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Education

College Admissions Officers Can Now Recruit Prospective Students More Aggressively

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

College admissions officers are now allowed to recruit prospective students more aggressively. That's because the body that oversees them has rewritten the rules on how they recruit students. Kirk Carapezza from member station WGBH reports.

KIRK CARAPEZZA, BYLINE: In Louisville, Ky., last weekend, the National Association of College Admissions Counselors revised its code of ethics. It was a response to pressure by the Justice Department, which had investigated possible antitrust violations. Schools will now be able to recruit students already committed to other colleges after May 1 - that's the deadline that typically marks the end of the admissions cycle.

BRIAN MITCHELL: I think it changes the landscape.

CARAPEZZA: Brian Mitchell is the former president of Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., and author of the book "How To Run A College." Like many small private colleges in the Northeast and Midwest, Bucknell is struggling to fill its seats, fiercely competing for a shrinking number of high school graduates. Mitchell says, until now, the association served as a regulator preventing poaching.

MITCHELL: Absent a traffic cop, who's there to monitor what will otherwise become a free-for-all?

CARAPEZZA: While the college admissions bribery scandal and Harvard discrimination case have been generating national and international headlines, a majority of American colleges said they did not fill their freshman classes by July 1.

MITCHELL: There is a kind of systemic problem occurring in American higher education. It's a question of whether these colleges and universities are going to continue to remain sustainable.

CARAPEZZA: NPR reached out to several schools that struggled to fill their classes this spring. Almost all told us these changes won't drastically change how they operate.

ED WINGENBACH: We are not going to be offering special incentives to students to enroll.

CARAPEZZA: Ed Wingenbach is president of Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. Last spring, the financially strapped school announced it would not enroll a full class this fall and seek a merger. Since then, the college has reversed that decision and is scrambling to admit a new class in January. With the ethics guidelines removed, Hampshire is now free to reach out to the 2,500 previous applicants who may have committed to other schools.

WINGENBACH: It's a fortuitous change for us because it gives us the opportunity to contact a whole bunch of students and be able to tell them, sorry we didn't give you a decision last year, but if you want to come now, we are available.

CARAPEZZA: One concern among some student advocates is that the shift will disproportionately benefit wealthy students, who can afford to lose their deposit, increasing inequity in a system they say already benefits the rich.

For NPR News, I'm Kirk Carapezza in Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE HOLYDRUG COUPLE'S "AMPHITRITES LOST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.