Episode 118: It’s the Colleges’ Turn To Beg!

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Since Decision Day is almost upon us, we are going to refrain from giving any more general advice. If you want specific advice for your teenager, call us. That’s free advice available to parents with seniors until April 30 at 11:59 p.m. New York City time

So, we are in our new series, which we are calling Colleges in the Spotlight. Last week, we shone our spotlight on Spelman College and its fellow HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities). Today, we are headed to the West Coast to take a look at the University of California, Los Angeles, which we talked at length about way back in Episode 39 of our virtual nationwide college tour.

As we said then, UCLA was started in 1919 as the University of California’s Southern Branch and its star has been rising ever since. By many accounts, it now ranks academically with well-known and highly regarded UC Berkeley, the university that UCLA was the Southern Branch of. When we recorded Episode 39, UCLA’s incoming freshman class average GPA was 4.25, with comparably high SAT scores. UCLA serves about 28,000 undergraduates and a total of about 42,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. About one-third of its undergraduates are Asian, and about one-quarter are white. About 80 percent are California residents. UCLA’s undergraduates study in 125 majors across five schools and colleges: College of Letters and Science and the Schools of the Arts and Architecture; Engineering and Applied Science; Theater, Film and Television; and Nursing. And the Bruins play some great basketball, have won more NCAA titles than any other university, and have produced 250 Olympic medalists. It looks as though any candidate would need to be exceptional to get into UCLA these days.

Given those remarkable statistics, it is even more intriguing to listen to today’s episode in which the tables have now been turned: The college is trying to convince the students to come (rather than having the students try to convince the college to accept them). You might have noticed your friends who have seniors of their own travelling the country in this last week or two to take their kids to “admitted students’ days” so that everyone can get one last look before making the big decision. Well, I believe that a lot of those visits include a hard sell by college administrators, who have crafted the perfect sales pitch to convert admitted students into enrolled students. Why? Because, as we have said before, colleges are looking for a high “yield rate”–that is, the percentage of students who actually enroll from those who have been admitted. This yield rate affects the way some people judge a college and its attractiveness and its prestige–and it undoubtedly affects some of the many independent college-ranking systems as well.

1. “UCLA Works To Seal the Deal”

So, let us take you to an article written recently by Teresa Watanabe in the Los Angeles Times, entitled “UCLA works to seal the deal with thousands of freshmen admitted for fall 2017.” You should read it, if only for its great human interest angle and the personal stories of real seniors faced with real decisions. We will give you just some highlights here.

Let us start by saying that the article focuses on the work being done by UCLA’s vice provost of enrollment management, Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, to convert admitted students into enrolled students. The article tells the story of Ms. Copeland-Morgan’s hard sell to a group of 11 Los Angeles high school seniors. Really? The vice provost of enrollment management is meeting with 11 students? At some colleges, 11 might be almost a noticeable number of a small freshman class, but the UCLA freshman class is bigger than a lot of colleges’ total enrollment. That sounds like a lot of meetings for Ms. Copeland-Morgan.

The article notes these statistics:

[UCLA] sent out letters of acceptance to about 16,000 high school seniors last month and is now working to seal the deal with enough students to fill 4,350 freshman seats.

Last year, 37% of those offered admission accepted, a yield rate topped only by UC Berkeley among the University of California’s nine undergraduate campuses.

Copeland-Morgan told the [11 students she was talking to that] they were elite scholars who were selected from a record 102,000 applications from all 50 states and 80 countries. (quoted from the article)

Let’s look at these brand new numbers. First, UCLA was clearly quite selective in choosing to admit just about 15 percent of its applicants. It is a public university, after all. Second, as I do the math, UCLA needs only about a 27 percent yield rate to fill those 4,350 freshman seats. Last year, it got a 37 percent yield rate. Consequently, it looks to me as though UCLA is probably in fine shape–maybe too fine, if it gets the same yield rate and has to find room for an extra 1,500 freshmen!

The article continues as Ms. Copeland-Morgan talks to the 11 high school students:

She told them they deserved to attend UCLA, [which] she described as one of the world’s top 15 universities. She also tried to ease their worries that they might not fit in and feel comfortable. The campus is richly diverse, she told them and their parents, with more than a third of its students low-income, underrepresented minorities and the first in their families to attend college. (quoted from the article)

While those words might have been encouraging, especially since Ms. Copeland-Morgan was herself an alumna of the very high school some of the 11 kids were attending, she also noted that “UCLA’s top-notch faculty and staff included people who would help them find classmates to connect with–and keep them on the right path. ‘If we see any of them acting crazy, we’re going to talk to them like our own children,’ Copeland-Morgan said, prompting one dad in the audience to give her a smile and thumbs up” (quoted from the article).

By the way, it wasn’t just Ms. Copeland-Morgan at the sales pitch on behalf of UCLA. According to the article, “[o]ther staff members talked up UCLA’s food, three years of guaranteed student housing, 1,000-plus student organizations and elite athletics, with its teams boasting 113 NCAA championships.” I have to admit that I am surprised that UCLA would send more than one staff member to do this recruiting?or, in fact, that UCLA would send even one. But the article explains that this personal touch has improved UCLA’s yield rate, “especially among minority, low-income andĀ first-generation college students” (quoted from the article). The article quotes one of the newly accepted students attending the sales pitch as saying this:

“I was nervous about UCLA because it’s so prestigious and because of my status as a minority,” he said. “But the staff seemed so friendly and caring. I can see myself walking onto the campus as a Bruin.”

And so the face-to-face hard sells seem to be working. And according to the article, Ms. Copeland-Morgan “said she jumps at the chance to make a personal pitch to students who can help UCLA fulfill its mission to reflect the diversity of Californians.” To that we say, good for her, good for the kids, and good for UCLA.

The article continues on this theme:

[Ms. Copeland-Morgan] and her staff also have . . . enlisted faculty members to help with what she called “culturally relevant” programs to give admitted students and their families a chance to get a feel for the campus. Recently, they sponsored an event, “Your Future is Bruin,” for Latino students, offering Spanish for monolingual parents and play spaces for siblings.

“UCLA has an obligation as an anchor institution in the city to give back in different ways to the community,” Copeland-Morgan said. “This is my passion. This is my ministry.” (quoted from the article)

So, what are the results of this considerable personal investment by UCLA staff, which has to come at a substantial price? According to the statistics quoted in the article, the results are impressive, especially when it comes to underrepresented minority students:

The yield rate for African American freshmen rose to 50% last fall from 44% in 2014, by far the highest among UC campuses.

At UC Berkeley, by comparison, the rate fell to 37% last year from 47% in 2014. UC Santa Barbara’s rate was 23%; UC Santa Cruz, 17%.

UCLA also increased its Latino yield rate to 52% last year from 49% in 2014 and its first-generation rate to 54% from 49% over that same period. (quoted from the article)

Enough said.

2. So What?

So what does this have to do with your senior? First, you should think about whether any administrators and faculty members showed up to make the big sales pitch at any meetings for admitted students you have attended recently. If they did, I believe that means that the college actually cares a lot about whether its admitted students come–and probably for more reasons than just to improve its yield rate. It likely bodes well for the attention that those professionals will give your kid in the future. Furthermore, if the college is reaching out to your teenager because he or she is African American or Latino or the first generation in your family to go to college, then you should be pleased and relieved that the college cares enough to make that effort.

Second, I hope that your teenager got a kick out of being on the other side of the bargaining table–especially if he or she had a grueling applications season and a difficult round of acceptances.

For those of you who have freshmen, sophomores, or juniors at home, you should think hard about going to any admitted students’ days when the time comes, especially if your teenager is trying to choose among several good options. You both should sit back at the sale pitches and let the colleges work hard to get your business. Ask important questions. Demand good answers. Enjoy your time in the spotlight.

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