COUNCIL State of the University
November 22, 2016, Volume 63, No. 15
This presentation is an edited transcript from the State of the University at the November 9 University Council meeting.
Eric J. Furda, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions
The first part of this presentation is to introduce members of my senior team. I hope today to share a little bit more about how we approach our work, how we think about our work and how we reach out to achieve the type of educational community that we all strive for at Penn.
Kathryn Bezella has joined the office for the second time. Kathryn heads up our marketing and communications outreach; she has been at Penn for a number of years from undergraduate admissions as well as at the Wharton School in MBA Admissions and in the Vice Dean’s Office. Kathryn has a graduate degree from Penn and an undergraduate degree from Barnard College. Lou Metzger is our head of information and management systems. When you think about the kind of work we do, you need to have that infrastructure backbone – the hardware, the software, the data capabilities in order to do the type of work that you need to do. He has an undergraduate and a graduate degree from Penn Engineering. Yvonne Romero Da Silva came into the Penn Admissions office about four years ago and is our Director of Admissions. Much of the work that you are going to see today was really the work of Yvonne and the team that supported her in that work when we thought about how to bring this office to best serve the needs of the institution. She is an educator who had admissions experience at MIT as well as at the College Board in strategic planning, and an undergraduate degree from MIT, and a graduate degree from Harvard, and an MBA from Stanford, and she is currently getting her doctoral degree from GSE. Yvonne is a leader and an educator. I couldn’t be more proud of my three senior leaders and the rest of the individuals who are in the Office of Admissions.
It was 2012 when Yvonne was hired. I said, “Okay, you have eight months to come up with a strategic plan.” And she said “Yes.” And we worked together, we carved out time, about 20% of the time. You might think, “Well how can you have a strategic planning process with all the heavy work that you have in front of you?” And for students and faculty, we know that we need to carve out that time. We assembled the team that 20% of their time would be devoted to this strategy project. From that, and any of you who have done strategy projects before like Yvonne, you will see that we were taking a look at four different areas.
1) The Current State Analysis: where was Penn admissions in 2012? How were we configured? What are the challenges that we have? How do we organize our resources and support from the Provost’s office?
2) The Market Analysis, which was very interesting because it was really about looking at the world’s high school students and graduates of secondary schools, what is the potential to become a Penn applicant and to succeed at Penn. That is very different than looking at who gets in and what that admitted student profile looks like. We had to look more broadly because, as you will see later, the world was shifting and we wanted to make sure that if there was a young person of promise in the country and around the world, we would be able to consider them and know who they are and share information about Penn.
3) Competitive Landscape: Our peer groups. Our most immediate peer groups perhaps in the Ivy League and the Ivy Plus Schools, as we refer to them, or the Consortium of Financing Higher Education. Particularly, since this was happening four years after the economic collapse, the competitive landscape was changing. Institutions that are two-year colleges will become part of the competitive landscape. Great land-grant universities are part of the competitive landscape.
4) Constituent Needs Analysis: What’s critical about this is that Penn is a complex place. And as we were thinking about the needs of the four undergraduate schools that we serve, the coordinated dual degrees, thinking about our campus partners, both academic and non-academic. We wanted to make sure that we were looking out to have an understanding of how our work would impact those individuals and those programs.
This is what came from that project. I am not usually into wordy mission statements but there are a few pieces here that I think are critical to resonate with. We are really talking about students as inspiring, promising candidates. This isn’t just recruitment and sending letters out. Some of the work we are doing with Penn First is thinking about students to reach out to so that they can see a Penn education as being possible. So inspiring students is very different from recruitment and maybe some of our other outreach.
Through identifying the next generation of Penn Alumni. You have four short years here as an undergraduate and then you enter this larger body of Penn Alumni. There are a lot of steps in between. Making sure that we are retaining students from freshmen to sophomore year and making sure that they are graduating at high rates — four, five, six years out. There is this continuum and I think that is important for an office of admissions to recognize that it is not just our responsibility to admit a class, hand it off and then go on. Our work doesn’t end at Convocation. We feel very much a part of the campus community.
This is about the individuals for whom we want to make sure that this is an educational experience, and then for the staff, we have a professional culture of support, which we felt more strongly today than we ever needed to feel in quite some time coming together in a staff meeting this morning.
Connecting the statement into the areas of work that we have. You see the six bullets and I will touch on a few of them. We wanted to make sure that we had time to be able to balance all of these pieces. Recruitment might be what you expect an undergraduate admissions office to do. We are responsible for promoting the type of educational opportunity that the University of Pennsylvania can offer. That happens in a lot of different ways. For the students here, you know what a lot of them are because your inbox got filled or maybe you saw us at an Experience Penn event travelling around the globe. Maybe you came to visit campus.
Brand and perception is the work that Kathryn Bezella is responsible for, really recognizing where Penn is. How people think about Penn, maybe some of the statements that the students made today as well and how that resonates with students. How competitive is the Penn campus? How inclusive is the Penn campus? What does this look like? What are people’s perceptions of who we are?
Evaluation and selection is the work that we are doing right now. We just selected the QuestBridge class, and we sent those over to the financial aid office to start the QuestBridge match process. And so that is the beginning of this class. It starts even before early decision. You might have seen in the Daily Pennsylvanian that we have just over 6,000 applications for early decision. But how we configure our office to fairly and equitably review each application is critical for us. Through the strategy project we have shown that there is a different way of doing admissions. We have shared that expertise with some other schools. How we can review applications in what we call committee-based evaluation.
Data and Systems: In the eight years that I have been here I have already seen three iterations of a computer system to support the work that we do. That is how fast the technology is moving and how important it is in Lou Metzger’s role that we are able to support that critical infrastructure for our work.
Partnerships: Our undergraduate schools, the coordinated dual degrees, those individuals that help us not only recruit the class and yield the class but also evaluate and select the class. And so we meet with this group on a monthly basis. Beth Downing in my office heads up this effort.
Cultures and Values: That goes back to what we believe in as an office. That goes to the mission statement. But that goes to the professionalism in our office. How we want to comport ourselves and how we want to support the individuals that are doing this hard work on behalf of the University.
I came back to Penn for Penn admissions in 2008, when Dr. Gutmann called and hired me to come back. Now in some ways I think if I looked at that chart then, I am not sure what my answer would have been because what we have here are projections of high school graduates in 2008 through the strategy project 2012, 2013. So you’re seeing a decline. That’s what we see here through 2027. These are projections of high school graduates from The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. But this was the work that the analysis that the strategy project really took a look at: what’s going to happen as there’s kind of a slow and steady growth, but then also you are going to see that there are some dips as well. But even more so than this, it’s what the country was really looking like. Here you have Caucasians or white students in the blue, you have Hispanic students going up to 2027-2028, you see as this adds up to 100%, just the proportion of what the nation looks like through high school projections. I brought this up to the trustees back in 2008. As the composition of US public high schools, graduating is increasingly diverse. Our core markets declining, the population growth is going into the south and the southwest and partly to the west. So that’s very different outreach and recruitment in the type of work that you need to do if you are thinking that your home base isn’t going to have as many high school students and those individuals who are making decisions about going further away from home and having those conversations, those are the types of shifts that are taking place. You’re also seeing a decrease by about 30% from non-public high schools.
So part of the market research that took place was among guidance counselors. We really needed to find out, we couldn’t just assume that everyone knew who we are as an institution. Now we do have a very strong brand position, we do have a strong market position. As I showed you before that in those areas that are going to have more students, that perception isn’t as strong. By percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, with the Compact and then the Compact 2020, how are we going to continue to make sure that we are reaching out and being as inclusive as possible? Here is a lot of your QuestBridge population, and a lot of your first-generation/low-income students. Then by the percentage of students attending a four-year college and then taking a look at what their perceptions are. More students going to a four-year college, the more people know about Penn. Fewer people going to a four-year college within a high school, with 73% or less than 50% is still pretty high, there’s a big gap there, whether you’re taking 30% of even less than 10%.
So here’s the challenge that we really saw. How did we approach this? We are really thinking about how we could be a recruitment-driven admissions office. Most admissions offices are built around the concept that you create regions because it’s going to add up to about 1,200 applications and that is the assignment [of] each admissions officer. You would hear people say that you have bits of New York and Iowa and parts of some other smaller state, let’s say. Versus organizing ourselves around these larger macro regions and having a team of about six admissions officers, both domestically and globally be responsible for a larger geographic area. And this was great work that came from the strategy project to really think about what do we need to know about students where these shifts are taking place. What are their needs? What is on their mind as they are thinking about college choices? So how we would plan our recruitment. How we would measure our effectiveness. Thinking about how we are selecting students from different educational systems. Schools that may not have AP and IB as an example. And then benchmarking to national trends, whether it’s from IPEDS or from The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.
To meet the needs of students, there are multiple facets to all of us and we really want to make sure that students are having their interests met and at different times during the recruitment continuum you are going to try and meet those interests and needs that they have. Academic achievement. The faculty want to have students in the classroom who are going to challenge them just as much as they are going to challenge the students. Academic interests. Four undergraduate schools and five coordinated dual degrees. Just the number of major-minor combinations that you can have here. Socioeconomic diversity. I know something that President Gutmann is most proud about is talking about First Gen outreach and really thinking about that socioeconomic diversity. Now something great happened that I should have pointed to back in 2008. And that was the beginning of our grant-based financial aid policies for all of our undergraduate students who qualify for financial aid. That came as a great opportunity for us to be able to talk about not only in our recruitment but also what families were facing, because of the financial crisis. Race and ethnicity. What are the needs of students? What are the needs of families as they are taking a look at going to a four-year college that may be an airplane ride away? What are the barriers that we need to consider? How can we reach out to the students? How can we make sure that they are succeeding and thriving here? And how can we really make sure that they understand what Penn is like? Geographic. Again there are going to be nuances there but these pieces may come together very strongly for some students. Maybe one or two are going to be the dominant considerations as they are considering where they are going to apply to college.
So engagements on campus and beyond. What we have really found and through the support that we have, we want to bring students to our campus as early as we can. The Penn Early Exploration Program—we have been bringing students to campus in the fall over the past couple of years to stay overnight in our college houses to visit classes and you should see the shift in perceptions. These are high school seniors nationally and some international students as well who are coming to Penn. We are somewhat on their radar. But by the time that they go through this multi-day and -night event on our campus, they are more inclined to not only apply to Penn but maybe even apply to us early decision. A group of these students were thinking about applying early decision to another institution and after this they are applying to us early decision and when we have panels with our cultural resource centers and with the student support resources, we are making this place much more attainable, not only for the application process but I think even more important for the transition.
Ivy in Your Backyard is reaching out to our Philadelphia community. For so many students, even if they are only a few blocks away from our campus, we may seem thousands of miles away. To let students know that they have this type of institution in their backyard and that this should be an option to consider. I am really proud because I spoke before about the perception of guidance counselors and Penn, our community-based outreach and counselor connection outreach. Counselor connections are for individuals that work within schools that we bring to campus. Your guidance counselors bring them to campus usually from within regional groups that they can come and visit us and have a couple days on our campus. Visit with some of their students who are currently students here and get a better sense of the type of atmosphere that we have on our campus. The community-based organizations, when we started this a couple years ago the date of the third week of August was proposed. I said, “Okay, I’m all for it.” Are people really going to come in the third week of August? They are so busy, maybe just transferring back into the school year. Over the past couple years we have had close to 50 in each year, directors of community-based organizations, some national ones like KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), which we have a partnership with, some smaller ones like College Track, which has a couple of sites across the US and Chicago Scholars. We are actively reaching out, not just to school-based educators but to educators who are providing the after-school programming for students, the weekend tutoring for students, SAT and ACT prep, these are the individuals who are trusted individuals for many students to say. How do I apply? How will I feel at this institution?
We have a great opportunity at Penn given that we have Coursera as well as Sirius XM radio, which is right on Locust Walk in Huntsman Hall. We have been using Sirius XM as a platform to reach out. I have a show called The Process which talks about the college admission and selection process. That’s a quarterly show. What’s great about it too is that you get the content and then we can repurpose it and use it elsewhere. Provost Price asked whether we could put together a “How to Apply to College” course on Coursera. We are almost finished with it. We are going to be launching it late January/early February. Penn is partnered with Steppingstone Scholars, which is a national organization in Boston and here in Philadelphia that reaches out and works with students as early as the fourth grade. Penn students talk about their transitions of applying to college and transitioning into college. Our cultural resource directors and some of our other hub directors were interviewed. So students can really get a sense of what this campus environment is like. We bring them through the application process, we bring them through the financial aid process with Elaine Papas Varas and Student Financial Services. This is going to be a toolkit that students can access. But really what we hope for here is that school districts will access these assets. You can download it right away. It’s on-demand once it’s released. And so there will be a lot of functional pieces wherever a student is in the admissions process. So I am very excited about “How to Apply to College.”
Penn offers counseling guidance. This is about Ivy in Your Backyard. When the cuts were happening in the Philadelphia School District, we made sure that we reached out as a partner in the local community. We had the Alumni Interview Program talk about how to interview for college. We had Kelly Writers House talk about how to write college essays. Quaker Days are our yield events. We received the Models of Excellence Award, so I am really happy about being recognized for that work.
Now I know that this a public meeting and that this is being shared. I usually don’t like sharing information like this, but it is all public information and we aggregated it together. Believe me, you have to stand on your own, but in a market you need to also show where you are relatively positioned. Now applications from 2008-2011 were 22,000, 26,000, then up to 31,000. You hit the strategy project and this is where our work has gone and we are close to 40,000 applications from about 31,000 applications prior to that. This is because of our outreach. This isn’t trying to get more applicants but to be more selective. We have also seen about 50% growth in our underrepresented minority applications as well from that time period. You can see from 2013 and up. And the Penn Alumni Interview Program. We have reached about 93-94% of our applicants in 2016. This is an investment by the Penn Alumni Office and Penn Admissions that every student gets interviewed. This is a critical outreach. If we want to think about how students can tell their story.
Finally, our key priorities for 2016-2017. Some of these are ongoing. When we really think about the types of messages that are important to the groups that we are reaching out to. What’s the Penn story? Our visitors’ center experience: we have about 70,000 each year through College Hall. How can we make sure they are having the best experience possible? Our international recruitment. How do we set priorities abroad, particularly for financial aid that is not need-blind on the international front but still is all grant-based financial aid once a student qualifies? Counselor engagement, we touched on that already. And our ongoing equity and access initiatives which look back right into the Compact 2020.