UNION, NJ – After a report Sunday in a North Jersey newspaper showed Kean University is one of several public facilities inflating their application numbers, Union Mayor Manuel Figueiredo admitted he had enough and the gloves were off.
“Dr. Farahi and the board of trustees have continued to show an inability to be responsible stewards of the university they are tasked with leading and an unwillingness to be responsible partners with Union township residents that play host to Kean University,” said the mayor, adding “at some point it becomes important to question who they are actually serving if it’s not the university community as a whole.”
Figueiredo expressed outrage when he heard that Kean, among other state universities, artificially inflate application numbers, calling for Farahi to drop all plans for building any additional housing on campus.
The article, which appeared in The Record in Bergen County, uncovered the fact that some of the state’s public universities and colleges, in order to make them appear more attractive to prospective students, skirted national standards when reporting data to the federal government and ratings organizations.
According to The Record, Kean, along with Ramapo and Rowan universities, included both complete and incomplete applications as a part of the statistics they report routinely. This, said the mayor, artificially bloated the applicant pool by hundreds, if not more.
The incomplete applications, the article said, are tallied with those that are submitted in full, which gives the impression that these public institutions appear to be rejecting a substantially higher percentage of students than they actually are. The lower acceptance rate actually provides a boost in the prestigious world of college admissions, but it does not reflect true numbers.
The practice of inflating the true application number violates state and federal requirements requiring that only completed applications be in any total counts submitted to the federal government, U.S. News and World Report and other rating organizations and publications.
At Kean, just starting an application online makes a student eligible to be part of the admissions pool, but recently that came back to haunt the embattled university that is more than $338 million in debt and has less than a 19 percent four-year graduation rate.
In February, about 3,000 students received notification from Kean that they had been accepted to the university. The only hitch was the majority of these “applicants” never even applied.
According to reports from those receiving the notifications, the email said “Congratulations on your acceptance to Kean University! As you are narrowing down your list of preferred universities, we hope you are completing your free application for federal student aid and applying for scholarships at Kean University for which you may qualify.”
The email was followed less than an hour later by another saying the previous email had been sent by mistake.
In a statement, University Relations Vice President Susan Kayne said the email was intended as a reminder to students who had been accepted to apply for scholarships, also noting that the university had not yet made any decisions on many of the applicants receiving the email.
Kean, which has an 80.4-percent acceptance rate, according to U.S. News and World Report, which some experts say is just short of having open admissions. The university uses a rolling admissions system, reviewing applications as they come in, rather than waiting until all applications are in and the deadline is passed.
Still unexplained by the university is how more than 1,000 students received the email but never applied to Kean in the first place.
Kayne did refute claims by students that they never applied, pointing out that even if a student put their name on the online application that was considered to be a working application. The university never admitted how many applicants or non-applicants received the email, but social media had a field day with the error.
Kean’s deadline for applications for the fall semester is May 31.
According to one source at the university, who preferred their name not be used, although Kean maintains they only accept 70 percent of applicants who apply, that is not true.
“The university will take anything that breathes,” the source said, noting, for example, regardless how poorly an applicant does in high school, they are accepted.
“Are you kidding me? It’s all about numbers here at Kean. Herd them in and then forget about them. That is the motto here. That’s why our four-year graduation rate is below 20 percent,” she said.
According to The Record article, admission statistics are anything but simple. The majority are self-reported by universities and not verified by an outside source. Universities and colleges, the report indicated, have been found to manipulate everything from the test scores of incoming students to class size.
Groups that survey these institutions of higher learning also do little to ensure the reporting by universities sticks to the required standards.
Although the state compiles statistics for the federal database, it only asks for the number of completed applications from New Jersey universities and colleges. The federal government does leave some leeway by allowing applications that are “actionable” to be included in reporting, which means a school has enough information to make a decision whether to wait-list or accept a student outright.
According to The Record article, neither Kean, Rowan nor Ramapo fall within that standard because they include applications that they admitted are missing information needed to make a decision.
Kean did admit to The Record that they report numbers to the federal data bank that reflect incomplete applications. Finding out exactly how many serious applicants actually apply to this state university, though, is not easy.
Although the state university has not been forthcoming with application numbers, tenured and adjunct faculty have been able to obtain information in this particular area.
While university President Dawood Farahi continues to say enrollment is growing, there is little evidence to support that claim, other than the lack of parking at Kean.
The last available enrollment numbers were from the fall of 2014 and that showed enrollment sank from 15,300 to 14,700. In fact, declining enrollment was the reason U.S. News and World Report did not even list Kean in their rankings in 2013.
In 2012 the school was ranked 133 out of state colleges, which raised concern among faculty at the time. That concern has not ebbed.
One professor said “we have become the laughingstock of the educational community and our president stands up there and acts like we are number one.”
Records obtained last year by LocalSource from the state revealed that 40 percent of Kean undergraduate students received Pell grants, which are federally funded grants for low-income students. According to audits, at the time Kean owed $255,920 in federal aid that was awarded without proper documentation.
The average student receives a Pell Grant amounting to close to $5,000, which is filed by Kean. Records indicated that Kean was awarding too much money to students in eight out of the 30 cases investigated by the U.S. Department of Education. Over two years, the DOE found Kean improperly awarded close to $800,000 in loans.
The issue of no parking at the university is another hot button for students and faculty who maintain there are close to 15,000 students but only 4,300 spaces available for parking.
Farahi has not addressed the problem and despite mounting debt and declining enrollment, the university president continues to build state-of-the-art buildings on the Union campus, which raised the ire of Union’s mayor this week.
“While we have long maintained that Dr. Farahi and the board of trustees continued mismanagement of Kean University has had a profoundly negative impact of Union township and surrounding communities, university leadership has continued to move forward with plans to expand based on what we know now are almost entirely made up application numbers,” said Figueiredo, noting that the report in The Record made everything crystal clear.
“Yet even as they inflate their application numbers, Dr. Farahi and the board of trustees have continued to move forward with plans to try and secure taxpayer funding for 800 additional beds in two student resident halls they would like constructed off the Woodland Avenue entrance,” said the mayor, adding that the university currently has 300 empty beds in pre-existing dorm housing, along with significant student parking issues.
“Dr. Farahi and the board of trustees should immediately discontinue their plans to build additional housing at even further taxpayer expense and begin to work towards repairing their relationship with both the students they are entrusted with educating and the residents of Union township who have suffered as a result of the university leadership’s ongoing mismanagement,” Figueiredo said.