News

Is Furman Still Selective?

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By Calloway Burns

Acceptance rate leaps to 83 percent

Just how good a school is Furman? Furman’s acceptance rate is 83%. By comparison, US News and World Report lists the acceptance rate of peer institution Davidson College at 28%.

According to Brad Pochard, Director of Admissions, Furman was hit by a “perfect storm” in 2009. The number of applications decreased in 2005, 2006, and 2007 even though high school graduation rates were peaking. At the same time tuition increased by about nine percent for every three year period. The third key factor in this “storm” was that “discount tuition” or financial aid also decreased due to the economic downturn.

This impacted the families applying for Furman as well. Because of these factors, steps needed to be taken to ensure Furman’s financial safety and reputation as an elite regional liberal arts school.

To do this, a two year  plan was instituted and a discussion was initiated by establishing the Working Group, a collection of faculty, trustees, and administrators.

The conclusion, what we are now seeing the end of, is an expansion of Furman that was needed in order to balance the budget. Most members of the Working Group agreed that a small expansion would not be detrimental to Furman’s image and, if anything, could possibly help the university with diversity and academics. The result of this attempted expansion created an admittance rate of 83% for the Class of 2015 and a rate of 77% for the Class of 2016.

This is certainly high but not as much higher as students might think. If you ask some students around Furman, they would likely say that Furman is “selective.” If selective admissions is defined as turning away more students than are accepted, however, Furman would not have been truly selective even in 2005, when the acceptance rate dipped to a low of 52%.

By comparison, the upperclassmen were at least ten points off the “selective” mark with the Class of 2014 sitting at a rate of 66% and the seniors in the low sixties. In fact if one strikes the last two years, Furman has traditionally been at an acceptance rate of upper fifties to low sixties.

English professor Willard Pate, a member of the Working Group, said “growing pains” were to be expected as the university expanded but that “the path going forward is the right path.”

Political Science professor Jim Guth said he believes that the two year plan was a “well intentioned but unfortunate venture” as he thinks the Working Group did not forsee the impact the plan would have on admissions and academics. He said that academic performance has decreased in general education courses with the current sophomore and freshmen classes.

Psychology professor Charles Brewer said he had come to a different conclusion, noting that he has not seen a “consistent change” in student performance in his courses. With this, Pate concurred.

Other faculty have sought to shift the focus of discussion about the acceptance rate. Education professor Paul Thomas said he believes what matters is not who comes into Furman but who leaves.

“I urge Furman to worry less about being selective in admissions and worry more about showing that the Furman experience is elite as revealed in the outcomes of our students once they have attended,” he said.

While some current students may be concerned that Furman’s poor acceptance rate might affect their prospects for acceptance to graduate school, Brewer said there is no need to worry.

“It is the department reputation rather than applicant pool that gets students in,” he said.

Guth similarly sought to calms student fears.

“Unless the trend of the last two years continues for another five or so, there is no need to worry about that,” he said.

Pochard expressed confidence in the direction admissions is taking.

“Furman admissions has its sweet spot,” he said, noting that the number of applicants has increased by 56% since 2007.

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