It's pretty clear we aren't going to get an honest explanation of what happened to Mills' enrollment, so here is what I think happened to undergraduate enrollment. Graduate enrollment is a different story. I can post on that too if you want. Graduate enrollment actually suffered at Mills far worse than undergraduate enrollment.
So here is what I think happened to undergrad enrollment and I would be happy to hear thoughts or other evidence that might contradict this:
1. Virtually everything that happened to Mills' undergrad enrollment happened because of a loss of 50% of applications in 2015.
2. All else fixed, a loss of 50% of applications will mean a 50% loss of enrollment by 2020. That is almost what happened at Mills except:
3. Mills yield actually increased (and is higher than average). Beth again telling false stories to the NY folks.
4. So because yield increased, by 2020, Mills' undergrad enrollment decreased by about 35% instead of the full 50%
5. The smoking gun is the application change in 2015. Why did that happen and why did Mills administrators never fix it?
6. The loss happened because Mills changed its common Application in 2014 so that the entering fall 2015 applicants had to write custom essays to apply to Mills. That is extremely rare in the common application. For nearly all schools like Mills, you can apply with one click with a generic writing sample, and that was the case for Mills until 2014. In 2014 that all changed for Mills applicants and the result was a 50% loss of applications.
7. Why didn't Mills administrators fix this huge blunder? Simple: the people that made that change in the application either left or were fired in fall 2015 and Mills had a new incoming administration with presumably a large turnover in staff. The VP of admissions left in August of 2015. He would have been in the best position to fix this since the change in the application happened on his watch. The new staff clearly didn't know what happened to the application and made no attempt to fix it.
So there you go. Mills experienced a permanent 50% loss of applications because of a seemingly simple change in the application.
The administration and board clearly seem to not understand what happened and have misinterpreted the persistent enrollment losses as a change in demand for Mills. It was self-inflicted and could still be fixed today. Just drop the essays and drop the incredibly dumb $50 application fee.
Here is a doc with more evidence to support what I am talking about and would be happy to hear if you all have more evidence to support or contradict my thoughts here. I would really like to hear from recent applicants about their experience with Mills' common application.
See More at the Mills College Benchmark Dashboard. Statements made here are based on data reported in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), IRS form 990 tax statements, and audited financial statements.
Matthew Hendricks, Ph.D. is Chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Tulsa. After watching his own university struggle, he made it his mission to uncover the reasons smaller colleges are in peril and to create true solutions.