The University plans to merge its undergraduate and graduate admissions offices, as well as the offices for financial aid and the registrar, to facilitate compliance with a city-imposed student population cap and to increase enrollment efficiency.
By keeping total acceptances under the same umbrella, the enrollment management group could keep better tabs on the number of full-time students taking courses on the Foggy Bottom Campus.
The switch – set for July 1 – will not change day-to-day operations of each department, but will facilitate communication and align the strategy of the offices.
"They'll each have their own functions, as they always have," Senior Vice President for Student and Academic Support Services Robert Chernak said, adding that the switch will provide a "more global overview" for enrollment management.
Undergraduates taking 12 or more credits and graduate students taking nine or more credits are considered full-time equivalent students. The University had 16,394 full-time equivalent students last semester – only 159 students short of the cap.
The current model places graduate admissions under the Office of the Provost, with each department accepting or denying students on different deadlines and by different staffs, and undergraduate admissions as part of the Student and Academic Support Services, where all undergraduate applicants are processed uniformly by one office. Both offices will report directly to the provost under the new model, Chernak said.
Chernak said it was "ironic that it took me leaving before they decided to take my advice." He will step down from his role this summer, after more than two decades at the University, which saw a 50 percent improvement in admissions selectivity and a massive expansion of financial aid.
Provost Steven Lerman said he thinks a merger would allow the two offices to communicate more naturally, but maintained that only preliminary discussions have taken place, and no time frame for the combination has been set.
“We need to have decentralized admissions decisions, but centralized allocations of numbers so that we don’t go over the cap,” Lerman said, echoing Chernak's assurance that a combination of offices would not affect the criteria upon which applicants are judged.
Last semester, to mitigate an admissions crunch caused by the cap, the University suspended new enrollment of non-degree-seeking students, who are not enrolled in a specific program and usually take classes to supplement previous education. Non-degree enrollment tallied 423 students last fall, down from 612 the year before.
Other adaptations meant to comply with the cap – part of the 2007 Campus Plan – include the Museum Studies department’s shift off the Foggy Bottom Campus in January and the GW School of Business’ offering of graduate programs at a site in northern Virginia next fall.
Chernak added that international programs may provide an avenue for expansion of the student population without affecting on-campus enrollment.
In December, the admissions committee of the Faculty Senate started looking into the implications of GW’s close call with the cap for next year’s enrollment, with a particular focus on the different timelines for undergraduate and graduate admissions. The committee expressed concern about summer programs that were forced to accept fewer students because the University was near the limit.
Admissions officers have different expectations for undergraduate and graduate applicants – including prior career experience – problematic if officers are trying to juggle both types of applications, Founder and President of Admissions Consultants David Petersam said.
Lerman said it was too early to discuss the logistics of the combination.
“Whatever plan we do, President Knapp will have to sign off on. I know where we think we’re headed, but it’s premature now,” he said.
In the past, administrators have repeatedly said that removal or adjustment of the cap will not be considered. Mayor Vincent Gray said in January 2011 that he was open to removing enrollment caps at all District universities.
Chelsea Radler and Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.