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Schools have a big week: BSU, NTC saw huge increase in applications when fees were waived

Last week could only be described as "abnormal" by Harry Cottrell, Northwest Technical College's dean of students.

The college's admissions office received three times more applications than it did in the same week one year ago, thanks to Minnesota College Application Week.

Bemidji State University saw an even bigger jump in applications. Its admissions office received 1,021 applications during that week, compared to 141 applications it received in the same week one year ago.

"The total applications we receive in a given year total around 2,600, and in one week we received close to 50 percent of that," said MaryJo Chirpich, interim director of admissions at BSU.

After Gov. Mark Dayton officially proclaimed the week of Nov. 14-18 as such, many Minnesota colleges and universities waived their application fees. The main goal of the initiative was to get more high school students to apply for college, especially high school students considered underserved, such as students of color, low-income students or first generation college-goers.

During that week, NTC officials received 115 applications, 81 more applications than it received in the same week last year.

"If we were up 50 percent we'd be happy, but it was more than that," Cottrell said. "It's been an abnormal week, but a very good week. We're very happy."

At BSU, while the admissions staff has been overwhelmed with applications needing to be processed, Chirpich said the university has been making an effort to communicate with the applicants.

"We're letting them know we will be processing their application in the order it was received and asking them to be patient," Chirpich said.

Chirpich said admissions officials have seen a growing trend of students applying to colleges before touring campuses or making a commitment to attend. But universities have learned to use this as a recruitment tool, she said.

An application can provide a college with information about a perspective student that the admissions office can then use for recruitment efforts, Chirpich said.

At NTC, Cottrell said the majority of applications that came in during the week are from individuals living in Beltrami County and the surrounding region. A quarter of the applicants are from the Twin Cities area.

"That is a little higher count than what we would normally get, so that is wonderful," "Cottrell said.

Some college officials worried that because applicants would not have to pay a fee, they would take advantage of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities' single application system, which allows a student to send one application to multiple universities or colleges within the system.

Both Cottrell and Chirpich said this was found not to be the case and said they received notice from a top MnSCU official saying the average applicant submitted two applications during the waived fee week.

"I feared that people would just use the shotgun approach with applications, but it appears students did carefully look at options of college," Cottrell said.

While Cottrell did not know for sure if more high school students considered under-represented at the college level applied during the week, he said a large percentage of NTC's student body already consists of students of low income or who are first generation college-goers or students of color.

"My assumption is nothing much would have changed with this, but it will take a little longer to determine," he said.

It costs applicants $20 to apply to NTC or BSU. With application fees being waived, NTC would lose $2,300 and BSU would lose $20,420 in application expenses.

But Cottrell said the college would likely make up for the lost fees down the road.

"I think what we're looking at here is a decrease in revenue from application fees, but since our applications tripled, we will likely more than make up for it with additional new students," Cottrell said. "In my mind, we made an investment in the future. I don't question it at all."

Chirpich wonders how the large influx in applications will affect BSU's enrollment in the future.

"We track our weekly application activity every week, so this week will certainly skew any data trends we were working with," Chirpich said. "But we capitalized on finding students interested in attending BSU. I would absolutely say it is a good thing."