Monday, March 22, 2010

March Madness Impact on College Admissions

Written by Educational Consultant, Lauren Kahn, M.A., CEO of Lone Star Ed Consulting

It is "March Madness" in NCAA College basketball and this year has been captivating in terms of the number of bracket busters, buzzer beater games, and Cinderella teams in the Sweet 16. Unfortunately, the Texas Longhorns did not come out on top after their 1 point loss to Wakeforest in round one.

So, how does this relate to college admissions? Through history from the past 30 years, college basketball teams that make the cut for the Sweet 16 may boost the number of students applying to their schools by as much as 3 percent next year, while the winner of the NCAA basketball tournament, often called "March Madness," may see a 7 percent to 8 percent jump in applications, according to a Virginia Tech researcher.

March Madness creates heightened emotions amongst college and high school students across the country. Let me take a brief moment to educate the virgin to "March Madness."
Primarily held in March, this is a tournament where the top 65 division 1 basketball teams compete against each other, single elimination style and there are no consolation games for the NCAA Basketball Championship title. The single-elimination format produces opportunities for Cinderella teams to advance despite playing higher seeded teams and it is broken up into four regions. Despite the numerous instances of early-round Tournament upsets, including four instances of a #15 seed defeating a #2 seed, no #1 seed has ever lost in the first round to a #16 seed. The 2010 "BIG DANCE" did not produce an upset of that magnitude either. However, we have many surprise "no name" basketball teams in this year's Sweet 16.



How will this year's Sweet 16 appearance impact St. Mary's or Cornell's admission statistics? Cornell already receives approximately 34K undergraduate college applications every year for less than 6600 spots in their freshman class, producing about a 19% acceptance rate.* Will they move up in the rankings next year due to an increase in alumni donations and selectivity? Until this year's Big Red victory against basketball powerhouse Wisconsin, an ivy league school had not made an appearance in the Sweet 16 since Penn in 1979. The results will probably not truly be revealed until the completion of the 2010 - 2011 college application season.

Time tells all. I do think a Sweet 16 victory for Cornell will convert to higher ticket sales for next year's basketball season and greater alumni dollars devoted to their basketball program. Although, Cornell's win over Wisconsin completed the demise of my already debilitated bracket, I could not be happier about the Cinderella story.

Jaren Pope, assistant professor of agricultural and applied economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has co-authored a paper to be published in Southern Economic Journal that finds a link between college sports success and college admissions around the country. "We looked at how high-profile sports success influences where students choose to apply for college," Pope said. "Anecdotally, college administrators have known for some time that basketball and football success translates into increased applications. What we have done is to move a step beyond previous research and anecdotal evidence by quantifying the average effect across all NCAA Division I schools using a credible empirical methodology," he said. (Virginia Tech and Newswise)

I surmise that a small "no name" academic and sports school like St. Mary's or Northern Iowa, a medium sized public school from the mid-west, will gain larger increases in their applications than an Ivy league school. The Northern Iowa Panthers have appeared in the NCAA tournament five other times, but have never made it past the second round until now. University of Northern Iowa is located in Cedar Falls, Iowa and has an undergraduate population of approximately 13K, with a 85% acceptance rate. Perhaps, they will have the opportunity to be more selective next year.

St. Mary's College is a small liberal arts school, affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, located in Moraga, California, a small suburban community about 10 miles east of Oakland, with roughly 3800 students. Their success in this year's tournament is not a complete shock to basketball predictors. The Saint Mary's Gaels have Omar Samhan as their center; a 6'11 giant, weighing in at 260 pounds. He scored 32 points in the March 20th game against Villanova. Although, I doubt he will be returning to St. Mary's next year. I think the NBA might have their eye on him. 
Pope combined data from the Peterson's college guide, which records information about the incoming freshman classes of 330 NCAA Division I colleges and universities, with information on how well these schools did in football and basketball each year from 1983 to 2002. According to the study, the 64 schools that make it into the NCAA basketball championship tournament have a 1 percent increase in student applications the next year, schools in the Sweet 16 have a 3 percent increase, the Final Four have a 4 percent to 5 percent increase, and the championship winner has a 7 percent to 8 percent increase.
The title of Pope's paper, which he co-authored with his brother Devin Pope, an assistant professor at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, is "The Impact of College Sports Success on the Quantity and Quality of Student Applications."

In addition, colleges and universities with football teams in the top 20 have a 2.5 percent gain in the number of student applications the next year while teams in the top 10 have a 3 percent gain. Schools that win a football championship see a 7 percent to 8 percent jump in applications. For each school, the spike in the number of applications due to basketball or football success continues for several years before returning to normal.

"These numbers tend to be larger for private schools than for public schools," Pope said. "For example, private schools in the Sweet 16 see a 4 percent to 5 percent increase in applications compared to a 2 percent to 3 percent increase for public schools."

George Mason University has increased their enrollment by over 9% since their Final Four appearance in the NCAA Basketball Tournament in 2006. During the 2006-2007 application season, they received a 20% application increase from the previous application cycle. Mason receives over 13,000 applications each year for its incoming freshmen class of approximately 2,300 students each year. They have become somewhat more selective over the past few years and their strong athletic program has been one of the factors noted for their application increase.


* - Cornell statistics from Cornell Admission's office for entering class of 2009. 
* - Picture of Cornell / Wisconsin game from NYDaily.com


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