For years, one of the most common complaints from Kansas University alumni and friends was that KU admissions and administration officials didn’t show much interest in recruiting students. KU officials were smug, thought the school was good, that it was a privilege to be able to come to KU and that they shouldn’t have to work too hard to attract students. Sons and daughters of KU alumni — youngsters with excellent grades and student activity records — received hand-written letters from then-Kansas State University President Jon Wefald, asking them to enroll at K-State, and little, if anything, came from anyone at KU.
Gradually — far too slowly, but gradually — KU officials realized they needed to revamp their recruiting efforts. Now, this overhaul is starting to pay off.
KU officials announced several days ago that the class of 2017 — this year’s entering freshmen — set a record for academic talent and diversity. The freshman class numbers exactly 4,000 students, up 6.1 percent from last year’s 3,771 students.
Not only are the numbers up, but the average freshman ACT score is 25.3, up two-tenths of a point from last year’s average. In addition, 17 percent of this year’s freshmen have ACT scores, or converted SAT scores, of 30 or higher, and 38 percent have an ACT score of 27 or above.
In addition to the many assets already available at KU for outstanding students, the highly recognized KU Honors Program has been increased by 45 percent with plans for additional increases in coming years.
Clearly, times are changing on Mount Oread relative to the importance of recruiting — and recruiting top students. The number of individuals recruiting for the university throughout the nation has been increased substantially in areas such as Chicago, the Twin Cities, Dallas, St. Louis and other cities.
In addition to increased emphasis on recruiting new freshmen, similar efforts have been initiated to tell the KU story to a larger pool of potential graduate students throughout the country.
The elevation of academic skills among KU undergraduates will pay dividends in terms of greater academic aspirations for all students and fewer students leaving KU before graduation. Better students help attract better faculty and other top students, and they usually end up having better post-graduate careers that can benefit the state in many ways if they are encouraged to remain in Kansas after graduation.
It’s a win-win for all parties.
No one individual is responsible for this turnaround. It’s clearly a team effort of administrators, teachers, deans, students, alumni, university friends, parents of students and high school counselors throughout the nation. However, special mention should be made of Matt Melvin, KU vice provost for enrollment management, and his crew of students and faculty. He was given the OK and encouragement of Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and has put new life and energy into the recruitment program.
There is no room for complacency, and KU’s recruitment effort must be continually improved rather than merely sustained because the competition for top students and top faculty is sure to become more intense year after year.