Amid campus protests, some teens and parents are reconsidering enrollment decisions

Amid campus protests, some teens and parents are reconsidering enrollment decisions

Earlier this year, an 18-year-old high school senior from New York City had planned to enroll at Columbia University’s sister school Barnard College in Manhattan as an early decision student. But after her parents saw rising tensions over the Israel-Hamas conflict on several US campuses, including at Barnard and Columbia, they returned to her list.

The student, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity due to privacy concerns, ultimately chose Brandeis University in Massachusetts, one of two schools on the Anti-Defamation League’s 2024 list of 85 colleges that received an A grade for its response to antisemitic incidents. on campus and his support of Jewish students.

“Barnard is my top choice. I’m dying to go,” said the private school student, who is Jewish. “But after seeing what’s happening on campus, I’m so glad I went to Brandeis. I feel very happy and relieved knowing they got an A.”

The student’s mother said reconsidering where her daughter will attend in the fall is a family decision.

“We know these issues happen everywhere, but we prioritize how the university administration responds, how many Jews are on campus and if it has a Jewish community,” he said.

Other families have also struggled with where to send their high school students in the fall as campus protests continue at schools across the country, even as final deadlines loom.

Students across the country have just a few days left to submit their college deposits and make their decisions about where to enroll for the fall; many schools list their College Decision Day on or around May 1st. From the logistical implications of visiting the campus to the confrontations reflected on television screens, the protest, in the short two weeks since it broke out, has further complicated making the final college of choice for some members of the class of 2028.

On Tuesday night, clashes escalated between law enforcement and protesters at the University of California, Los Angeles after violent confrontations broke out between pro-Palestinian protesters and counter-demonstrators. In New York, about 300 protesters were arrested at Columbia University and City College after officers cleared protesters from encampments and occupied buildings. In a statement shared with the Columbia community, university president Minouche Shafik said the decision to ask the New York City Police Department to intervene was “because my first responsibility is safety.”

Since April 18, more than 1,500 people have been arrested on more than 30 college and university campuses in at least 23 states, according to a CNN review of university and law enforcement statements.

Mimi Doe — co-founder and CEO of Top Level Admissions, whose admissions experts help students get into the colleges of their choice — told CNN some students have reconsidered where to attend, especially when it comes to enrolling at Columbia University. Columbia has perhaps the most famous pro-Palestinian encampments and protests.

“Recently we received panicked texts and calls from a student who got into Columbia … and [they] ended up removing the school from their list [because of the protests],” he said.

For privacy reasons, Doe and other college coaches declined to share contact information for the parents and students mentioned in this article but shared their responses based on CNN’s questions.

“Jewish students and Jewish parents are certainly making more informed decisions about where their students will feel safe, but it’s not just Jewish families. We just heard from other students who got into Columbia who weren’t Jewish, and their moms and dads said, ‘No, let’s take it off the table.'”

Revisiting the campus and possible results
Some students this year participate in so-called “revisit days,” where they visit or drive through campus one last time to better understand the lifestyle and environment before accepting. But increased security measures, such as universities closing their doors to outsiders or conducting heavy screening to enter admissions offices, have made the practice more difficult this year, Doe said.

Although the university has faced a string of controversies following the October 7 attack by Hamas militants on Israel, from anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents on campus to growing political unrest, the protests “surprised” students and parents even more, he said. .

In a Facebook post in the Grown and Flown Parents group, where more than 250,000 parents discuss college admissions issues, one parent expressed concern about her son’s current commitment to Columbia on a scholarship.

“He went to visit this weekend and said he was uncomfortable walking around and there was a lot of protest that seemed out of control,” the anonymous user wrote. “He’s starting to question his decision and now I’m panicking.”

More than 500 parents responded to the post, many of whom said they would not send their children to school there because of recent events. “The school can’t pay me to send my child there,” wrote one parent. “The hatred shown is sickening.”

Columbia University declined to comment on how the protests affected its fall enrollment.

During a Congressional hearing in April, however, President Shafik defended the way the university responded to events on campus and had put the safety of its students first.

“We do not, and will not, tolerate antisemitic threats, images, and other violations,” Shafik said. “We have enforced, and we will continue to enforce, our policy against such actions.”

Shafik said that he believes the university can “confront antisemitism and provide a safe campus environment for our community while supporting the exploration and academic freedom of religion.”

The school remains at the center of demonstrations, where it recently banned from campus a student protest leader who in January said in a video that “Zionists don’t deserve to live.” (He later apologized.) More than 100 Israeli students wrote to school authorities saying they felt unsafe on campus because of the general atmosphere at the school.

Columbia’s Senate — the policymaking body representing faculty, students and administrative staff — passed a resolution late Friday to investigate university leadership’s handling of the protests. Protesters at Columbia have demanded that the school sever ties with Israeli academic institutions and divest investment from Israel-related entities, as the death toll rises from Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. Protesters on other campuses had similar demands.

Brian Taylor, managing partner at private admissions coaching company Ivy Coach, said the company has seen little change in where students enroll, despite the protests, except for one clear pivot.

“If the student gets accepted to some Ivy league school, then they won’t choose Columbia,” he said. “But if students just get accepted to Columbia — if that’s the best school they get into — they’ll still go.”

Taylor said some students who work with Ivy Coach called the day 100 students were arrested at the Columbia protest to see if they had a better chance of getting off their waiting list and into the school.

“It might be a little easier to get off the Columbia waitlist this year,” he said.

However, he added “this camp is clearly a detriment to the school.”

At the same time, however, another student who works with Top Level Admissions said they decided to commit to Columbia despite the objections.

“Definitely one of the things that drew me to Columbia was the spirit of activism and the great political science professors who have a legacy there,” the student said. “I am a little worried about the administration because they have shown and continue to show their lack of respect for students and the student voice. [But] I finally decided to enroll here because the same thing is happening at every school at this point.”

Summer tour
The practice of reconsidering which university to attend may be higher for high school students who have not yet formally applied, according to Doe. As families prepare for college visits this summer, he said some are changing the names on their lists because of the controversy the school is facing.

“We started seeing some parents in the last five years saying they didn’t want their kids to see Yale because New Haven wasn’t safe,” he said. “But now we have people saying, ‘I don’t really care about the Ivies because politically they’re going to have an easier time somewhere else.'”

A junior in high school who works with Top Tier Admissions said he was originally focused on getting into an Ivy League school but is now applying elsewhere because of the way some of those schools have handled antisemitism on their campuses.

“So far, if Columbia had offered me a full scholarship and admission right now, I would have turned it down without a second thought,” the student said. “I will reject this university because, above all, I want to feel safe and accepted where I go to school.”

Doe said she has seen other students and parents “avoid” visiting certain schools, such as the University of Pennsylvania following reports of antisemitic activity on campus since 2021. In December, University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill announced that she would resign in the middle of the month from pressure.

At the same time, Harvard University applications are down 5% this year, according to March figures that offer an early indication of how the Ivy League school’s reputation has held up during its own period of historic turmoil. It faced a major crisis last fall as its response to anti-Israel letters was criticized by some alumni and powerful politicians.

Claudine Gay, the first black president in Harvard’s history, resigned in January amid controversy over her academic writing and performance at congressional hearings on antisemitism. Although the university has denounced antisemitism, it is still under investigation by the House Education Committee for related allegations.

But Harvard’s low admissions rate — up to 3.58% from 3.41% last year, the second lowest in the school’s history — suggests demand to attend Harvard has not weakened dramatically.

Find the right one
A high school guidance counselor based on Long Island, New York, said some Jewish families in her community made early decisions about where to apply based on how school administrations handled events after Oct. 7, such as taking an immediate response in denouncing the terrorist act. or see the college banning Students for Justice in Palestine, an organization that supports Palestinian unity.

“The strong message is that it’s important to be in a college with Hillel or Chabad and a strong Jewish community because you will find your people regardless of the ‘tone’ of the larger college,” he told CNN.

Hillel and Chabad are culturally and religiously related Jewish organizations where Jewish students can go to connect with each other.

Anna Ivey, a college admissions counselor, says it’s not unusual for controversial issues to arise. Some students, for example, have reconsidered where to attend school for various reasons in recent years, such as when abortion laws were changed in some states.

“At the end of the day, people have very different sensibilities,” Ivey said. “Families can decide what’s important to them and what sources of power they want to pay attention to.”

Even so, he said, some families are still “seriously debating” where to put the deposit in the coming days.

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