THE PROMISING STUDENT

KU Student Recruiting

| 2015 Q4 | story by LIZ WESLANDER | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |



Recruit to retain, and the rest will fall into place. That’s the approach to student recruitment at The University of Kansas.

“Retention success predicts recruiting success,” says Matt Melvin, vice provost of enrollment management at KU. “If you have people who come and stay, and have a good experience, those are the ones who will be out there building the brand. It’s essentially linking sales to service.”

Retention is at the heart of KU’s new, more rigorous undergraduate assured admission requirements, which will go into effect for the fall 2016 entering class. Under the new standards, entering freshmen will need to meet one of two GPA/ACT thresholds in order to guarantee admission to KU. The first requires a minimum 3.0 high school grade point average (GPA) combined with a 24 on the ACT (1090 SAT), while the second requires a minimum 3.25 high school GPA and a 21 on the ACT (980 SAT).

Currently, all Regents universities in Kansas have the same assured admission requirements. Students are admitted if they score a 21 on the ACT (980 SAT) or rank in the top one-third of their class, or have a 2.0 GPA in the Kansas Qualified Admissions Precollege Curriculum.

Melvin says the philosophy behind these less rigorous admission thresholds is that they give a large number of students access to state educational institutions. However, data has shown that students who are at the lower end of these thresholds are often not prepared to succeed at KU and, consequently, end up dropping dropping out.

“We really don’t believe that we are doing any favors to the students, to their families, to the state or to the institution by allowing students to enroll who, based upon our historical data, have a low propensity to graduate,” he continues. “It’s not a good use of resources or time, and, ultimately, you hurt the brand.”

Melvin explains that the new admission thresholds are anchored within success metrics, meaning there is data that shows people who meet the new thresholds are likely to succeed at KU.

“We are not looking to ratchet this thing up to deny access, but it’s the idea of coupling access with success,” he says. “Access without success is access to nothing, so you have to look at recruitment and retention combined.”

In order to account for students who may not meet the new thresholds but could still succeed at KU, the office of admissions has a holistic review process in place that looks into aspects of applicants’ academic careers that are not reflected in a GPA and test scores.

“The downside to these new thresholds is that people think that if they don’t hit one or both of the criteria, then they shouldn’t even apply, “Melvin says. “Don’t not apply. Our message is assured admissions for those who meet the thresholds, but we also encourage people who have the propensity to be successful to apply, apply, apply.”

Another newer recruitment approach that is showing promise for retention rates at the KU School of Business is the admission of qualified students to the school during freshman year. Prior to 2012, KU students could only apply to the business school during their sophomore year before being admitted for their junior year. Now, freshmen with an interest in business who have at least a 25 ACT score and a 3.25 GPA can apply and be admitted to the School of Business for their freshman year.

In an effort to foster the success of these incoming freshmen, the business school has created a first-year Business School Experience, which includes a series of academic seminars designed to immerse them in the business school experience.

“The goal of those classes is to retain students at KU,” says Kimberlee Hinkle, recruitment director for the KU School of Business. “But it is also to connect them with resources at the university and within the school of business, to connect them with their peers early on and to connect them with career services and advising earlier on than when we were admitting students as juniors.”

She says admitting freshman and helping them make crucial decisions early on has improved the success of the program. During the the last two years, the freshman-to-sophomore retention rates for freshman entering the School of Business years has been between 90 and 92 percent.

“Some of the students have changed majors, but they are staying stay at university,” Hinkle says.

While undergraduate recruitment is largely about recruiting and cultivating students who are able to adjust to the rigors of college life, Michael Roberts, dean of graduate studies, says recruiting graduate students is a different ball game.

“These are students who know what they want,” Roberts says. “They have been out in the world. They have bachelors’ or masters’ degrees. The reputation of the faculty and the quality of the research are what draw graduate students to KU.”

While reputation alone draws large numbers of applicants to many graduate programs, the Office of Graduate Studies has recently started using a database system called Prospect, which helps gather and analyze data on prospective students so departments can personalize their recruitment efforts.

“Our websites are pretty good,” Roberts says. “But they are passive. We don’t want to just wait passively for people to find us. Prospect is a tool that reaches out to graduate students across the globe.”

Prospect is a customer-relations management tool (CRM) that can acquire things like GRE (graduate record examination) scores or the names of people presenting at research conferences, and can then determine if these individuals interest areas align with KU graduate programs.

The Office of Graduate Studies and individual graduate program use this information to create targeted emails to get KU onto people’s radars and then create continued interest through follow-up correspondence.

“These campaigns to alert people to what is good about KU have brought in some really fine students,” Roberts explains. “We have had a number of instances where some really top-notch students, who did not originally have KU in their first scan of where they wanted to go to graduate school, came here for their graduate studies.”

While Thomas says he has been pleasantly surprised by the positive results gained by using Prospect, he believes the best representatives for KU graduate programs are the faculty and students.

“When our faculty are publishing, when our graduate students are going out and presenting at conferences, they are our best ambassadors,” he says. “People look to see who is doing what, and we want those kind of connections.”

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