BY QUIN WELCH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Bellarmine University accepted 84 percent of applicants in 2015, according to the United States Department of Education’s preliminary reports.
All universities are required to report their admissions statistics to the DOE annually. Each school has an anonymous “keyholder” who is in charge of reporting the school’s statistics to the Department of Education.
The National Center for Education Statistics, a DOE entity, publishes statistics they receive from each school’s keyholder. The 2015 numbers are not yet official because they have not been through the DOE’s “rigorous peer review process,” according to Aurora D’Amico of the DOE’s National Center for Education Statistics.
Although BU’s acceptance rate currently hovers at 84 percent, Bellarmine reported a 52-percent acceptance rate in 2011. In 2012, that number skyrocketed to 86 percent, according to a document the DOE sent to The Concord. Between 2006 and 2011, Bellarmine’s acceptance rate averaged 56.5 percent, with the highest percentage of admitted students coming in 2007, with 63 percent.
The acceptance rate continued to be high in the following years, according to the DOE. In 2013, Bellarmine admitted 95 percent of applicants. In 2014, BU accepted 83 percent of applicants. That means from between 2011 to 2015, Bellarmine’s acceptance rate rose by 32 percent.
Concord staff members asked Dr. Sean Ryan, vice president of enrollment management, for Bellarmine’s official acceptance rates. Ryan and other admissions staffers repeatedly rejected requests for the numbers, citing a Bellarmine policy that dictates all statistics reported to the media must come from the Office of Research & Effectiveness.
“Our Office of Institutional Research, any past statistical information should come out of there,” said Claudette Berry, Ryan’s administrative assistant.
Drew Thiemann, senior reporting and business systems analyst for Bellarmine’s Office of Research & Effectiveness, said there were no admissions statistics available for him to find in the system.
“As far as I can tell, IR&E (Institutional Research & Effectiveness) didn’t collect that data at all,” Thiemann said.
Thiemann then directed The Concord to check with the NCES, which provided the statistics listed above. After multiple emails and phone calls, Ryan released the admissions office’s official statistics from 2012 through 2016 in a document sent to The Concord. According to the document provided by the admissions office, Bellarmine accepted between 48 and 55 percent of applicants from 2012 to 2016, which varies significantly from what the keyholder at Bellarmine reported to the DOE.
Mathematically, the massive increase in BU’s acceptance rate, as reported to the DOE, occurred because the number of applications dropped dramatically between 2011 and 2012. The DOE said 6,955 students applied to Bellarmine in 2011 and 3,604 were admitted, which yields a 51.8-percent acceptance rate. The DOE said 4,317 students applied to Bellarmine in 2012 and 3,716 were admitted, which yields an 86.1 percent acceptance rate.
The document Ryan sent to The Concord tells a significantly different story about applications. Although Ryan did not include information from 2011, he said Bellarmine received 7,425 applications in 2012, approximately 3,000 more students than the number reported to the DOE. Ryan’s document showed the same number of students who were admitted, which was 3,716.
Ryan attributed the change in data to a federal regulation change that he said requires universities to report only completed applications.
“It was a change in the way those numbers are calculated,” Ryan said. “Before, the federal reporting systems said if you had a student that applied to you and never completed (their application) could be considered denied.”
Ryan explained that if Bellarmine received 5,000 applications and only 3,000 of them fully completed their applications, the university categorized the other 2,000 as rejections. He also said that because of the regulation change, Bellarmine could no longer count incomplete applications as rejections in federal reporting.
Ryan said he was unable to recall what the regulation change was called and did not provide The Concord with any further information regarding the regulation change. Al Betancourt, a DOE spokesman, said the Department of Education is not aware of a federal regulation change that deals with the reporting of enrollment applications.
The Concord researched admissions data from three area colleges — Centre College, the University of Southern Indiana and Transylvania University — to see whether those schools experienced dramatic changes in acceptance rates between 2011 and 2012.
At Transylvania, the acceptance rate changed from 83.7 to 85.1 percent. At Centre, it dropped from 70.9 to 67.8 percent. At USI, it changed by just a tenth of a percentage point: 71.6 to 71.7 percent. In contrast, Bellarmine’s acceptance rate rose from 51.8 percent to 86.1 percent –a change of just under 35 percent– in those two years.
D’Amico, of the DOE, said the NCES sent Bellarmine’s keyholder a note, asking the person to contact The Concord to clarify any conflicting data regarding the acceptance rates. As of publication deadline, The Concord has not received a note from anyone at Bellarmine claiming to be the keyholder.
Ryan did not return multiple requests from The Concord for a follow-up interview.