Reality check: College admission rates are higher than you think

Every spring brings renewed attention to the ultra-low acceptance rates at the nation’s most highly selective colleges and universities, but focusing on those schools “obscures the experience of the vast majority of American undergraduates,” The Atlantic reports. Its analysis of U.S. Education Department data indicates that more than 80 percent of bachelor’s degree candidates attend schools that accept more than half of applicants.

Looking beyond the outliers shows a different story

More than half of the nation’s colleges actually admitted at least two-thirds of the students who applied to them in 2017, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Education Department data. Of the 1,364 four-year institutions Pew Research evaluated, only 17 admitted fewer than 10 percent of their applicants.

But those schools “represen[t] an almost-negligible slice of the United States’ higher-education ecosystem,” The Atlantic writes, adding that the prevailing narrative overlooks both community colleges and less-selective four-year institutions, which serve a greater share of the nation’s “nontraditional” students and Pell Grant recipients. Focusing on ultra-selective schools also “frustrates many involved in college admissions, who fear that these stories scare would-be students,” reports Inside Higher Ed.

Admission rates declining broadly amid application boom

Pew Research points out that admission rates have fallen in recent years, but the trend doesn’t necessarily reflect increased selectivity. Nearly half of institutions included in Pew Research’s analysis reported at least a 10 percent decline in their admission rates between 2002 and 2017. However, the average student enrolling in college in 2002 submitted just four applications, compared with 6.8 in 2017—and the number of available spots at those colleges haven’t kept pace.

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