College News Impacts Number of Submitted Applications

on July 26, 2016

Good news, such as a college’s basketball and football teams winning a championship, can lead to an increase in college applications in the next year. This is known as the Flutie Effect. A 2009 paper reported a 7 percent to 8 percent increase in college applications, while a 2013 paper reported an 18.7 percent increase in applications.

However, a new study shows that bad news can lead to a decrease in college applications.

A 2016 study by researchers from the Harvard Business School finds that news media coverage of college scandals can cause a big drop in college applications for admission. The report, The Impact of Campus Scandals on College Applications, analyzed the correlation between scandals mentioned in The New York Times and other news media and decreases in college applications in the next year. A single mention can cause a 4.9 percent drop while mentions in multiple articles can cause an 8.8 percent drop and long-form coverage can cause a 10.4 percent drop. The study was limited to scandals affecting undergraduate students at the top 100 U.S. colleges and universities (as ranked by U.S. News and World Report) from 2001 to 2013.

The types of events covered by the study included murder (42 percent), sexual assault (30 percent), hazing (15 percent) and cheating (13 percent).  

The paper also found that the likelihood of another scandal decreases the year after a scandal, but that the probability of a scandal returns to previous norms within five years.

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