UI admin says free tuition program likely led to jump in applications

UI admin says free tuition program likely led to jump in applications

URBANA — Early applications at the University of Illinois' flagship campus jumped 24 percent this fall to a record high, though it's unclear if it's just an early bump or an overall increase, the UI's top admissions official says.

Several factors appear to be at work, including the new "Illinois Commitment" offering free tuition to lower-income students, said Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions for the Urbana campus.

Borst said the school received about 5,000 more applications for early admission this fall compared to last year.

The UI admitted about 17,000 students — roughly 2,500 more than in 2017 — and about 5,000 applicants were deferred for further consideration, up 5,000 from last year. About 6,000 students were denied admission, "significantly higher than last year," Borst said.

"With more applications and limited seats, we had to turn away some really talented students," Borst said in a note to high school counselors just before early applicants learned whether they were admitted on Dec. 14.

The UI's marketing efforts for the new Illinois Commitment program appeared to generate "quite a few" more applications, Borst said.

The program will provide free tuition and fees to any qualified student from Illinois whose household income is below $61,000 a year, the state household median income. Tuition and fees range from roughly $15,000 to $20,000 a year, depending on the program.

Applications were up from first-generation college students, those from underrepresented backgrounds and those from lower-income brackets, Borst said.

"When we reach out with Illinois Commitment, we're seeing people who aren't in our applicant pool in the past," he said.

Starting this year, UI applicants can also self-report their ACT and SAT test scores, so the university didn't have to wait for applicants to send in their official score reports, Borst said.

The UI also pushed back the deadline for "regular decision" applicants by one month, from Dec. 1 to Jan. 5, which could have prompted more students to apply early. The change was based on feedback from counselors, "who said we needed to adjust our dates for students whose Early Decision applications at other universities didn't work out," Borst said.

"Are we truly that far up, or are we just ahead, shifting from regular decision to early action? I'm hedging my bets. That's why we deferred more kids," Borst said.

Borst said the new "CS+X" programs, degrees that combine computer science with other disciplines, also generated interest among applicants.

Of the 17,000 students admitted, about 14,500 were offered admission to their first-choice major; another 2,500 were admitted to an alternate major if they selected a second choice, he said.

Borst said students in business, engineering and other STEM-related fields were deferred because of the competitiveness of those programs. Students deferred from other majors or the Division of General Studies have academic profiles "on the margins for admission to the university," he said in the letter to counselors.

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