A study shows that when colleges are shrouded in public scandal they can expect a decrease in applications.
According to a paper from the Harvard Business School, scandals on college campuses that receive extensive media coverage lead to decreases in the number of applications that college receives.
The analysis discovered that a school should prepare for a steep drop in applicants if it’s involved in a scandal that ends up being detailed in a lengthy magazine article or covered by a major newspaper.
The research suggests that if a scandal was mentioned in The New York Times at least five times, the school received around a 9 percent drop in applications the following year. A scandal covered in a long-form article was linked to about a 10 percent drop in the number of applications a school received ― or, as the paper’s authors put it, “roughly the same impact on applications as a 10-ranking drop in the influential U.S. News and World Report College Rankings.”
“One of the challenges of the study is that we cannot disentangle whether the impact of a scandal on college applications was because of the incident itself or the surrounding media attention ― they go hand-in-hand,” Smith, of the College Board, told The Huffington Post.
The study’s authors used a Google search of media content published online to collect information on scandal coverage between 2001 and 2013. It said that the media and news landscape were very different in 2001 and 2013, but Smith said a separate study would be needed to look at the role of social media on these scandals.
The new paper does note a couple of positive takeaways. Schools are far less likely to have a scandal in the year after one occurs, because they are on heightened alert or implementing reforms, so the campus could actually be safer.
Because of this, the study’s authors do not blame the media for drawing more attention to scandals or harming a school’s reputation. “Our finding suggests that media is serving the purpose of holding colleges accountable by deterring future scandals,” they write.
In addition, it’s potentially easier to get accepted to a university that’s receiving fewer applications, the report said.