ATLANTA—There is likely to be fallout in the number of new applications submitted for the eight universities indicted in last month’s national college admissions scandal, but it will be short-lived, according to research by Georgia State University economist Jonathan Smith and Patrick Rooney of the University of Toronto.
“There is a common hypothesis that negative media may increase demand for institutions of which awareness is the primary challenge,” said Smith, an assistant professor of economics in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. “However, we’ve found that not all press is good for all universities and colleges, especially the more prestigious ones.”
A high-profile scandal that generates significant media coverage at a prestigious university can lead to as much as a 10 percent drop the university’s applications the following year and may last as long as two years, the researchers said. This reduction is similar to what happens to applications should the institution fall 10 places in a prominent college ranking, such as U.S. News & World Report.
The article was recently published in Contemporary Economic Policy.
Smith and Rooney constructed a dataset of college-related scandals at the nation’s 100 top-ranked universities from 2001 to 2013. Scandals affected more than 75 percent of the institutions in their study.
“Potential applicants should understand that these institutions and scandals are not unique,” said Smith. “While the colleges should not be rewarded for improper behavior, the campus cultures are pretty similar to those of peer institutions that may have had a scandal last year or will have one next year.”
They estimated the impact of the scandals on four important college outcomes: applications, incoming student body SAT scores, yield—or the percent of students who choose to enroll after being offered admission—and donation rates. They found no impact on competitiveness, yield or alumni donations. They also found a small but suggestive effect on deterring future scandals.
“While the overall impact of these scandals seems to be small across most outcomes, it’s important to note that a reduction of 10 percent in a college’s applications is quite large in magnitude,” said Smith. “On the positive side, news generated by a scandal can serve as a deterrent, making the campus less scandal-prone—and hopefully safer—while the spotlight shines on the issue.”
Andrew Young School of Policy Studies
Jonathan Smith is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Georgia State University. His research focuses on the behavioral and institutional factors that determine how students transition from high school to college and the consequences of those decisions. His research is published in leading economics, policy, and education journals including the Journal of Labor Economics, Journal of Human Resources, and the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, and has been featured in numerous media outlets, including the New York Times. Prior to GSU, he worked as a Policy Research Scientist at the College Board. Dr. Smith received his Ph.D. in economics from Boston University and a B.A. in economics from Tufts University.