U looks to the top to recruit

Enrolling top first-years advances strategic positioning initiatives at the U.

by Karlee Weinmann

Even at a state university, gaining admission is not as easy as it has historically been.

Richard Spadine applied for fall 2006 admission to the University before the priority deadline, and despite his ACT composite score of 33 and a 3.25 high school grade point average, he was denied.

“I was a little bit disappointed,” the current Hamline University first-year student said. “I did think I would get in.”

At his fall-back university, Spadine receives academic scholarships that alleviate the burden of the private school’s tuition.

According to Keri Risic, assistant director of admissions, the University has been a popular choice this admissions cycle as well.

The University received more than 25,500 applications to fill 5,300 student spots for fall 2007 enrollment.

“Interest in the University has skyrocketed,” said Wayne Sigler, director of admissions.

In the last two decades, the face of academic recruitment changed.

As the University implements strategic positioning initiatives to climb the ranks of research institutions, its admissions office seeks the best students to help ease the process.

Incoming first-year students have higher standardized test scores, resulting in higher graduation rates since recruitment was intensified.

The University’s extensive recruitment process, modified yearly, targets prospective students beginning during their sophomore year of high school.

Through direct mailings, over-the-phone counseling, high school visits and on-campus events, University representatives tout the institution’s offerings to earn it consideration in postsecondary plans.

Sigler said his office’s enterprises helped make the University a competitive entity in the academic world.

“The University of Minnesota has been ramping up its programs so that it’s continuing to achieve even greater status,” he said.

For a public institution, having wide scholarship availability is an element of success in recruiting top students, particularly in the wake of rising tuition, Sigler said.

Select incoming first-year students receive academic scholarships based on evaluation of their admissions applications, which now double as scholarship applications.

In fall 2006, 1,132 students who confirmed enrollment at the University received academic scholarships, funded both privately and by the University. With 5,439 starting scholastic careers at the University, the scholarship selection process is competitive.

Risic and about 25 others in the admissions office evaluate applications. Some college-specific scholarships are awarded based on assessments by separate committees within colleges.

University representatives assess scholarship candidates’ proven academic success, rigor of high school courses, community involvement and leadership.

Evaluators give Minnesota residency consideration, in sync with another admissions goal of keeping the state’s top high school performers within the borders before and after graduation.

“It’s a very important state work force issue,” Sigler said. “There’s a pretty good chance that if they enroll and graduate (from the University), they’ll stay in the work force of Minnesota.”

Risic said there is not sufficient funding to award many full scholarships.

Average scholarship awards for incoming students have jumped from $3,150 to $5,125 since 2001. The number of scholarships awarded increased by nearly 300 in the same span, translating into improved recruitment.

The largest amount granted is around $12,000 per year, and the smallest is $1,000 per year.

Ideally, recruitment efforts would be boosted by greater financial resources for scholarships, offering each student a package to help cover costs associated with collegiate education.

“We need to let students know that we respect their accomplishments because they’re important to the University and the state of Minnesota,” Sigler said.

With improved recruitment, an overall trend of better academic performance at the University and timely graduation has taken shape.

The University’s goal for 60 percent of students to graduate in four years is far from being met, though numbers are increasing.

First-year history and human resources and industrial relations student Alisha Santoorjian received several scholarships for academic achievement, based on standardized test scores and other factors.

Santoorjian decided on the University during her sophomore year at Apple Valley’s Eastview High School, based on information gathered from her own research and college fairs.

“I knew I wanted to go the U of M because I liked it, but (scholarships) really solidified this decision,” she said. “The U of M was very generous in academic recruitment for me.”