School admissions rise

by Andrew Donohue

During peak recruitment season, Roxanne Rockvam spends few days in her quaint Williamson Hall office.
Instead, Rockvam, a recruiter in the Office of Admissions, fills her work days with highway travel and high school visits. A healthy portion of fall and spring quarter shape up this way for Rockvam and eight other full-time recruiters employed by the admissions office.
Exchanging desk work for a steering wheel and the open road, the recruiters are an integral part of the University’s intensified commitment to the recruiting process.
Since re-evaluating its recruitment and admission strategies in 1992 as part of former University President Nils Hasselmo’s U2000 plan, the University’s enrollment numbers and academic standards followed the same upward ascent. The climb is due in part to a diverse entourage of programs implemented by the Office of Admissions.
For fall 1998, freshman applications are up again for the sixth straight year, escalating by 71 percent since 1992. Applications are up 13 percent alone since last year.
“In the past four to five years, we’ve been increasing admission standards, but also continued to provide more access,” said Wayne Sigler, director of the Office of Admissions.
As application and admission numbers continue their ascent, the University could be poised for watered-down quality in its student body. But that is not the case.
Admission officials said they found a common ground where quality and quantity are reasonable goals.
“Our goal is not to keep people out, but to enhance retention and graduation at the University,” Sigler said.
The commitment to higher academic standards shows in freshman requirements.
In 1991, the University implemented high school preparatory requirements for incoming freshmen, which include a core of high school classes and test scores. Looking back at the freshmen of 1985, only 17 percent of the class met these current standards, while 87 percent of last year’s class met the requirements.
Sigler said numbers for this fall’s incoming freshman class are simply projections, but make administrators optimistic.
“We have every reason to believe that we have an outstanding freshman class in the works,” Sigler said. “The major reason for success is that the product is outstanding, and we are doing a better job of showcasing it.”
An upscaled recruiting plan is only the foundation for the office, with several other programs contributing to the success.
Of the nine recruiters, eight are University alumni. Although they share the same basic approach, each has his or her own style for attracting prospective students.
“Most students want to know how they will fit in,” Rockvam said. “Then we personalize it by finding their needs and how the University can match these needs.”
The height of the recruiting season typically yields Monday through Thursday on the road. Trekking to as many as 20 high schools a week, the road can be a long one, but the recruiters don’t let it get tiresome.
“The students energize you,” said Rockvam, who is also coordinator of volunteer programs for the office. “You get to that school and everything is new to them; they are wide-eyed and ready to take in information.”
Four years ago, John Lundstrom was one of those wide-eyed high school students. He visited a number of schools, but the University left a mark on him for one reason.
“What impressed me was how friendly and personable the people here were,” he said. “They were there for us, as opposed to other schools where I didn’t get as much attention.”
Lundstrom, a junior in architecture, chose the University because of the cordial environment he found around campus. He is involved in a volunteer program with the office to spread the feeling he received.
A similar feeling kept Rockvam planted in the University’s soil after graduating from the University in 1994 with degrees in marketing and international business.
“I had a great undergraduate experience,” she said.
“Most people see us as recruiters, but we are more like counselors. We want to work with the students to show them why this would be a great choice.”
The admissions office focuses a large portion of its efforts on in-state visits, hitting most state high schools yearly.
A fair amount of energy is also concentrated on neighboring states. In Wisconsin, prospective students can get a taste of the University from the efforts of recruiters who spend time in high schools around Milwaukee and along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.
The office also sends representatives to the major college fairs around North Dakota and South Dakota.
Three years ago, the office widened its outreach tactics to extend its push toward diversity, intensifying its involvement in college fairs on the East and West coasts. In conjunction with the Big Ten, the fairs span California and many of the bigger cities on the East Coast.
“It’s a building process,” Sigler said. “We get students coming here and spreading the word back to their high schools. It’s not an overnight process.”
Another part of the University’s revised recruitment strategy includes making the campus more attractive to minority students.
Besides direct mail and telemarketing campaigns, the admissions office holds four open houses yearly in coordination with one of the four big learning resource centers on campus.
Intended to entice Asian-American, Chicano/Latino, African-American and American Indian students, the fairs offer minority students a chance to meet with admissions officers and representatives from the learning resource centers. The prospective students are also given an orientation by current students, allowing them to learn first-hand what the University has to offer.
“The fairs are useful in the recruitment of students that we wouldn’t ordinarily see,” said Manuel Guerrero, director of the Chicano/Latino Learning Resource Center. He said center membership numbers have climbed each of the last four years — due, in part, to the fairs.
The admissions office also partners with St. Paul public schools in the Minority Encouragement Program. The program identifies talented minority elementary and middle school students within the St. Paul School District and nurtures their gifts to prepare them for the collegiate experience.
These efforts, combined with the standard recruiting processes, render favorable results for the admissions office. Compared with last year’s statistics, applications from students of color are up 17 percent. Since 1992, applications from prospective minority students climbed an astounding 89 percent.
“We want students of color to know the invitation to the University includes them,” said Patricia Jones Whyte, assistant director of admissions. “But that message may have not always been clear.”
The admissions process contains no quota system when admitting students of color, but Whyte said the office does meet with the deans of the eight freshman-admitting colleges to agree upon a target enrollment.
Employees from the office stressed their job consists purely of customer service, not slick salesmanship.
“Our goal is to work with prospective students and their families to provide information on the University so they will choose to spend the next four years here,” Whyte said.
The office focuses on a small set of key characteristics to showcase the University, as well as personalize each student’s situation.
A major selling point is location. Aside from curriculum benefits the University has to offer, recruiters stress the cultural and entertainment options that come with the school’s major metropolitan setting.
“Although we are working hard to be cutting-edge and state-of-the-art in admissions and recruiting programs, the primary emphasis is not on recruiting techniques but on the University itself,” Sigler said.
“We have a world-class University, and our recruiting efforts are designed to help prospective students discover, in a personalized fashion, all the possibilities available to them at the University,” he said.
One program run through the admissions office allows high school students the opportunity to gain an authentic view of University life. The University’s Admissions Ambassadors program began in 1993 as part of a new push toward making the college choice a well-informed one for high schoolers.
The ambassadors program consists of students volunteering their services to assist high school students considering the University. It began with only a hand-full of volunteers and has blossomed into a 110-member corps, with representatives from different organizations and colleges across campus.
“We focus on promoting the University in a positive light to prospective students,” Lundstrom said.
The program gives high school students a chance to gain knowledge from somebody who doesn’t get paid to do it and who has no other motive but to help.
“The high schoolers know that the information is coming from a volunteer, not an employee,” Whyte said.
“We are all students, so we can all relate,” Lundstrom said.
Lundstrom is now in his third year as a volunteer for the ambassadors program. After having a pleasurable recruiting experience as a high school student, he decided to join the other side of the process.
Typically, a student ambassador puts in 15 hours of volunteer work a month. The ambassadors handle the walking tours that are held twice daily during the week and once on Saturday. One on one, the ambassadors host the prospective students, showing them the campus, taking them out to lunch and to class.
They also assist with bus tours and other on-campus recruiting functions.
“We all work together as a team,” Rockvam said. “The prospective students need to know if this is a realistic decision and if they will make a difference as part of the University.”