Changing the face of the University: Part I

Thomas Celona

Villanova University has experienced a period of exponential growth over the past decade. The number of applicants continues to grow, academic programs are constantly expanding, new facilities rise up on campus and the Villanova name gains more recognition and respect with each passing year. This growth inevitably means changes and transformations for the University. In many ways, Villanova retains the same character it has always had, but in other ways, it is rapidly becoming a completely new place.

In a four-part series, The Villanovan will explore this growth and what it means for the future of the University community. Part one will examine how the student body has changed, while parts two and three will cover how University programs and facilities, respectively, have adapted to this new student body. These will all lead up to part four, which will ask the critical question: What is the true character of Villanova University?

It’s the last week in March, and across the country, high school seniors are anxiously and frequently checking their mailboxes and inboxes, hoping to find those coveted college acceptance letters.

In many ways, this may be one of the most important weeks of their lives, as they find out what opportunities lay before them and where their future paths may lead.

And in many houses across the nation – more than in any previous year – those seniors will be searching for envelopes marked “Villanova University.”

Villanova received a record number of applications for undergraduate admission this year, continuing a rising trend.

“Last year our application number was 13,700,” said George Walter, associate dean of Enrollment Management. “As of [March 10], for the fall of 2008, we had 15,080 applications.”

The total number of applicants Villanova receives has climbed each year since Villanova became a Common Application school starting with applications for the fall of 2006.

This means that applicants no longer have to complete an individual Villanova application but can submit the Common Application with one supplementary Villanova-specific essay.

“Since joining the Common Application, we’ve seen applications grow from 10,900 to over 12,000 to 13,700 last year to now over 15,000,” Walter said.

While the number of applicants rises each year, Enrollment officials have made the decision to keep the targeted freshman class size at 1,595 students.

Therefore, Villanova’s acceptance rate has seen a decline.

“Our acceptance rate has gone down steadily over the past three years,” Walter said.

Over a longer time period – from students accepted for the fall of 2000 to those accepted for the fall of 2007 – the acceptance rate has gone down exactly 10 percent, from 51.6 percent to 41.6 percent.

While the acceptance rate has declined during this period, the yield rate – the percentage of accepted students who matriculate – has remained consistent, hovering between 28 and 31 percent, according to Walter.

This decrease in Villanova’s undergraduate acceptance rate means that the selection process has become more competitive with each passing year.

“Academically, each class has been stronger than the previous one,” said Vice President for Student Life Rev. John Stack, O.S.A. “It’s not unusual to hear people from just seven or eight years ago say, ‘I wouldn’t get in now,’ and if you saw their transcripts when they came in, you’d say, ‘These are pretty good students.'”

Dr. John Johannes, vice president for Academic Affairs, echoed Stack’s sentiments, saying, “They’re more qualified, so it’s a stronger student body.”

This increase in academic caliber among undergraduates is clear when comparing statistics for student who enrolled in the fall of 2000 with those who enrolled this past fall.

The middle 50 percent of SAT scores went from 1190-1320 to 1210-1360.

Meanwhile, the middle 50 percent high school grade point average (on a 4.0 scale) went from 3.40-3.88 to 3.57-3.97.

Increasing qualifications continued with the student accepted under Early Action for the fall of 2008.

The middle 50 percent of SAT scores for these students was 1360-1450.

Additionally, the group of students offered undergraduate admission included 95 valedictorians and six students who scored a perfect 1600 on the combined SAT Critical Reading and Math exam.

Along with increased academic qualifications, each subsequent incoming class has been more diverse in many different ways.

“We expect this will be the third consecutive year where the number of traditionally underrepresented multicultural students will be at about 20 percent,” Walter said, noting that the University has achieved several of its goals concerning diversity in the past few years.

“We recognize the educational value in exploring and creating an educational environment that is rich in difference,” said Dr. Terry Nance, assistant vice president for Multicultural Affairs.

In addition to increased cultural diversity, Villanova’s undergraduate student body has managed to become diverse in a number of other ways.

“The school is more geographically diverse than it was,” Stack said. “There’s about 50 or so students in each class from California, and for a school of our size on the East Coast, that’s pretty good.”

This increase in geographic diversity is a trend Walter sees continuing into the future.

“We’re going to see a dropoff in [applications from] the mid-Atlantic region,” he said. “It’s going to be more from the West and from the South.”

Walter said that this geographic switch will come as part of a national trend.

Additionally, according to Walter, the number of high school graduates nationwide will begin to drop next year, translating to small decreases in the number of undergraduate applicants over the coming years.

“We’ve kind of hit the peak this year,” he said.

But out of that peak will emerge one of the most academically qualified and diverse classes in Villanova history.

Right now, those students are checking their mail, searching for that prized letter – the one that reads “accepted.”

Those who chose to come to Villanova will bring with them a whole variety of unique personalities that will impact the University.

Like the classes before it, the Class of 2012 will leave its mark on Villanova.

The University will have to adapt – academically, socially and physically – just as it has over the past decade.

Because of the changing student body, Villanova is now about to enter into the next stage of its history, as both its programs and facilities transform to meet the University’s needs.

Over the next two weeks, The Villanovan will explore the changes the University is making in these areas, as the Campus Master Plan begins to steer the school into the future.