• Prose and Purpose

    After 25 years on the job, a former provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.


Weather and Admissions

In this terrible winter in the northeast, having restaurants almost empty - even during normally busy times - has become the norm rather than the exception.

March 2, 2014

A few weeks ago, I met a good friend for dinner.  It was in between snow storms and I vividly remember how slippery the restaurant parking lot was.  Once I got into the restaurant, a few minutes before my friend arrived, I was one of only two customers in this large restaurant.  And almost as soon as my friend arrived, the other person left.  We had the restaurant to ourselves.  In this terrible winter in the northeast, having restaurants almost empty - even during normally busy times - has become the norm rather than the exception.  Clearly, many businesses suffered. In fact there was a front page story in USA Today on February 17th that talked about how the "Brutal Winter Stymies Shipping," specifically how stalled shipments have had a negative "ripple" effect on the economy.  The impact on the airlines was also widely reported with 75,000 canceled flights since December 1st.

It's not hard to identify areas of the economy that falter when the weather impacts day to day activities in a significant way.  Hurricane Sandy had that impact; the recent snow storms provide another significant example.  It is also not hard to identify sectors of the economy that do better when the fury of nature makes itself felt.  Snow blower sales have, I am sure, been impressive. And snow melting salt sales have without question exceeded virtually all expectations.   Teenagers have also done well shoveling driveways. But what about colleges' admissions, both undergraduate as well as graduate?

Many of us work with sophisticated econometric admissions prediction models.  These simulation models include more and more variables and more and more and more data. The models predict the future based on the past and the more things remain as they had been, the more likely the simulations are accurate.  But what happens when the weather is far worse than the previous years?  Do fewer families visit campuses? Do fewer students decide to go to colleges and universities in the hard hit areas?  Both New Orleans and the Hurricane Sandy impact areas seem to suggest that weather challenges may not necessarily adversely impact admissions.  Even if initial visits to the campus are down, admissions can be fine. I think this rough winter will also not adversely impact admissions. I am hoping there will not be a weather related transfer effect but we won't know the reality until sometime in the summer. On the graduate level, where many students work full time as well as pursue an advanced degree, I think there will be an effect that favors hybrid and online programs.

So for anyone who believes that their simulation model will be an accurate predictor, please remember that there is so much not under our control that a model's accuracy always is somewhat uncertain.  Hopefully, however, when there are surprises, more will be positive than negative.

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