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Political divide impacts Class of 2021 admissions

Kenyon received far fewer applicants this year than it has in recent years, sparking a discussion in the Office of Admissions about why the College experienced this drop in applications. Many top admissions officers and administrators are theorizing that the decrease was largely influenced by the 2016 presidential election.

The College saw a 12.5 percent decrease in the number of submitted applications compared to last year. On March 27, Kenyon admitted 1,850 students to the class of 2021 out of a pool of 5,600 candidates, raising the acceptance rate to 33 percent. Last year’s acceptance rate was 26.5 percent. The College plans to conduct a study on the motivations of students who chose not to apply after indicating interest in Kenyon, President Sean Decatur said.

Vice President of Enrollment and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Diane Anci attributed the drop in applicants to the contentious presidential election.

“This is a year in which you were vulnerable if you were a small liberal arts college in a rural, red state and you attract a significant portion of your student body from the East Coast or West Coast, which would certainly be the case with Kenyon,” Anci said. Applicants from these liberal coastal states felt particularly uncomfortable this year applying to a college in a red state like Ohio, according to Anci.

Kenyon was not alone in feeling the effects of the election on college admissions rates. A number of Midwestern colleges saw a major drop in applicants this year; Oberlin College, the University of Chicago and Grinnell College all saw a decrease, Decatur said. Most significantly, Grinnell — located in Grinnell, Iowa — saw a 22 percent drop in applicants compared to last year.

The pool of applicants to Kenyon has been steadily decreasing since the College received a record-high 7,076 applicants for the class of 2019, the year after the elimination of the supplemental essay. This year, the Office of Admissions felt the 12.5 percent decrease acutely: Applications from women, students of color and students in majority-Democratic coastal states were down, according to Anci.

Anci said high school guidance counselors from these communities told Kenyon that high school students were “spooked” by political statements being made in the Ohio communities around Kenyon, as well as the presence of Trump campaign signs and Confederate flags. She suggested that this was true not just at Kenyon but at other midwest institutions of higher education as well.

“We observed firsthand the divided nature of the country,” Anci said, “as we were dealing with a fair amount of commentary on the number of Confederate flags that people were seeing around campus and the number of Trump signs.”

The College’s decrease in applicants cannot be entirely chalked up to politics, however.

“Our Title IX case from last spring did make national news,” Anci said, referring to a letter Michael Hayes ’14 wrote last spring that accused the College of mishandling the alleged sexual assault of his sister and former Kenyon student Chelsie Hayes. The story was picked up by online publications Jezebel.com and Mic.com. “You don’t know to what extent something like that too could keep people away,” Anci said.

The combined forces of what Anci calls the “John Green Effect” — the heightened profile Kenyon received as John Green ’00 H’16 received critical acclaim — and the elimination of Kenyon’s supplemental application caused a surge in applications for  the class of 2018. Anci believes the fluctuation of the applicant pool will eventually settle.

“Sometimes when institutions have a little bit of a surge…[they] settle into some splitting-the-difference place,” Anci said. This means Kenyon is expected to hover, as other colleges have done, somewhere between where the applications peaked for the class of 2019 and where they had been.

Though 5,600 applicants is low relative to statistics from the last few years, this is still the fourth-highest number of applicants in Kenyon’s history, according to Anci.

This year the College received applications from all 50 states, three U.S. territories and 105 countries. Kenyon extended the highest number of offers to students from California, Ohio, New York, Illinois and Massachusetts. There are 140 admitted international students, hailing from 40 countries. There are 423 admitted students who identify as students of color, and 185 admitted students with a legacy connection.

Anci expects a 28 to 29 percent yield rate, meaning the Class of 2021 could include more than500 students. If as many of the 140 admitted international students enroll as the Office of Admissions expects, it could mean that six to seven percent of the the Class of 2021 would be international, as opposed to the typical four to five percent.

The class “promises to be Kenyon’s most diverse class” if the yield rate follows the College’s admissions model, Anci said. Anci considers the continued growth in diversity to be especially encouraging considering Kenyon’s dependence on tuition revenue.

But where many appear to have been deterred by Kenyon’s surrounding rural community, the class of 2021 features members who are excited to take on the challenge a change in scenery presents. One of these admitted students is Henry Hirschfeld ’21, who visited Kenyon last October.

“Visiting in October, my dad and I were a little struck by seeing Trump/Pence signs in almost every single yard we drove by,” Hirschfeld said. Coming from a New England boarding school where it was “easy to forget that there are people with opposing viewpoints,” the prevalence of both Trump/Pence signs and the Hillary Campaign’s “Love Trumps Hate” signs served as “a good wake-up call … and a good reason to come to Kenyon,” Hirschfeld said.

1 Comment

  1. Patrick Mattimore Reply

    While it may be interesting to do some hindsight quarterbacking regarding the one-year admissions drop, it may not be all that beneficial. What is more valuable is to look at trends over a period of 5 years or so. In addition, admissions offices need to be aware of larger demographic patterns (i.e. lower populations of high school seniors, economic downturns, etc.) that may be affecting trends nationally.
    Perhaps in its study, the Office of Admissions could do a little self-analysis as to why Kenyon and all the other selective colleges insist on judging the success of each admissions cycle solely on the basis of selectivity. What difference does it make if Kenyon rejected 2 out of every 3 applicants this year as opposed to nearly 3 out of 4 last year? Presumably, the class admitted is just as qualified. The rejection race that has been driving college admissions for some time doesn’t seem to be the best way to handle admissions.

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