In a year marked by a global pandemic, national recession and international travel restrictions, undergraduate enrollment at the University of Michigan increased slightly this fall compared to last fall, from 31,266 to 31,329 students.
The Ann Arbor campus once again received a record number of applicants for the fall 2020 first-year class, with the rate continuing to level off at just 50 more applications than last year and about 100 more than two years ago, signaling in part the state’s decreasing number of high school graduates.
Prior to 2019, the number of applications had more than doubled in the preceding decade, with the growth largely attributed to the adoption of the Common Application, which makes it easier for students to apply to multiple schools.
From this fall’s 65,021 applications, U-M offered admission to 16,974 first-year students. Of those offered admission, 6,879 enrolled, making for a first-year class slightly larger than the 6,830 students who enrolled last year.
Even in the midst of COVID-19, U-M continued to be a sought-after institution with the number of highly qualified students continuing to far exceed the school’s capacity, said Erica Sanders, director of undergraduate admissions.
More than 10 percent of the state’s estimated number of high school graduates applied to U-M this year, a figure that has steadily grown from less than 8 percent a decade ago.
“Students and families across Michigan and beyond continue to recognize that a University of Michigan education is a great investment,” said Sanders, adding that the school’s commitment to providing an affordable world-class education has not wavered.
About 40 percent of U-M undergraduates receive institutional grant aid, and 20 percent pay no tuition at all. Among in-state undergraduates, about 27 percent pay no tuition.
Overall, the campus enrollment fell less than 0.5 percent over last fall, from 48,090 to 47,907 students, with 16,578 graduate and professional school students. Graduate enrollment dipped slightly from 2019 due in large part to a 9.6 percent decrease in international student enrollment.
Diversity interests face setbacks amid COVID-19
Among in-state students, 47.5 percent of the 10,606 students who applied were offered admission, and 3,542 in-state first-year students enrolled for a yield of 70.4 percent.
That compares with an admission rate of 21.9 percent for the 54,415 out-of-state domestic and international students who applied. Of the 11,941 admitted, about 28 percent eventually enrolled, which is the lowest percentage since 2014.
The drop is directly attributable to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanders said. The university also saw a 5 percent decline in enrollment among international undergraduate students.
U-M’s application deadlines occurred before the United States reported its first coronavirus death, but by the time students learned whether they were admitted and had to decide whether to enroll, the COVID-19 pandemic had created a national emergency that led to closed schools, widespread stay-at-home orders, international travel restrictions and an economic recession.
Across the country, undergraduate enrollment at public four-year institutions has dropped 1.4 percent, according to the latest data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
“What we’re seeing is that many students are choosing to go to school closer to home, which is totally understandable,” Sanders said. “The pandemic and some of the economic hardships that families are facing because of it have been huge factors in students’ decisions this year.”
And while still not a significant portion of the class, the university approved 217 student deferments this fall for out-of-state first-year students, about as many as the past five years combined. The increase in deferments granted will not impact admission offers for the 2021 first-year class.
Building a diverse class also was a challenge this year due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic and admitting a greater number of students who had been placed on the waitlist. The student population that applies to the university’s early action deadline tends to be more affluent and less racially diverse.
The percentage of first-year students who are underrepresented minorities and first-generation students decreased from last year — underrepresented minorities from 14.3 to 11.8 percent, and first-generation students from 15.3 to 12.1 percent.
Additionally, the percentage of first-year students receiving Pell grants, a common marker of socioeconomic diversity, dropped from 20.7 to 16 percent.
“While we, as an institution, recognize the racially disparate impact that COVID-19 has had in our society, we are also very disappointed in our current yield of BIPOC students in this year’s class,” said Robert Sellers, vice provost and chief diversity officer.
“We must double down on our current efforts that have proved successful, and at the same time we must explore and implement new approaches to recruit a more diverse student body.”
Transfer-student enrollment went up slightly this year to 1,305 students with 27 more students transferring to the Ann Arbor campus than in fall 2019. Among this year’s new transfer students, 17.1 percent are underrepresented, 35.5 percent are Pell grant recipients and 22.8 percent are first-generation college students.
‘Go Blue Guarantee’ continues to aid low-income families
Despite the challenges, low-income students throughout the state continued to respond to recruitment and messaging efforts related to the Go Blue Guarantee. Nearly one in five undergraduates is from a family with income less than $65,000, and 86 percent of them are paying no tuition as a result of institutional support.
The guarantee, now in its third year, includes a promise of free tuition for in-state students whose families earn less than $65,000 and have assets totaling less than $50,000.
“In a year when higher education institutions across the country faced a very unique set of challenges, we’re proud of the fact that we haven’t compromised on our guarantee to Michigan students and families,” said Paul Robinson, associate vice provost, university registrar and interim vice provost for enrollment management.
U-M provided the second-highest average institutional grant and scholarship aid among 34 public institutions in the Association of American Universities, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education.
In addition to institutional funding, the university also has distributed more than $12.4 million in federal emergency grants related to the pandemic to 8,898 students as of Oct. 8. The university received $12.6 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help cover student expenses including food, housing, course materials, technology, health care and child care.
The university also has provided an additional $377,300 in emergency funding for 539 students who were not eligible for CARES grants.