Michigan State applications sink 8.3% in wake of Nassar scandal
- Michigan State University's undergraduate applications for the fall of 2018 decreased by 3,000 — or 8.3% — year-over-year in the wake of the sexual assault scandal surrounding former sports doctor Larry Nassar and the university's handling of it, according to university data and as reported by ESPN.
- The decline runs counter to applicant growth experienced at most other Big Ten Conference institutions. MSU attributed the decline to fewer graduating high school seniors and international applicants. Although MSU admitted its largest incoming class for 2018-19, it raised its acceptance rate to nearly 78%, its highest in a decade, from about 66% in 2016.
- A 2016 Harvard Business School working paper noted a correlation between college scandals that draw extensive media coverage and a decrease in applications. Still, MSU's drop was higher than might be expected, one of the authors told ESPN.
Other universities that have received unfavorable publicity, such as Penn State University and Dartmouth College, also saw big drop-offs in interest among prospective students in the immediate aftermath.
An April 2018 report by researchers at Appalachian State and Seton Hall looked at what happened to application levels at eight institutions when the men's basketball team was banned from participating in postseason tournaments due to scandals. Looking at nine such events from 2001 to 2010, the researchers found related decreases of 17% among male applicants and 18% among female applicants two years before the ban was applied. Scandals typically receive significant media attention before a ban is enacted.
The events also caused the academic quality of enrolled students to drop in the years leading up to and following the ban.
But recovery is possible. Applications to Penn State rebounded shortly after one of the most prominent sports scandals at a university to date. Applications fell 9% after a trial began over the high-profile case involving sexual abuse of minors by a football coach. But whether the drop can be tied to the scandal is disputed, with the college attributing the decrease to fewer high school students and economic factors. Penn State also invested heavily in marketing efforts in the years following the scandal.
Tom Green, associate executive director at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, told University Business in February that colleges facing a scandal should be transparent and proactive, honestly assess the circumstances and report on them. Then, they should monitor how prospects and students feel about the scandals and the handling of them, and respond accordingly.