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Yield enhancement efforts pay off ahead of schedule

STANFORD -- Stanford's intensified effort to enroll the nation's most accomplished freshmen has paid off ahead of schedule, according to James Montoya, dean of undergraduate admission and financial aid.

Of 200 admitted freshmen who were designated President's Scholars this year for their extraordinary academic promise, 79, or nearly 40 percent, have indicated that they will enroll at Stanford in the fall, compared with 29 percent last year. Montoya said he had thought it might take up to three years to reach the 40 percent goal.

Although the figures on overall yield are expected to fluctuate slightly over the summer, the yield is also up, with nearly 56 percent of all admitted students choosing to enroll this fall, compared with 54 percent last year.

"We are extremely pleased with the results of the first year of our three-year pilot yield enhancement program," Montoya said. "The importance of the program goes well beyond simple numbers. This effort will have a direct effect on the kind of [intellectual] environment we want to create on this campus."

Among the President's Scholars who have accepted places in next year's class are a student who published an article on the law of cosines in the New England Mathematics Journal; another who made a breakthrough in cancer research while working at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; a student who spent the past year learning Catalán and studying the "Arte Nuevo" movement in Barcelona; a violinist whose chamber group recorded its own compact disc; and a varsity football player and Marine Reservist who teaches in his school's math honors program.

Other incoming President's Scholars include a solar car project participant who bicycled from Seattle to Maine for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation; a surfer and school radio DJ who worked as a student environmental lobbyist in Washington; a karate enthusiast who scored a perfect score on the French SAT subject test; and a student who did research in neuropharmacology at Scripps Institute and built a basic hang-glider "good for a few seconds of flight."

There even may be a future world leader in the group: an Alabama state champion in extemporaneous speaking who predicted that he "will be elected president of the United States in 2021."

Stanford beefed up its President's Scholars program this year in response to the increased competition among colleges for the nation's most academically talented students. Among other things, Stanford offered travel funds to allow designated President's Scholars to visit the campus, and $1,500 research grants if they enrolled.

As it turned out, about 75 percent of the President's Scholars did visit Stanford in April, a significant improvement over last year, according to Keith Todd, coordinator of the President's Scholars Program in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

"It seemed very clear that students from the Midwest, the East Coast and the deep South might not have thought about flying out here with so many other choices close at hand, had it not been for the travel funds," Todd said.

"For many of the students, it was the first time they'd seen the campus, and in some cases it was the first time they had been to California. Fortunately, we had glorious weather that weekend."

Montoya added that about 60 percent of the President's Scholars were also financial aid candidates, "so the travel grant really enabled those who would not have otherwise been able to visit the campus to experience Stanford firsthand."

"Our hope," Montoya said, "was that we would encourage those students who had applied to Stanford -- but already had made up their minds to attend another institution -- to give Stanford more serious consideration.

"One of the most interesting letters that we received after Admit Weekend was from a mother whose son also had been admitted to Harvard, Yale and other schools.

"She said it was the encouragement of the President's Scholars Program, which allowed him to visit the campus and see what we had to offer, that led him to choose Stanford. That is exactly what we hoped would happen."

Stanford's new yield enhancement efforts this spring also included more letters and phone calls from professors to admitted students, increased staffing of the Financial Aids Office to answer admitted students' questions, and an improved, more academically focused Stanford Admit Weekend April 20-23.

Jon Reider, associate dean of admissions, said he was particularly grateful for the enthusiasm professors brought to the task of calling and writing to 320 of the admitted freshmen.

"What was very pleasing to me was that, for the most part, they were senior faculty who didn't have to do this, but who felt this was a way they could make a contribution to Stanford," Reider said. "[Biological sciences Professor] Bob Simoni, for example, is one of the busiest people at this university. But he said, 'Sure. Give me as many files as you want.' He couldn't have been more cooperative."

Another faculty member who called and wrote to admitted students was physics Professor Douglas Osheroff. Of the eight students he contacted, five accepted Stanford's offer, and two of the students who declined indicated they had to do so for financial reasons.

"The process represented quite a commitment of my time, but I believe it was time well spent," Osheroff said. "I believe that the quality and openness of a contact is very important, and it is better to speak to fewer students, but with more of a willingness to be of help. Students feel very reassured by speaking to a faculty member who seems genuinely interested in their welfare, and whom they find not to be intimidating."

Linguistics Professor Thomas Wasow contacted two students by letter. "One never responded, but I had a good deal of contact with the other one," he said. "He called me twice before his visit . . . then, during Admit Weekend, he and his father came to my office. A couple of weeks later, I heard from the admissions staff that the young man in question had accepted our offer of admission, and that his letter of acceptance had mentioned the contact with me as one factor that helped him decide."

Faculty and senior staff involvement also were crucial to the success of Admit Weekend, which drew about 1,200 admitted students and 600 parents in April, 30 percent more than last year.

Many professors, like Wasow, made arrangements to meet with admitted freshmen while they were visiting the campus, while others taught special "classes without quizzes" and served on panel discussions. President Gerhard Casper spoke with parents; and staff from the offices of student affairs, financial aid, undergraduate advising, career planning and placement, and the student health center also participated in programs throughout the weekend.

Among the most popular programs, judging by returned questionnaires, were those geared specifically toward parents. A special lounge, set up in Tresidder Union and run by the Stanford Mothers Club, was especially well received.

"They started having to serve breakfast, there were so many parents waiting around for it to open," said Joan Lippman, assistant director of admissions, who helped coordinate the parent activities.

One parent later wrote, "We were not really considering Stanford, primarily because of the cost and the distance from our home, but Admit Weekend has overwhelmed us and eased our concerns."

Montoya also stressed the contributions of currently enrolled students, who acted as hosts to the 1,200 admitted freshmen and allowed them to sleep in sleeping bags on their dorm room floors.

"Imagine absorbing 1,200 additional students in residence and dining halls," Montoya said. "Our currently enrolled students were wonderfully gracious and thoughtful. It is clear this was a community effort, and the success we experienced was due to the community's willingness to be open to as many visitors as we had."

Montoya said his staff will examine this spring's efforts in detail at their annual retreat in the summer, to see if any modifications need to be made for the coming year.



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