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COUNCIL: State of the University
October 28, 2008, Volume 55, No. 10

Admissions Dean Eric Furda

The following is a transcript of his presentation.

Thank you, and also I know my colleague, Eric Kaplan is here today I want to share a little bit from the road with you in our experiences so far in recruiting. Most of our admission officers are still out on the road and will be back next week for training on our new online leading system, which will provide new opportunities for not only evaluation, but also recruitment. 

But a couple of examples from the road. A small town outside of Los Angeles called Ontario, California was considered a secondary market for us and we were traveling there with our echo institutions, exploring college options, institutions like Duke, Georgetown, Stanford and Harvard. We literally had to split the session in half, we had such a strong response that we had to have a group come earlier in the evening and then later in the evening.  The same thing happened in Charleston, South Carolina as well. On campus, we’ve had a 17% increase through the spring and through the end of September for families visiting campus. The multicultural and diversity open house this year exceeded last year’s. We literally filled up Irvine Auditorium, and also for Ivy In Your Backyard, for students from the city of Philadelphia, again in Irvine Auditorium, higher numbers than we’ve ever seen. So the pipeline looks good in many ways. Now for the students that are here. I’m nervous.  In some ways you drive me crazy. I love you but you drive me crazy. So in the past, we would be opening bins of mail right now. Because the deadline for November 1 for early decision, the mail would come in, students would say, gee is this a postmark deadline or not? They want to get it in and get that return receipt request returned to them. Well, right now we can go in to the online application, students apply online, we no longer have the pen and paper application, and I literally see thousands of students who have their early decision application in progress. I can’t read this yet, so don’t worry—I’m not reading unedited essays, but they haven’t yet pressed submit. So we do have a window into the early pool through the online application.  But I know that on October the 31st, around midnight, a lot of students are going to be pressing a button and pressing submit. 

We’re seeing that with the common application right now and also our new partner, which I think will see an uptake in regular decision with the universal application. I would like to take a look at the admissions landscape. There is a lot that we can control but there is also the marketplace, and we have to consider the marketplace so we can really position Penn in the best light possible. So in 2008-2009 there are 3.3 million seniors; this is from the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education. This is actually a slight dip from last year, so if Eric Kaplan proves me wrong and he’s the most successful dean ever, it’s because you had 20 thousand more students to work with.

In terms of the numbers there is a slight decrease. I think there is a lot being said about the changing demographics and honestly, it goes up and down over the next decade and it doesn’t really concern me so much. But what you really have to take a close look at, are the ethnic and geographic shifts that are taking place. And when you consider, and this is the consideration that many admissions deans had 20-30 years ago when the primary markets in their backyard, traditional northeast or mid-Atlantic markets were starting to decrease and started a national recruitment model, we are very much seeing the same thing again today. Two years ago California became the largest state for applications to Penn, that being said, PA was still our largest state for enrolled students. The geographic shifts right now certainly lean towards the West and away from places like PA and New York, many of our backyard markets.  But also in the Southeast, tremendous growth in places like Texas and Florida. So we are positioning our recruitment there certainly and building on the great work that has been done in the past. 

In terms of ethnic shifts, Caucasian applications, or at least Caucasian college-bound students will decrease 11 percent over the next couple of years.  Whereas the number of Hispanic students will increase 54%.  We all know this; we’re taking a look at the national demographics. We certainly need to consider our recruitment options. We will certainly consider having many of our recruitment materials online or printed in languages outside of English and making sure that we are understanding those communities and reaching into those communities.  

International students I think this is an area where many institutions will see an increase in application numbers. Last year the pool for undergraduates applying from abroad was around 17%, and that was up from about 15% in prior years.  Certainly early admission programs are front-page news, they were front-page news last year not only because of the discontinuation in our peer institutions, Harvard and Princeton not having early programs, but what the ripple effect really was.  And Penn certainly saw students in the regular decision applicant pool that may not have appeared in prior years because many of those students were not, in a way, taken off the table even with early action program. What Eric Kaplan really needed to manage last year, and I think its part of the full landscape moving forward, is increased waitlist activity. Not only do you have early decision and regular decision, not only to admit, but also considerations for yield. You also have waitlist activity that could extend into June and July at many institutions. That is a new part of the landscape and one that we will continue to manage and utilize as we are selecting and enrolling the class of 2013. Certainly as we consider the Penn Compact, access to aid. I’d like to go over some initiatives that have been started for Penn policies. We certainly know about the financial aid policy. There was also a search that was sent out last year called an Access Search through the College Board. We had just over 1,000 names from the College Board of students falling in certain socio-economic bands and so far we are able to track through, with a really wonderful publication that was sent to them, as well as a DVD with student stories, about students really talking about their experiences, thinking that they could not afford a Penn education and ended up here, wonderful compelling stories.  So we are tracking students now who have shown other interests after that April mailing, they have come and requested information on the web, or have visited campus, or have attended one of our recruitment events. We will track them all the way through for applications, early and regular decision. Also this year, this Friday is a very exciting day in the Admissions Office, not only are we having an open house for the School of Engineering and Applied Science, but we’re also receiving applications from the Quest Bridge National College Match. And Quest Bridge saw an increase in the number of applications to their program and they’re selecting the finalists right now.  Come Friday we will see students who have indicated that Penn is one of their choices for college.  Students are allowed to list up to eight colleges or universities and so we’ll see those and we’ll have a very short window to evaluate those lists and applications that we receive. Think about early decision, now there’s another stage, you have Quest Bridge, which is early, early decision, you have early decision, regular decision and now waitlist. You are seeing the selection expand throughout the year. I touched on the Universal Application, we’re a new partner with the Universal Application this year.  If I needed to describe the difference between the Universal Application and the Common Application, is the Universal Application is much more open to schools that it will partner with, as long as the schools are recognized by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling and adhere to best practices. The Universal Application will welcome schools in, right now Harvard, Duke and Penn are probably the leaders on that list, but there is a geographic spread that I think can benefit us, especially as it relates to the changing demographics once again.  

The no loan policy: I’ll go into the economy with that right now. A collaborative effort with the undergraduate schools, as well as Bill Schilling in Financial Aid. This past Friday we sent out a message to the 2009 domestic prospects in our database.  It’s the first time we’ve done this type of timely outreach. This outreach reiterates, not only no-loan, but also need-blind admissions, full funding.  That a family, as their circumstances change, they can approach the Financial Aid office and request a reevaluation of their financial aid at any time.  So we sent this out and we had a great response going through.  And I just think that this is the type of outreach that we need to do more often, really recognizing what the landscape shows us and communicating to families, just as Dr. Gutmann sent her message around the University, we sent something similar to our prospective students, 2009 graduating seniors. 

The College Board has put out, along with the Lumina Foundation and the Spencer Foundation, a report on rethinking student aid. Some interesting reading, a lot of it has to do with federal policies and if I could just sum it up in two words, one would be the point of this report is to make college accessible to students who would not apply to college otherwise because they think its too expensive. Maybe Penn, maybe not, but certainly a broader mandate to get families with highly-talented students who are not applying to college because of concerns over cost to increase and open that up for those students. And the second one, and I think we could all share this, is predictability. We are receiving those calls in the admissions office right now, not only about tuition and room and board for next year, but what we expect in future years because families are trying to plan not only for their first child, lets say over the next four years but certainly for younger siblings as well. 

On the testing front, SAT score choice is something that has come up for many of the undergraduates here, you had the option of whether or not you will send your subject test to certain schools, that was a change the College Board made some years ago. Starting in March 2009 in the administration of the SAT, students, if they are taking the test multiple times can indicate that they just want to submit a certain score and not their full scoring report.  I’ll touch on that in a second. 

The ACT, American College Testing Program. Many of the undergraduates here, and the graduate students may have sat through the ACT, is becoming much more common throughout the US for students to take this exam. I was just up in NY two days ago and a college-bound preparatory program called Prep for Prep, which has students come into their program and also they’ll place those students into secondary schools, private secondary schools in New England or the New York City area.  They are requiring all their students to take the ACT.  This is very different. In my national travels this year, more and more schools are asking their students or requiring their students to sit for what is the ACT equivalent of the PSAT. To take that early on, sophomore or junior year. So it’s another way that we’ll be able to identify students by their academic interests and by some attainment on a test. The students really feel, maybe those in this room will share this sentiment, that the ACT is really more of an indicator of what they’ve learned in the classroom. They are taking more of a subject-based test, although a lot of people disagree whether it is more of an aptitude test or not, given the breakdown in the exam, and the way students perform on the exam, there is a really a national trend towards the ACT.

All this leads to the National Association on College Admissions Counseling, a few weeks ago at the national meeting in Seattle, a commission on standardized testing was released and there were a number of recommendations from that commission. The step back for me is whether its score choice or the commission on standardized testing.  If we use this information responsibly and in light of a student’s transcript, faculty teacher comments from letters, counselor recommendations and also what the students have to say in their personal statements and essays. If we have all this information, I think its helpful to an admissions office that’s selecting somewhere around 16% of their students.  I think losing information in some ways can hurt us and as long as we’re using it responsibly, I think we should really stick with what we’re requesting for testing right now. The commission did state that having hard cut-offs, for things like the National Merit program is wrong and that’s not using the test responsibly.

So that’s the landscape right now. I do feel like Penn is positioned because of our national recruitment.  There’s a lot that we need to do.  I feel that with the number of hires we’ve made this year, as well as the veteran staff, that we’re in good shape to implement some new policies. I’ve been speaking with the faculty and student groups as well for their input and I think we’re in a good position even though the landscape is shifting.




Almanac - October 28, 2008, Volume 55, No. 10