Admissions officers are stepping up recruitment efforts across the country in response to the global financial crisis, looking to draw eyes away from a high price tag by emphasizing GW's financial aid and fixed tuition programs.
Officials have acknowledged that GW's admissions numbers could dip this year, though the school has already received more applications than normal. The new strategy will include a more personal approach that emphasizes the value of a GW education, a senior administrator said this week.
"We have to stress the features of GW that make it a worthwhile, lifelong investment," said Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services.
"We want to make a strong case in what value is added," Chernak added. "Whatever sacrifice they're going to make is exceeded by the reward."
Admissions officers are increasing their travel around the country to seek out prospective students, said Kathryn Napper, executive dean for undergraduate admissions. She added that they are placing special emphasis on the types of financial assistance available for students.
"We have seen an even more positive response from parents about our fixed tuition program," said Napper, referring to a pricing plan that keeps students' tuition constant throughout their time at the University. "It provides them with security in knowing the tuition costs over the next few years."
Napper said she anticipates more students will demonstrate need for financial aid this year. She said GW is ready to provide assistance and will commit to more need-based aid.
"(Our) guaranteed grant program should make us more attractive than some of our competitors in this economy," Napper said.
The University's $1.1 billion endowment fell 3 percent last fiscal year, still beating the stock market's 19 percent loss.
"GW is in a very good situation to respond to the crisis," Chernak said. "We think that word of mouth will travel: We won't abandon you."
A recent study from Next Step Magazine and ApplyWise.com showed that half of families limit their children's college options to less expensive schools. More than 50 percent of families said they are looking at new ways to pay for college, with 67 percent of those respondents indicating they intend to apply for more need-based scholarships.
Only one-third of families said the economic downturn did not affect their college selection criteria.
"Academic offerings have always been the number one reason to select a college, but clearly now, the cost of attending college is equally important," said Katherine Cohen, president and co-founder of ApplyWise.com, in a news release.
Conversely, Tony Pals, director of public information at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said that despite a fair amount of speculation on the effect of the economy on admissions, he has not yet seen anything out of the ordinary.
"Private college enrollment has grown over the last 20 years, and that includes two recessions and tough economic times in the early '80s and early '90s," he said.
Pals speculated that this has largely been a result of the endowments that private schools receive, which are able to compensate for some of the costs to families.
Chernak noted that options at state schools could be limited as well in terms of admission space and funding.
"There aren't too many state schools with big endowments," he said.
Napper said, "Fortunately, GW is well-received in the marketplace, and our reputation and educational value should benefit us in the coming year."