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College in national spotlight

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Over the last year, Antioch College’s endowment more than doubled and its annual fund grew by 70 percent, leading the college to extend its full tuition scholarships to the next three incoming classes. But the decision to continue the Horace Mann Scholarships had some unintended consequences. After an online article on the move was posted on Yahoo! News, one of the world’s most visited news sites, Antioch was flooded with thousands of applications and deluged with inquiries. With only 75 open spots for the incoming fall class, Antioch could be the most competitive college in the country in 2012.

“Any time you have an increase of applications, your selectivity increases,” said Cezar Mesquita, Antioch’s dean of admissions. “This has brought Antioch back into the national spotlight.”

The college’s annual fund rose to $1.2 million at the end of 2011 on what appears to be its largest one-month gain in school history. Nearly $700,000 was raised in December as the inaugural class of 34 students at the revived college finished their first semester. And a $35 million YSI Incorporated stock sale pushed up the endowment to $51.7 million by the end of 2011. The healthy state of Antioch’s finances gave its Board of Trustees confidence to offer the full-tuition scholarships, valued at $26,500 per year for each student, to the next three classes, according to President Mark Roosevelt.

“[The decision] was made possible because of the increase in giving and it was also very motivated by feeling we wanted to maintain the standards set by the class of 2015,” Roosevelt said. “We think it’s extremely important to maintain the academic standards and the diversity standards and the scholarship helps us to do so.”

As of last Friday morning Antioch had 100 applications on hand for its next class, which will start in the fall of 2012. The admissions department hoped to reach 180 applications by the Feb. 15 application deadline. But just 24 hours after the Yahoo! News article was released, Antioch had received 1,000 applications through its online submission form. By early this week 2,200 applications were in hand, with another 5,500 in progress. After receiving 100,000 unique visitors on Friday, Antioch’s Web site crashed.

Because of confusion over the Antioch name, Antioch University Midwest and its parent, Antioch University, also benefited from the national publicity. AUM received 10 times as many inquiries last week through its Web site, according to Communications Director Walt Ulbricht, and Antioch University Director of Communications Lynda Sirk spent all weekend responding to thousands of e-mails. Those institutions may see an uptick in admission, as many of the people who contacted them were interested in graduate or doctorate programs, Sirk said.

Even though Antioch College was “unprepared for the level of response,” Mesquita said, the college will hire temporary staff and use volunteers to reply to every e-mail and review each application to find the most academically prepared students with the right combination of grit and determination to thrive at Antioch.

“This is a competitive process where we will be scrutinizing each student on academic preparation, social fit and outlook towards their educational experience,” Mesquita said. “Antioch always prided itself on bringing in a special breed of students.” The first class had an unweighted average GPA of 3.56 and ACT score of 27.

By 2015 the college aims to have 300 students on campus, most paying an annual room and board fee that is currently $8,600 per year. Roosevelt said the tuition scholarships are not an out-flow of money, since they will be getting room and board fees, but are critical to helping Antioch compete with similar liberal arts colleges as Antioch gains momentum over the next few years.

The scholarship is also a financial incentive for the risk of attending a college that is not accredited, Mesquita said. The college is on-track to gain accreditation by 2016, having been authorized for accreditation through the Ohio Board of Regents’ next review in 2014, according to Antioch’s Web site.

The Antioch free-tuition story, originally published on the CBS Moneywatch Web site with the headline, “How to get a $106,000 college education for free,” went viral just as the high cost of college tuition was in the news. In his State of the Union speech last week, President Obama vowed to cut federal spending for colleges that don’t keep rising tuition in check. Next year there will be 200 schools in the US that cost more than $50,000 per year to attend, according to Mesquita. And for the first time, in 2011, the average US student had more than $25,000 in debt upon graduation. Mesquita said that Antioch needs to keep its costs low so it can compete once the tuition scholarships expire.

For at least the next three years, Antioch will remain dependent upon philanthropic donors to cover its operating expenses of about $8 million per year and continuing capital projects, such as renovations to North Hall, the gymnasium and the science labs. Because many foundations and individuals without ties to Antioch still may find a donation to the college too precarious, the college will continue to rely on its alumni, Roosevelt said.

Roosevelt attributes the recent uptick in giving to the demonstrated success of its first class and a fundraising office that continues to become more professional and focused. More Antiochians are giving, including some who have not donated in many years. Still, Roosevelt said, some prospective donors are waiting until they are more confident that the college can succeed in the long term, and it’s his goal to make sure it will. Though the first semester went well, Roosevelt wants to continue to make improvements.

“[Propsective donors] want to come to campus to see a respectful, attractive place with rigorous instruction in the classroom before they could contemplate giving at another level,” Roosevelt said.

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