2008 Conference Recap

Day 1

“Defining Enrollment in the 21st Century: Understanding Our Students and Our Commitments”

The opening dinner at the center’s inaugural conference has just come to a close and it has been an extraordinary evening. Following a reception with over one hundred of the finest enrollment scholars, practitioners, and policymakers in the nation, Michael S. McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation took the stage and challenged everyone to contemplate:

  • What is higher education?
  • Are enrollment professionals simply travel agents who bring students to their destination but do not know exactly what they are doing there?
  • Should we broaden our collective understanding of what college is and why it matters?

Consistent with these questions, Dr. McPherson posed a serious of puzzles. He noted that evidence has shown that college graduates vote more than non-graduates and smoke less than undergraduates. Dr. McPherson presented a variety of research-based assertions that show college graduates ultimately living fuller and more productive lives that not only benefit themselves but those around them as well. As such, conference participants were challenged to individually and collectively maximize the potential of higher education to shape our world in important and necessary ways.

Day 2

Session 1 – Riding the Wave of Demographic Change: Promoting Access and Opportunity

(moderated by Youlonda Copeland-Morgan of Syracuse University) focused on responding to new demographic shifts in the United States:

  • Harry Pachon of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at USC discussed the importance of dispelling many of the myths surrounding Hispanic/Latinos and encouraged participants to recognize that a large proportion of Hispanic/Latinos are legal citizens with college aspirations but cultural barriers that make the college admissions process a challenge (Harry Pachon presentation)
  • Bruce Walker of the University of Texas at Austin followed with a fascinating look at how low-income students and those who come from low-performing secondary schools (of which there are many) tend to succeed in college, urging his colleagues to reverse the temptation to pursue only high-end students but make sure universities are fulfilling their social responsibilities. (Bruce Walker presentation)
  • Finally, Gary Rhoades of the University of Arizona encouraged participants to have a more strategic imagination when engaging in public policy discourse; when analyzing the opportunity costs of cost containment; when participating in system and campus level discourse; and by developing incentives and accountability metrics that measure the social impact and rates of return for investments in low-income communities. (Gary Rhoades, presentation)
  • Following each presentation, the audience posed questions to the panel for over thirty minutes.

Session 2 Defining Readiness: Knowing It When We See It

(moderated by Arlene Wesley Cash of Spelman College) examined issues concerning college readiness:

  • Wayne Camara of the College Board opened by discussing the need for standardized and objective measures of college preparation, presenting a new index being developed by the College Board to aid in this effort. He also highlighted how non-cognitive variables can be measured during the admissions process and documented how such assessments can increase access, especially for Hispanic/Latino and black students. (Wayne Camara presentation)
  • Michael Kirst of Stanford University then addressed the lack of communication between K-12 and higher education systems, drawing attention to the adverse effects of a fragmented policy system. Dr. Kirst stated the need for secondary schools and postsecondary systems to collaborate, developing assessment mechanisms that are informed, visible, and understood by teachers and students. (Michael W. Kirst presentation)
  • The session concluded with Saul Geiser of the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Geiser presented research that he is confident shows that advanced placement tests and SAT subject tests are the best predictors of college performance; that a mastery of curriculum content is critical to success in college. Audience members again asked questions and made comments following the presentations by the panelists. (Saul Geiser presentation)

Session 3 – The Impact of Tuition and Student Aid on College Choice and Student Success

(moderated by Bill Schilling of the University of Pennsylvania) on tuition and financial aid issues

  • Sandy Baum of Skidmore College and the College Board opened the session  by examining the need to review different types of information when assessing the extent to which college is affordable. Despite increases in tuition costs, Dr. Baum presented evidence that students continue to attend college at record rates despite college commanding a greater share of their family income. Dr. Baum suggested that enrollment professionals focus on college as an investment with future financial returns for students that increase over time to help attract students who may be hesitant to enroll in higher education for financial reasons. (Sandy Baum presentation)
  • Donald Heller of The Pennsylvania State University then addressed how stratification of college attendees by income has persisted despite considerable efforts at the federal and state levels to remedy this issue. (Donald E. Heller presentation)
  • Finally, Shirley Ort of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill highlighted the success of the Carolina Covenant scholarship program, presenting statistical evidence that shows the benefits of investing in low-income students who are often overlooked. Ms. Ort described how these students often rise up and make the most of the opportunities inherent in higher education. (Shirley Ort presentation)

The Dinner keynote address by Carolyn Webb de Macias showed how institutions can translate ideas and commitment into practice, using their enrollment policies to meet the needs of students, institutions, and greater society.

Day 3

Toward a Comprehensive Enrollment Model

(moderated by Jim McCoy of Louisiana State University) addressed the need to make persistence a salient institutional priority

  • Don Hossler of Indiana University began by highlighting research that shows many institutions do not have a retention officer; and of those that do, few of these retention officers have policymaking authority or access to necessary resources to facilitate important retention efforts. (Don Hossler presentation)
  • On a related note, David Kalsbeek of DePaul University continued the session by outlining why colleges and universities often fail to formulate and enact effective retention strategies. Dr. Kalsbeek asked, for instance, why it is campuses place recruitment and admission responsibilities on one department [admissions] though numerous campus entities contribute to the institution’s overall recruitment efforts, yet often fail to create a department that is solely responsible for enhancing degree completion processes.  He argued that institutions tend instead to promote the idea that retention responsibilities belong to everyone. Consequently, Dr. Kalsbeek believes, no one ends up really being accountable for student persistence, leading to lackluster outcomes. (David H. Kalsbeek presentation)
  • George Kuh of Indiana University then addressed why colleges and universities buy products and services from the student success industry despite having the capacity to create their own data in an effort to inform persistence efforts. As expected, a lively and informative discussion followed with audience participants. (George D. Kuh presentation)

The Final Session laid the groundwork for a research agenda that would help move enrollment professionals forward in pursuit of common goals as they pertain to enhancing access and student success through our enrollment practices

  • Karen Symms-Gallagher, the session’s moderator and dean of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, opened the session by reviewing many of the ideas presented throughout the conference and providing a dean’s perspective on institutional enrollment efforts.
  • Morton O. Schapiro, president of Williams College, spoke about how important it is for institutions to make sure they are not simply serving as vehicles for social reproduction by bringing in the best and brightest students and then graduating these same students but to instead make sure elite colleges and universities recognize their social responsibility to reach out to underserved populations and allow these students to grow and fulfill their potential. President Schapiro emphasized that college and university presidents can and should dedicate the resources necessary to ensure their enrollment priorities have societal interests at heart. In addition, President Schapiro discussed how the heightened pressure for students to get into an elite college is robbing them of life experiences such that they may be more focused on taking as many advanced placement courses as possible rather than engaging in activities that they truly enjoy and help them to learn more about themselves.
  • Finally, Jerry Lucido, the vice provost for enrollment policy and management at the University of Southern California and CERPP executive director, outlined the lessons learned from the conference, stating that “institutional policies and practices can be better and more equitable, that we must know what is known, must act on what is known, must know what is knowable, and accept responsibility for our own backyard.”

Scott Andrew Schulz, CERPP program director, then closed the center’s inaugural conference by reminding participants that USC’s Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice is very much a participant-driven endeavor, encouraging conference attendees to help guide the center’s current and future efforts and shape the center in ways that ensure it fulfills its stated mission “to make college admission, student financial aid, and degree completion processes better informed, more expertly practiced, and more equitable, and the impacts of these processes better understood.”