 48 years that FAU has offered classes, we've graduated 128,961 students from all campuses. That number would be higher if we focused our efforts on offering more classes and ensuring that there are enough sections for students to graduate. Some senior upperclassmen have one shot at a class required to graduate, and if they can't get into it, they may have to wait an entire year for the class to be offered again. Sad, but it happens all too often and the way for us to improve our 4-year graduation rate is to ensure that the junior and senior classes are available to everyone in the major; for instance, if there are 40 seniors pursuing Class X needed to graduate, make sure Class X isn't capped at 25 and instead can take on 40 students. It would be a dynamic class size system.

As I've mentioned before, we want to grow our graduate enrollment as well since graduate students produce research and act as ambassadors for the school at academic conferences. Of those ~129k alumni, only 1,605 got their doctoral (Ph.D.) degree here (approximately 1.2%). We definitely need to increase that number. one of the ways a school is judged is based upon hoe many doctoral degree programs it offers and how many people graduate from them. We have 19 doctoral level degrees and one professional degree, so let's say we have 20 overall. Schools with names you recognize offer more like 80-100 Ph.D. programs. As mentioned before, that can't just happen overnight - you need faculty, you need research space and programs, and you need interest. FAU wants to qualify for the highest ranking of research activity and that means increasing the graduate enrollment and doctoral student population.

It's not as hard to know where we'll go from here as it is to predict how quickly we'll get there. How do we attract valedictorians away from the Floridas and the Vanderbilts? And once they get here, how are we challenging them? A student with a 4.0 GPA from high school needs significant more challenge and stimulation than someone who graduated with a 2.5 GPA, and I've read various reviews from people saying some of our classes are more busywork than truly challenging. Are we pandering too much to ensure that enough people are graduating from the class, thus robbing them of a more in-depth understanding? If that is the case, the good news is that the professors will catch onto the rising GPA/SAT and feel a little more comfortable asking more from our students. At the end of the day we want that reputation to come back to other high school students and potential employers, that an FAU degree was an challenge to get, not just something you invested four years worth of of busywork for. When you cross that stage, it should mean the world to you because you broke your back to get there.

It's going to be a long journey but the numbers are looking good, and with good numbers comes good reputation, which means higher rankings, and the whole thing is a positive feedback loop. Soon we'll have an average GPA of 3.7, SAT of 1200 and be able to brag that we accepted a dozen valedictorians and graduated them in four years. It happened at UCF. It can happen here. Just give it time.



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