Kristi Weyand
Executive Editor

Colleges across the country took a hit in enrollment yields in the past two years as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the country and forced many programs to suddenly transition to online. Whittier College was among the liberal arts institutions that saw a decline in applications, admissions, and enrollments between Fall 2019 and Fall 2021. However, while the raw amount of applications, admissions, and enrollments declined, the yield (number of students admitted over those that enroll) increased in Fall 2021 from both Fall 2019 and Fall 2020.

According to the Vice President of Enrollment Management Falone Serna, in Fall 2019, the College saw 7,200 first-year applicants, accepted 5,409 first-years, and 493 enrolled. These statistics show that the yield rate was nine percent and the acceptance rate was 75 percent for this admission cycle. For transfer students, 310 applied, 203 were accepted, and 84 enrolled. Transfer students consistently have a higher acceptance and yield percentages.

While 2020 saw a decrease of 2,161 among applications, dropping from 7,200 to 5,039 applications, the significant hit on admissions fell on the yield rate. For first-years, 3,643 were admitted and 239 enrolled, a yield rate of six percent. In Fall 2020, 271 transfers applied, 201 were admitted, and 59 enrolled. The acceptance rate for first-years, hovered close to the average of 75 percent from previous years at 72 percent in Fall 2020. The acceptance rate among transfer students jumped nine percent from 65 percent in Fall 2019 to 74 percent in Fall 2020. The total yield was seven percent. “Once [the College] made the declaration [to transition the Fall 2020 semester online], we knew that would impact our new student enrollment,” Serna said. “We not only experienced a lower yield rate. We expected that outcome because we know a lot of people want to come to Whittier because of the small school experience.”

According to Serna, the Spring 2021 application pool saw a high number of first-year applicants compared to previous years. In Spring 2020, 69 first-years applied, 35 were accepted, and eight enrolled. There were 77 first-year applicants in Spring 2021; however, only seven enrolled.

In Fall 2021, the amount of first-year applications dropped by 57 percent. The numbers went from 5,039 applications in 2020 to 2,885 in Fall 2021. However, the number of enrolled first-years increased to 277, and, with 2,378 accepted applications, there was a yield of 11 percent, an increase from both Fall 2019 and Fall 2020. The acceptance rate increased to 82 percent among first years. There were 258 transfer applications, 191 accepted, and 69 enrolled, making a 74 percent acceptance rate and 36 percent yield. The total yield was 13 percent, and the acceptance rate was 82 percent.

Whittier College is not alone in this decrease in enrollment. According to a Clearinghouse report, there was a 20 percent decrease among high school students who attended college in Fall of 2020. This, particularly, fell on students from lower-income communities and from urban schools. Whittier College did see a significant drop in students from California between Fall 2020 and Fall 2021. In Fall 2020, 75 percent of enrolled students were from California and, in 2021, 61 percent of students were from California, a 14 percent decrease.   

The College did experience an increase in international students. In Fall 2020 there were 15 international students enrolling from seven countries. This more than doubled in Fall 2021, when 44 international students enrolled from 22 countries. Serna said this was not due to the pandemic but, rather, in spite of it. Similarly, the amount of enrolled transfer students was higher than the College expected. The College’s introduction of the California Community College Advantage in 2020 is designed to make the College a private college that is friendly to transfer students. Transfer applicants who have taken 32 credits and have a 2.9 GPA will be automatically accepted and will be eligible for a special tuition rate.

The College remains to have no application fee and is test optional, meaning students do not have to submit SAT scores. However, since University of California system decided to not include SAT and ACT scores in the admissions process, Serna says that this may have had a “trickle-down” effect on Whittier College. He expects that students who may not have previously applied to schools that required SAT’s and favored Whittier, instead applied to more exclusive colleges that had dropped SAT requirements.

The College is also hoping to become more appealing to local students as well in an effort to combat decreasing enrollment from California students. Since the pandemic closed campus, the College was unable to do campus tours and visit high schools to recruit new students. In May 2020, they were able to open tours to admitted students and have slowly been able to invite more prospective students to individualized tours of the campus to emphasize the elements of Whittier that would interest them, whether that be a certain department or feature of the College, Serna says. Overnight stays have not been reinstated and tours do not eat in the Campus Inn or go inside buildings.

“The campus was closed off to visitors so you were asking students to commit to a college they had never even set foot on. As great as Whittier is, it is not a College many people come to sight-unseen,” Serna stated in regards to the lower application and enrollment numbers in Fall 2020 and Fall 2021.

Whittier College enrollment has been on the decline since 2017, which was the last largest class of 521. However, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly exacerbated this decrease in enrollment. Whether or not these numbers increase is yet to be seen and with the pandemic still being a prevalent issue Serna and the admissions office expect the changes in admissions will continue to fluctuate.

Author

  • Kristi Weyand is a third-year double-majoring in English and Political Science with a perhaps-too-hopeful plan to pursue a career in journalism. Her time as the Arts & Entertainment Editor has led to her interest in the intersection of entertainment and ideas generally seen as political, inspiring her way-too-many thinkpieces. When she is not writing, she can be found procrastinating by baking, watching bad movies, over-listening to the same music, and crying over succulents she just can’t seem to keep alive.

Kristi Weyand is a third-year double-majoring in English and Political Science with a perhaps-too-hopeful plan to pursue a career in journalism. Her time as the Arts & Entertainment Editor has led to her interest in the intersection of entertainment and ideas generally seen as political, inspiring her way-too-many thinkpieces. When she is not writing, she can be found procrastinating by baking, watching bad movies, over-listening to the same music, and crying over succulents she just can’t seem to keep alive.
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