KU working to recruit legacy students

It was a question Kansas University Alumni Association president Kevin Corbett heard from alumni from time to time: Why didn’t KU work harder to recruit my kids?

Now, the association aims to leave fewer alumni with that question. This past summer, it added a new position focused on recruiting the children and grandchildren of alumni, or “legacy students.”

It’s a first for the KU association, Corbett said. And he doesn’t know of another alumni association for a public university anywhere in the country with an effort quite like this, he said.

As the university aims to reverse a trend of falling enrollment that has now stretched to four straight years, Corbett said, the association wants to help out any way it can.

“It’s not lost on anybody that enrollment’s not growing, and that’s not healthy for the university,” Corbett said.

Joy Maxwell, the KUAA’s new director of legacy relations, started on the job in July, coming over to Lawrence from Overland Park where she was organizing alumni activities in the Kansas City area. Before that, she worked in KU’s admissions office.

Her new office still has little on the walls except for her two KU diplomas, for her 2003 degrees in journalism and English. When she started, she saw that in fall 2011 there were about 4,250 “legacy students” — the children and grandchildren of alumni — among the university’s undergraduates. That’s about 22 percent of the undergraduate population, and to her, it seemed low.

“I’m thinking, ‘Well, how is that?'” Maxwell said. “Our legacy students are the easiest ones to sell on KU. Why don’t we have more than just a quarter?”

KU began reaching out to those students in 2009 with the introduction of its Jayhawk Generations scholarships for out-of-state freshmen whose parents or grandparents graduated from KU. The largest of those — for students scoring at least a 28 on the ACT or a 1250 on the SAT with a 3.5 high-school grade-point average –is now the biggest single scholarship KU offers at $11,675 per year for four years, outranking the scholarship for National Merit Finalists.

Maxwell said part of her job was to spread the word about those scholarships to alumni, many of whom still don’t know about it.

Those legacy students are a far better recruitment bet than other out-of-staters, Maxwell said. They know at least something about KU, and they may have been watching KU basketball games all their lives.

“It’s putting your money and your resources where you think you have the best shot,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell combs the association’s records to see which alumni have children nearing the point where they’ll be thinking about college. And she sends them personalized packages with information about the specific programs they’ve indicated interest in.

She also takes tips that the association gets from alumni around the country about youths who might be interested in KU, even if they would not qualify as legacy students, and passes them on to the admissions office. And she passes the word on to alumni, many of whom need little prompting to brag about KU, that they can promote the university to prospective students.

Alumni can make quite effective recruiters, Maxwell said.

“We don’t have to pay alumni,” Maxwell said with a laugh. “They all have their own story. They can all act as salespeople. And we have 300,000.”

Even if the association isn’t successful in recruiting every potential legacy student, she said, it wants to show alumni that it’s doing whatever it can to attract their children to KU.

After all, if their children go unrecruited, they do notice.