Friday, February 01, 2008

How Popular Are You When Two Out of Three People You Ask On a Date Say NO?

Graham has a Myth vs. Fact Talking Point column in the today's Collegian. There's a lot to unpack, but I thought I'd focus on one of Graham's favorite talking points.
Myth: We are No. 1.

Fact: Although we ARE No. 1 in several areas, there are many areas where we are not. We are first in the size of our alumni association and the number of alumni donors. And we are the leader in the number of applications for admission. But we are last in the Big Ten in per student support from our legislature. And while we have lots of donors, our endowment is small for a school of our size. In fact, the growth in market value of Harvard's endowment for the last fiscal year alone was 3.5 times greater than Penn State's total endowment market value as of June 30, 2007.
The claim that Penn State is the leader in the number of applications for admissions is a variation on theme. Here he is, earlier in the week, responding to a question by a Collegian reporter,
The demand to come here is off the charts. We are the preferred 'public institution' in the northeastern United States. On the University Park campus, the demand is phenomenal.
And this is from his comments at last month's Board of Trustees meeting.
Another point of pride for Penn State is our continuing popularity among prospective students and families. Last year, we received a record number of applications for admission, making Penn State the most popular university in the country. This year, we’re seeing another increase, and as of last week our applications were up by about 2 percent over the same period the year before. We expect to receive more than 100,000 applications for admission this year.
Does Penn State lead the country in the number of applications and is Penn State the most popular university in the nation? The short answer is no. Here is the long answer.

The 100k figure depends on an intellectual slight of hand. When Graham says "Penn State" he means all locations. Here he explaining the concept to the Collegian.
...[W]e are not a university system. Most states have flagship campuses -- like University Park is -- and then they have systems ... Here at Penn State, it is all integrated into one. The fact that we are one university geographically dispersed is tremendously appealing to me as president.
So the 100k figure applies to all campuses. An honest comparison to other schools requires that flagship campuses be compared to flagship campuses.

Let's look at the numbers at Penn State, Ohio State, and Berkeley for the 2006-2007 academic year, the most recent year for which data is available for all three schools.

Penn State received 34,813 applications for the University Park campus. Of that number, Penn State accepted 20,181 students, an acceptance rate of 58%. The number of students accepting the offer was 8039,a yield rate of 40%.

Ohio State received 18286 applications. Of that number, OSU accepted 12,286 students, an acceptance rate of 68%. The number of students accepting the offer was 6280, a yield rate of 51%.

Berkeley received 41750 applications. Of that number, Berkeley accepted 20,181 students, an acceptance rate of 22%. The number of students accepting the offer was 4157, a yield rate of 42%.

What do these numbers tell us? If we use the number of applicants as a gauge of popularity- this is like using the number of people that flirt with you as a gauge of your popularity- then the order of popularity is Berkeley, Penn State, and Ohio State. If we use the yield rate- this is like measuring your popularity by the number of people that accept your date offers- then the order of popularity is Ohio State, Berkeley, and Penn State. I think the latter is a better measure of popularity, but any way you slice it, Penn State University Park was not the most popular school last year. Nor was it terribly picky, if you flirted with it you had nearly of sixty per cent chance that it would ask you out. Of course, it wasn't quit the slut that Ohio State was either.

Now a caveat, that yield rate last year at University Park was a bit high.

Two years ago the numbers at University Park were Applications=29,904, Acceptance=18,423 (61%), and Yield =6496 (35%). At Ohio State, the numbers were Applications=17566, Acceptance=12947 (74%), and Yield= 5954(46%). Berkeley's numbers were, Application=36989, Acceptance=9809 (27%) and Yield=4101(42%).

This year's numbers at University Park are Applications=39,551, Acceptances=20,156 (51%) and Yield =6495 (32%).

A final related point concerns Graham's boast to the BOT that, "as of last week our applications were up by about 2 percent over the same period the year before." The fact is that applications were up throughout academia and Penn State's increased application rate is a bit weak when compared to other schools. Harvard application rate was up 18%, Princeton rate was up 6%, and the University of Virgina saw a 4% increase. And as Inside Higher Education explains,
While the universities reporting increases tend to talk about their
great qualities or improved recruitment, other factors explaining the
increases at many institutions include the rise in the number of 18
year olds, the growing popularity of the Common Application, and hype
that encourages top students to apply to more colleges.

Back to my original point, the take away message is that Graham is intellectually dishonest when he tells you about how popular Penn State is.

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