Student enrollment target a tricky balance for fall 2019


The enrollment algorithm for this fall’s incoming class is enough to keep Marc Harding, vice provost of enrollment, and Kellie Kane, executive director of admissions, up at night.

Changes in the process — most notably, Pitt is now accepting the Common Application used by more than 700 schools nationwide — will result in a delicate balancing act to hit the target number of 4,205 incoming freshmen, the two told the Senate Council’s Student Admissions, Aid and Affairs committee last week.

That number is about 200 more than had been targeted for this year’s class, but only slightly more than the final number — 4,165 — for the incoming class of 2022.

The biggest difference next school year is the fledgling School of Computing and Information will be enrolling its first freshman class of 200 people.

“The challenge for us was the last time we had a freshman-admitting school added was 1995 when Business came aboard,” Kane said. “There are very few people in our office left who were here in 1995, so we’re really re-creating the process.”

Because the enrollment goal is higher, Kane said they don’t have the luxury of over-enrolling the class, because that would overburden Pitt’s ability to house the students and provide the best experience.

“It’s just a matter of capacity, and the University’s ability to maintain who it is,” Harding said. “For example, I’ve been asked every year I’ve been here about our three-year guarantee to freshmen for housing. Should we should we get rid of that? I think no, it makes us unique in public higher ed space. We’re an urban-esque university; parents love the fact that we guarantee three years.

“Could we change that? We can, but it starts changing our brand.”

  2018-19 target 2018-19 actual 2019-20 target
Overall 4,035 4,165 4,205
Arts & Sciences 3,000 3,004 2,900
Engineering 575 626 575
Business 310 342 330
SCI ---- ---- 200
Nursing 150 193 200

Other enrollment issues for next year include a new process for admitting students to the Honors College and the new need-based financial aid initiatives announced earlier this year.

For the first time, students will be admitted directly into the Honors College. Previously, about 800 freshmen were eligible to participate in Honors College activities but weren’t actually enrolled into the college. Now there will only be 400 who will come to Pitt as admitted students in the Honors College.

Kane said for the first time ever, some students will get a “no” letter from the Honors College, where before they would get a “yes” or nothing, and “we don’t know what that will do to the yield on those students.”

“It’s the nicest ‘no’ letter I’ve ever read,” Kane said. “Dr. (Brian) Primack (dean of the Honors College), really, I want him to deliver all bad news to me, ever.”

The new need-based financial aid initiatives, particularly the Pell grant matching program, also create some uncertainty on applicants coming to Pitt.

Currently, Pitt has received 31,198 applications, the most ever, for fall 2019 and admitted 17,050, which is slightly less than last year. Of those, 1,253 have already paid their deposit, which is due by May 1. Kane and Harding said it’s becoming increasingly common for students to wait until the last two weeks to make their final decision and pay the deposit.

Of those who applied, 71 percent did so through the Common App, but Kane said the number applying through the other two applications they accept dropped.

Admissions scandal

Harding also spoke about the recent college admissions scandal in which wealthy parents allegedly committed fraud or bribery to get their children into elite colleges.

While Pitt has its share of “lawnmower parents” who mow down any obstacle in their child’s path, Harding said, the University is less prone to this type of scandal than many other places because it accepts roughly 50 percent of those who apply.

He said he’s proud of the process they have in place where general counsel reviews everything they give out in terms of admission criteria and guidelines.

This particularly scandal involved coaches who were bribed and abnormalities at testing centers, not in admissions offices. But Harding said it’s forcing schools to go back and look at the oversight systems they have in place, because the problem was “human.”

“Processes can sort of just go on and on and people were not paying attention to things they needed to pay attention to,” Harding said. In the wake of the scandal, he said, “Folks are going back and doubling down on their due diligence.”

At Pitt, he said, the NCAA faculty athletics representative — Sheila I. Vélez Martínez, a professor in the School of Law — is going back and reviewing all the processes in Pitt Athletics to minimize any problems.

Harding had previously released a statement about the college admissions scandal, which can be found here.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.