The graduation gowns have been donned, the caps have been tossed, and college orientations are in full swing.

But for students who have had a change of heart about their post-graduation plans or who might have missed the traditional college application deadlines, a number of higher education institutions have news for you: There’s still time.

Nearly 30 colleges and universities in Ohio still have openings for students this fall, according to an annual list published by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).

Some on the list are technical schools or colleges that always offer rolling admissions, like the Columbus College of Art and Design. But several traditional four-year universities like Otterbein, Ohio Wesleyan and Capital universities are on the list.

Absent are schools with competitive first-year admissions criteria, such as Ohio State University, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Denison University in Granville and Oberlin College in northern Ohio.

The University of Akron and Kent State University also aren't included in the list. But several universities in Greater Akron are included: University of Mount Union, Ohio State University ATI/Wooster, Malone University and Hiram College.

Nationally, the NACAC lists more than 500 colleges and universities with openings this fall. That’s nearly double the number of schools from five years ago, when that number was about 280. The 2014 list included 18 schools in Ohio. Schools volunteer to add their name to the list, which the NACAC compiles as a resource for potential students.

The list could be growing, in part, because colleges are staring down declining birthrates and decreasing numbers of traditional college-age students.

“It goes back to fewer students actually being in the pipeline, but not fewer colleges,” said Stefanie Niles, vice president for enrollment and communications at Ohio Wesleyan, who is also president of the NACAC. “There’s a high, high level of competition — even within the state of Ohio. There’s wonderful private and public institutions in our state — and just not as many students looking to attend them.”

Colleges rely on enrollment as a revenue driver, which makes enrollment goals important. While schools that accept applications into the summer might be facing recruitment and financial struggles, that’s not the case all of the time, college admissions officials said. Sometimes, a college might have met its enrollment goals but still has capacity, or may be emphasizing quality over quantity.

“When you realize that there are 3,400 four-year universities in the United States, most colleges have space,” said Jefferson Blackburn-Smith, vice president of enrollment management at Otterbein University. And that can even happen at popular land-grant and private colleges.

Ohio Wesleyan, for example, recently put increased focus on student success after retention rates between students’ first and second year dropped lower than Ohio Wesleyan officials wanted, Niles said.

“We then made some intentional decisions to not admit students who we felt really, truly couldn’t succeed,” she said. “As expected, that has led to a slightly lower class to where we wanted to be at this time.”

Even when schools meet their enrollment goals, they often still consider whether they have room for more students, said Blackburn-Smith.

Otterbein is anticipating between 630 new first-year students in the fall, and is currently considering moving some students from rooms with two people to rooms of three. Blackburn-Smith said. Ideally, he said he "would love a class of 650 every year," but moving beyond that size and closer to 700 new first-year students would be a concern because the university would have to consider bigger class sizes or adding more sections. It also would take away from the common Otterbein experience, he said.

There also can be all kinds of reasons why a student might still be looking to apply to colleges in the summer, past the traditional May 1 deadline, college admissions leaders said.

Students might realize they don’t want to attend a school so far away from home, be dealing with a personal matter, realize the school they picked isn’t a right fit for them or that they want to continue playing varsity athletics or participating in other extracurriculars.

And sometimes, students who hadn’t considered college at all might change their minds.

Capital University surpassed its enrollment goal for this fall and will welcome nearly 780 students, a more than 30% increase over last fall's incoming class, thanks in part to a new tuition discount for families in service-oriented sectors. The Bexley university has continued accepting applications into the summer for as long as Jean-Paul Spagnolo, vice president for strategic enrollment management, can remember.

That decision is based in part around Capital’s focus on making college accessible to underrepresented groups, such as first-generation, minority, or low-income students, Spagnolo said.

“It’s often that people who have less privilege take longer to get through that (college application) process,” he said. “From a point of access and mission, we believe that we can better serve some underrepresented populations.”

For those considering applying to one of the schools that still has openings, admissions officials said the sooner they get in touch with a college’s admissions office, the better. Even in the summer, it takes time to review an application and determine what kind of financial aid might be available to a student. Timelines can vary depending on the school, the student, and whether they are reactivating an earlier application or are starting from scratch.

“Institutions are still going to have the same quality standards for these admissions," Spagnolo said.

 

jsmola@dispatch.com @jennsmola