A growing number of colleges and universities have entered into the admissions wonderland known as Instant Decision Day, where high school seniors can apply, interview, and receive an admissions decision all in a single day.
As you might suspect, IDD (not to be confused with an IUD, which is a whole other thing) is in large part a response to the intense competition for undergraduates that currently characterizes higher education. Of course, as more and more institutions adopt the IDD approach, the competitive advantage that this strategy gives to any particular school diminishes over time.
Recognizing this problem, Smecklin College in Chicago has broken away from the pack. In its highly successful See You in September initiative, selected groups of high school seniors who have NOT applied to Smecklin are notified that they have been accepted by the college, and that their Fall semester tuition is due within 30 days. According to Gary Peff, Dean of Admissions at Smecklin, “We’re operating with a new paradigm here. Instead of trying to convince students to come to us, we simply inform them that they’re already part of the Smecklin community. The burden is on them to justify any decision they might make not to attend Smecklin.”
Peff acknowledges that intimidation plays a significant role in the See You in September program. “We send a certified letter of acceptance to the non-applicant that includes an explicit warning concerning the legal consequences of failing to pay one’s bills. We don’t shy away from mentioning prison or, in the case of immigrants, deportation.”
Do young people and their parents actually take these threats seriously? “Absolutely,” says Peff. “We target students with GPA’s in the bottom 10% of their graduating class. Let’s be honest, these are not bulbs that are burning very brightly. And yes, they do require extensive remedial services once they arrive on campus in the fall, but we employ the University of North Carolina Unsupervised Independent Study Program (UNC-UISP) that has been recognized by the NCAA for its ability to keep kids in school. It works really well for us, especially in conjunction with the recent decision of our Faculty Senate to eliminate the grade of F as an option for instructors to use at the end of the semester. It also helps that we tell students that they can be arrested for leaving Smecklin without completing their degree. Our graduation statistics are now based on a 15-year time frame from entry to exit, rather than 4, 5, or 6 years.”
What will Smecklin do if other schools copy the See You in September approach? Peff just smiles. “Don’t worry, we’ll be ready.”