Study finds investment benefits vary by admissions competitiveness

Matthew Hart

Institutions of higher education with relatively low competition for admissions are more likely to increase their application rates by investing in commodities such as athletics and facilities, according to a report released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The study examined the impact of various investments on the application rates at approximately 1,300 universities. Universities that are more competitive in admissions are more likely to see their application rates rise if they invest in academics, while universities that are less competitive are not affected as much by investing in the academics.

The University of Texas tends to be a more competitive university in terms of admissions, according to enrollment data in recent years. All public higher education institutions in Texas are required to automatically admit the top 10 percent of public high school seniors, but UT is the exception. Currently the University automatically admits the top 8 percent, but in 2014 the University will automatically admit the top 7 percent according to UT spokeswoman Tara Doolittle.

Kimberly Beckwith, a kinesiology and health education lecturer, said some of the non-academic commodities that attract students might not be a distraction but rather a benefit to the academic aspects of a university.

“Sports and physical education have actually gained a little more respect in academics and there is a growing amount of interest in our department,” Beckwith said.

Beckwith said recreational sports themselves are popular and different levels of sports have become new areas of research interests and study interests.

Doolittle said the admissions staff is reviewing a record number of applications this year and several factors influence the competition. 

“When you consider that a large proportion of our enrollment is reserved for our automatic admission students, we are one of the most competitive public colleges in the nation,” Doolittle said. “Athletics does contribute to the institution as does a number of our other self-supporting auxiliary functions. That support helps insure that we have academic offerings of the highest caliber.”

While students at UT can reap the benefits of a world-class stadium and enjoy convenient access to fast food and coffee shops alike, it does not seem to be the only thing attracting students to the University. Biology freshman Michael Walker said he found the academics of the University the most compelling while considering which college to attend.

“I definitely feel I was more attracted to the academics of UT than the sports and facilities,” Walker said. “I mean people get hyped up from the football games and the giant stadium, and they’re nice and all but unless you are actually aspiring to be a professional athlete, I think UT is better off spending more money on academics because that’s more of a realistic goal.”