Undergraduate Admission: Exceeding Goals and Expectations
When the nation plunged into recession in 2008, higher education found itself facing enormous student-recruitment challenges. Not only were some students foregoing higher education altogether, still others were focused on helping their families contend with tight budgets. Where once they might have considered private schools, they increasingly opted for public. Where once they might have considered out-of-state options, they chose institutions closer to home.
Despite these daunting conditions, the University’s Office of Admission was able not only to meet but exceed its student-recruitment goals, both in fall 2008, when the economic storm was gathering, and in fall 2009, when the economy had begun to stabilize.
Tom Willoughby, vice chancellor of enrollment, attributes the University’s success, in part, to a willingness to invest in programming and new faculty, even as schools elsewhere cut academic offerings and eliminated teaching positions. In addition, the Office of Admission calibrated its recruitment strategy with two goals in mind: continuing to grow the applicant pool and recruiting the high-caliber undergraduate students most likely to succeed at DU.
Throughout the 2009–10 student recruitment campaign, one of the office’s chief priorities was to highlight the University’s financial stability and educational quality. With the media focused on the financial plight facing public institutions, DU was able to offer a reassuring contrast. “This is where the value of DU shined brighter than ever,” Willoughby said. “We promoted the financial strength of DU and how that would translate into a high-quality experience throughout the student’s four years here.”
As a result, he added, “we had one of the best years ever.”
Because price sensitivity and financial aid packages have played a big role in students’ decision making, the University strengthened its institutional funding for scholarships and financial aid, and it decided to communicate each student’s financial aid award earlier than usual. What’s more, signaling its commitment to affordability and family concerns, the University announced its lowest tuition increase in years. At less than 3 percent, the increase was one of the lowest nationwide.
Willoughby and his staff also aggressively marketed and refined the campus visitation program, largely because students who visit campus are more likely to apply and enroll than those who don’t.
The University’s strategy paid off handsomely. By the end of the recruitment campaign, applications had increased 68 percent from two years ago. The total number of applications for fall 2010 was 12,400, compared to 10,825 in 2009 and 8,380 in 2008. Of these, 9,315 were deemed complete and reviewed by the admission staff.
The Early Action program, which processes applications submitted by a November deadline, yielded 3,419 of those applications. The rest were channeled through the University’s Regular Decision program, which adheres to a January deadline.
Willoughby was especially pleased that the applicant pool showed growth in key areas. Out-of-state applications increased 10 percent to 7,549. Multicultural applications rose 20 percent from the year before, while international applications jumped 26 percent.
DU also received 5,691 applications from males, representing an 11 percent increase over the previous year and 3 percent better than the budgeted 43 percent. This stood in contrast to a nationwide trend that shows declining numbers of applications from young men.
In addition, the academic quality of students expected to enroll has soared. The SAT average for the incoming class increased 14 points, while the overall ACT increased 2 percent. The average GPA of the first-year class is 3.67, versus last year’s 3.66.
Perhaps most impressive, 17 of the annual 40 Boettcher Scholars indicated they will enroll at DU in fall 2010, a record number for an institution that has long been an attractive option for high-achieving students. That will bring the total number of Boettcher Scholars on campus to 62.
“It’s a great statement for the perceived quality of the DU education in the minds of the marketplace,” Willoughby said.
By May 1, 2010, the Office of Admission had received 1,350 deposits, compared with 1,319 the previous year. Willoughby expects 1,239 students to enroll in fall 2010, exceeding the budgeted goal of 1,200.