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Colleges Report Increase in Freshman-Class Openings

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The continuing decline in the number of 18-year-olds in the U.S. population is leading to an increasing number of unfilled freshman slots at colleges and universities next fall.

More schools nationwide are reporting that they still have openings in their freshman classes for the 1990-91 school year, according to a survey by the National Association of College Admission Counselors.

This year, 633 of the association's 1,188 member institutions reported having freshmen-class openings as of May 1--a 17.4 percent increase over the same date last year, and a 32 percent jump over 1988.

"It is probably the most significant impact yet of the declining 18-year-old population," said Frank Burtnett, executive director of the nacac

The number of high-school graduates in the United States began to decline last year, when there were an estimated 2.78 million, according to the U.S. Education Department. That figure will dip to an estimated 2.60 million graduates this year, then continue to decline until 1994, rough4ly mirroring a similar decline in the total 18-year-old population.

"Some of our colleges have made up for the loss of 18-year-olds with older students," Mr. Burtnett added. "But that market may have plateaued. Now we are beginning to feel the difference in birth rates."

At Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, applications were down by 2 percent this year, and the freshman class still has spots available, officials said.

"The decline is real this year," Thomas F. Willoughby, the admissions director, said of the impact of fewer high-school graduates. "We feel fortunate to be down only 2 percent."

A survey of New England colleges and universities shows that openings for freshmen and transfer students are up by more than 25 percent over May 1 last year.

The number of vacancies for freshmen is up by 7 percent over last year at public four-year and private two- and four-year institutions, according to the survey by the New England Board of Higher Education.

"We think the freshman vacancy increase is attributed to the decline in the numbers of high-school graduates," said Wendy Lindsay, who directed the survey.

Most of the institutions from the nacac and nebhe lists of those with vacancies are either large state colleges and universities or smaller local and regional institutions. Most of the nation's more selective colleges did not report openings.

At Bennington College in Bennington, Vt., however, where tuition, room, and board will top $21,500 next year, the fall freshman class is still not set, since the university has a rolling admissions policy.

"We are constantly examining applicants" for the 190 to 200 spots in the freshman class, said David Scribner, a university spokesman.

Copies of the nacac are available for $5 each from Helen Pape, associate executive director, nacac, 1800 Diagonal Rd., Suite 430, Alexandria, Va. 22314.

The listing of New England institutions is available for $2 from nebhe, 45 Temple Place, Boston, Mass. 02111.--mw

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