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STANFORD -- Stanford continues to do well recruiting freshmen but may be losing students to institutions that provide better financial aid packages and thus should develop new strategies to improve yield rates, according to the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aids.
In its annual report to the Faculty Senate on Thursday, Jan. 6, the committee said it has formed an Enhanced Recruitment and Yield Study Group to develop new ways to attract the most academically talented students.
Business Professor Evan Porteus, chair of the committee, presented the report. He said that at the request of last year's senate Steering Committee, an affirmative action subcommittee had been established to address issues for defining and choosing target groups.
Porteus said that his committee would try to return to the senate this academic year with recommendations on enhancing yield.
The enhanced yield group, chaired by Associate Dean of Undergraduate Admissions John Bunnell, is discussing utilizing selected Stanford alumni in the admissions process, the admissions and financial aid committee said.
Among options it will consider, the committee said, are early action (in which a student is notified early of his or her acceptance, but given until spring to make an enrollment decision), early decision (which binds a student to attend), merit programs and responses to financial aid competition.
The study group also will make recommendations about continuation of the controversial Jordan Scholars Program, which started in 1987 as a way of targeting for special benefits 75 to 100 of the most academically talented students in the freshman class. When introduced, the program was unpopular with students, who argued for equal treatment. Lately, it has evolved into a recruitment tool with no real benefits other than recognition.
Responding to questions after Porteus' report, Undergraduate Admissions Dean James Montoya told the senate that over the past seven to eight years, the number of academically brightest applicants has increased, but because they have so many other options, fewer accept admission to Stanford. Thus, the yield rate has slipped but the absolute number in the category remains steady.
"We've entered a much more competitive situation," Montoya said. Other institutions are using aggressive tactics to recruit the nation's best students, he said.
Stanford gets a "fair share of the very top students from the western states," but finds it difficult to compete against Harvard and other institutions for the very top students from the East Coast.
He said to smiles that it is much easier to convince Eastern students about the benefits of California than their parents.
President Gerhard Casper interjected humorously that the problem is "the palm trees. Students are affected by them and parents are deterred by them."
Continuing the joke, John Bender, English, asked if anyone thought that "great intellects are attracted by palm trees."
"Obviously," Library Director Michael Keller said to rising laughter.
Casper said that the competition for students from both public and private institutions will continue to increase. "We therefore must rethink our recruitment strategies all around. It will not do that we just go out to recruit athletes. I think we should recruit a whole range of other students actively."
John Brauman, chemistry, praised the change in recent years to admitting students who show evidence of stronger academic performance, even if they don't appear to be as broadly rounded as others.
Montoya said that group may not appear well rounded, "but they are individuals who contribute to the intellectual climate of the university." On the other hand, "there are many 4.0 students with good test scores who don't really care about learning," he said. The university must try to attract students who possess intellectual vitality, a quality that is "difficult to read in 16- and 17-year- olds," he said.
Robert Simoni, chair of biological sciences, asked how many of Stanford's chief competitors are offering merit-based financial aid.
Montoya said that Stanford is losing a small number of prospective students to Swarthmore, Duke and Chicago, all of which offer some merit awards.
Financial Aids Director Robert Huff said that about 94 percent of colleges and universities are making financial awards without regard to need. The exception is Stanford and its main competitors, which remain "need blind" - committed to meeting the demonstrated need of admitted students.
Porteus told the senate that when Congress reauthorized federal aid programs in July 1992, it set forth two changes in computing need: Home equity is no longer a factor in determining parental contributions, and no minimum contribution from student income is required.
Because these changes would have cost Stanford about $4.3 million, Porteus said, university officials postponed changing Stanford's policies, but as a result may have lost talented students to other institutions that are customizing generous packages using the new rules. "This is bothersome," Porteus said.
Electrical engineering Professor Tony Siegman said he would like to see headlines coming out of the committee's report about the fact that two-thirds of undergraduates receive substantial financial aid. Close to $40 million of university money goes to financial aid, he said, which is "evidence of Stanford's commitment to undergraduate education."
During the discussion, political science Professor Stephen Krasner said that comparing the Stanford student population with the U.S. population as a whole would show that whites are the most underrepresented population. He estimated that white Christian students at Stanford are half their representation in the general population, and that Asians and Jews were "way overrepresented."
He asked Montoya to explain why in the decade between 1983 and 1993 white student enrollment had dropped by 17 percent while Asian American enrollment increased by 17 percent and percentages of other minorities essentially have been stable. "It is an odd outcome," he said.
Montoya said the changes were better understood in the context of Stanford's location in California. Looking at 1985 statistics of California high school graduates, he said, 62.2 percent of graduates were white, but in 1993 that had fallen to 48.5 percent.
"When we look at high school graduates in the state of California, what we see is that the 'majority' is in fact the minority at this point." He said Asians made up 9.9 percent of graduates in 1985, but that grew to 15.1 percent in 1993. The Latino population is growing, but the high school graduation rate of the African American population has declined 3 percent since 1985, he said.
Another factor, he said, is that only 3.5 percent of students scoring more than 600 on the SAT verbal test and 8.5 percent scoring more than 600 on the SAT math test are African American, Mexican American and Native American. On the other hand, Asian Americans make up 11 percent of those with scores in excess of 600 on the verbal test and 14.3 percent of those scoring 600 or more on the math test.
This, along with changing demographics, "somewhat explains" the change, Montoya said.
Krasner persisted, saying "we have rhetoric of what is an underrepresented group" but the "traditionally underrepresented groups are not underrepresented" because they enroll at Stanford in roughly the same proportion they are graduating from high school. "The actual underrepresented group is whites, and they are pretty heavily underrepresented."
The discussion also covered various predictors of student success, the difference between transfer students and those admitted as freshmen, and the difficulty of performing statistical studies in the face of budget cuts.
Montoya told the senate that in the next two years the SAT scores will be "re-centered" upward so that the mean score will be 500. This will lead to a compression problem at the top because the mean values now are 342 for verbal and 410 for math.
"What we now know as a 600 will be entirely different," Montoya said.
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