At 492 students, the Class of 2019 is the largest first-year class in Kenyon’s history.
But a larger class is just one of the effects of possible gaps in the Office of Admissions’ model — an algorithm that helps admissions officers determine which types of applicants and how many to accept to Kenyon.
“Folks here would say that the model is off,” said Diane Anci, vice president of enrollment management and dean of admissions and financial aid. Minnesota-based enrollment management firm Hardwick Day constructs the College’s model, and an independent modeler double-checks the work.
Admissions first turned its attention to the admissions model last spring, when the College ended up allotting more financial aid than it had budgeted for, according to Anci, who assumed her position at the College in July. Due to a potential lack of data in the model, the Class of 2019 caused the College to exceed its financial aid budget, and a higher-than-expected yield rate resulted in a larger class size.
International students and students who applied early decision (ED) and were deferred but later accepted in the regular decision pool both entered the Class of 2019 at a high discount rate, Anci said. Discount rate refers to the percentage of total tuition and mandatory fees allotted as financial aid. Thirty-five percent is the typical Kenyon discount rate, according to Vice President for Finance Todd Burson.
A higher discount rate means the College is spending more financial aid dollars to enroll these students for not just their first year, but their other three years as well. The College, however, is not losing money due to the fact that higher enrollment can mean higher revenue, Anci said. Tuition funds approximately 77 percent of the College’s operating budget, according to Burson, as well as the vast majority of Kenyon financial aid. Burson declined to comment on by how much the Class of 2019 exceeded the financial aid budget, because he didn’t want classes to be “stigmatized with that kind of label.”
The pool of ED defers also had a high yield rate, meaning many of those who were accepted chose to enroll at Kenyon. Anci was uncertain if the model recognized who these students were. The model also did not appear to recognize which applicants participated in The Kenyon Review’s Young Writers Workshop, the Kenyon Academic Partnership (KAP) and academic enrichment program Camp 4 Scholars — all of which include applicants who could have a higher yield rate.
Anci and President Sean Decatur emphasized that though class sizes have been fluctuating between larger and smaller classes, the numbers are not highly inconsistent. The target number for enrollment this year, which includes the Class of 2019 and entering transfer students, was 483, according to Burson.
The target number shifts from year to year, Burson said, but tends to hover around 475. There has been discussion about a class size of 470 students for the Class of 2020, according to Anci, although nothing has been decided. She and Decatur said there are no current plans to increase enrollment, though Anci believes the College has the capacity to expand.
Decatur said his main concern is stabilizing enrollment numbers. He partly attributed the recent fluctuations to the removal of the supplemental application in 2013.
What worries Decatur are scenarios in which a class is 50 or 60 students below the target, or in which multiple classes in a row are 10 or 15 students under target; a certain minimum number of students is needed to fund the College’s operations.
“If we drop below that number, then financially we would have to make pretty serious reductions to our operating budget in order to make up for that difference,” Decatur said. “It’s not a scenario that I think is right around the corner or something, but it keeps me up at night because the consequences are really bad.”
On the opposite end, Burson said, while enrolling more students can increase revenue, it also brings more operating costs. When the College crafts its operating budget, however, it uses a smaller number than the enrollment target. This creates a buffer, so if the amount of financial aid goes over as it did this year, the College is able to absorb those added costs.
Burson said no cuts are being made now, but if the next class also comes in over-budget and the costs cannot be absorbed by that buffer, there will be discussions on how to increase revenue or reduce expenses.
“Everything would be on the table,” Burson said.
Anci is searching for ways to refine the admissions model to ensure such worst-case scenarios do not occur. In addition to feeding more admissions data into the model, such as which applicants have participated in Kenyon-affiliated programs, Anci said she and the modelers will examine ways to refine discount rates for certain cohorts of applicants. They are also likely to discern more strategic ways to award merit aid to increase yield on “the most desirable applicants,” Anci said.
Amanda Wahlander, a Hardwick Day data analyst who works with the College, said it was against company policy to comment either generally or specifically on their work.
Anci aims to finish work on the admissions model by early January.