Academics and Research

New admissions strategy results in strong first-year class for fall 2014

In a time when higher-education institutions across the country are experiencing myriad challenges, the University of Denver is set to admit one of the most geographically and ethnically diverse first-year classes in recent history this fall, says Tom Willoughby, vice chancellor for enrollment.

The University had nearly 19,000 applications for fall 2014; those resulted in 1,468 first-time confirmations, 93 more than the expected number of 1,375. Because a handful of confirmed students typically end up enrolling elsewhere, Willoughby expects a first-year class between 1,400 and 1,410.

Of the students the University expects to enroll this fall, 21 percent are students of color, 67 percent are from out of state, and 6 percent are international. The incoming class includes students from all 50 states, as well as a rare gender balance of 50 percent males and 50 percent females. (The average national balance is closer to 70 percent female, 30 percent male.)

The gender balance, Willoughby says, comes in large part from an increased focus on attracting talented students to the University’s engineering and computer science programs. The University, he says, committed to covering 100 percent of what it calls “demonstrated financial need” — the difference between the cost of tuition and the amount a student can afford to pay — for first-year engineering and computer science students.

“The results were remarkable,” he says. “Enrollment in engineering is increasing from 112 first-year students to 170, and more than one-third of the students will be students of color.”

The move also boosted the academic profile of the class, Willoughby says.

“We were able to compete for some top students in ways we hadn’t been able to in the past when we fully met financial need,” he says. “It shows the strength of our program that the students are saying, ‘Look, if you give me access to the University of Denver, I will more often choose the University of Denver.’”

The incoming class of 2014 will be equal in size to the incoming class of 2013 — a significant jump from a decade ago, when incoming classes were much smaller, Willoughby says. The increased numbers reflect a new approach to admissions, one in which the University reaches out to a larger number of potential students earlier than it did in the past.

“All of the research indicates that if you reach out to someone early on, you have a better chance over time of building a relationship and ultimately convincing them of the value in what you offer,” Willoughby says. “We applied that same marketing principle to students.”

Where previously the University had marketed itself to high school juniors and seniors, Willoughby decided to start marketing to sophomores as well. “It gave us a longer period of time to talk about the University of Denver, and it also allowed us the opportunity to introduce ourselves before many other colleges and universities were,” he says. “Generally, if you begin a conversation with someone as a sophomore, they apply at a greater rate than those you begin the conversation with as juniors and seniors.”

Another part of the new admissions plan involves reaching out to high school students in areas where the University has not recruited in the past, resulting in an increase in applications from areas such as California, the Northeast and the Southwest.

“We have high expectations for next year, that our national footprint will continue to expand and deepen in markets all over the country,” Willoughby says.


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