Over the summer, Duke reported its highest admissions yield since 1987. Approximately 45.6 percent of admitted students chose to enroll in the University, a significant increase from the previous year, in which 42 percent of admitted students accepted their offers. Although the higher yield rate looks good on paper, these numbers may not be much cause for celebration.
Duke admitted a much higher percentage of early decision applicants this year, a move that inflated the yield rate. In 2012, early decision admittees made up only 38 percent of the incoming class. This year, Duke accepted 44 percent of the current first-year class early. When accounting for the high percentage of early decision admittees in the Class of 2017, it is important to note that, in 2013, approximately 33 percent of regular decision applicants accepted offers to attend Duke.
Moreover, Duke’s highest yield rate in over two decades looks unimpressive when compared to those of other elite universities. Harvard enjoyed a yield rate of 82 percent; Stanford’s yield was 76.7 percent and the University of Chicago registered a yield of 55 percent.
Although we caution against putting too much stock in yield rates, they do have real consequences. Yield rates are important not just because they affect how Duke stacks up in the college rankings, but also because they reveal how desirable prospective college students consider our University to be. Although Duke offers students an excellent education, the University has failed to distinguish itself from its peer institutions, and, as a result, Duke consistently loses some of its admitted students to colder climates and ivy-coated walls. Universities like Brown, moreover, distinguish themselves through signature academic programs and a well-defined academic culture that Duke has sought but not yet found.
To retain more admitted students, the University should continue working to set itself apart from its peers. Duke does face limited options, though. The inflexible rank order of elite universities makes climbing the rankings an arduous task. Unique programs like Bass Connections help set Duke apart, but the University’s push for more interdisciplinary learning needs to become more focused if Duke hopes to claim cross-discipline learning as its specialty.
More importantly, Duke should make expanding financial aid an institutional priority. Duke has done much to expand and improve its financial aid system over the past 10 years. The University, however, should do more to tap into the pool of talented applicants either turned off by Duke’s price tag or drawn to colleges with more generous aid packages. We understand that budget constraints are a real and significant barrier, but we see the expansion of financial aid as both inherently valuable and an effective step in improving yield.
Under no circumstances should the University change its admissions policies merely to inflate its yields. Duke should not compromise its high standards for applicants and admit students simply because they are likely to accept their offer. Instead, Duke should address the underlying issues revealed by our low relative yield—namely, that many admitted students do not consider Duke to be as desirable as other universities in our class—and work to retain more students by improving academic quality and financial aid.