Iowa City Press-Citizen: UI Working to Court Iowa High Schoolers Earlier

Thursday, August 9, 2012

By Josh O'Leary
Iowa City Press-Citizen


The University of Iowa intends to ramp up its in-state recruiting efforts this academic year by connecting with more Iowa high school students earlier in their college searches.

While high school students typically get serious about selecting a college during their senior year, UI’s executive director of admissions Michael Barron says research shows many students are in fact beginning the process much earlier.

With that in mind, UI is working to better identify Iowa high school sophomores and juniors who are on track for college and putting itself on their radar earlier via the traditional letters and brochures, as well as more modern channels like email and Facebook.

Of the 4,565 first-year students enrolled at UI last fall, 2,062 were Iowa residents. Although there is no target number, Barron said UI would like to see an increase in those in-state admissions.

“We want to make sure that every Iowan thinking about college knows what our opportunities are,” Barron said. “So we would certainly like the number of Iowans who choose the University of Iowa to grow — not at the expense of any other group, but in and of itself.”

The recruitment of Iowans through earlier contact, expanded communications and more scholarship opportunities are among the strategic initiatives UI presented to the Iowa state Board of Regents last week.

Barron said students traditionally take the SAT or ACT tests as seniors, then send those scores off to the colleges in which they’re interested. UI, however, engages in-state students a year or two earlier by collecting the names of those who take advanced placement classes or who take preparatory tests like ACT’s PLAN test and the PSAT.

“We’ve always done some of that; we’re just going to make sure we’re going to do more,” Barron said. “We certainly want to be thorough and systematic in making sure all Iowans who are thinking about college know more about the University of Iowa than just its name.”

UI sent 25,000 prospective college students in Iowa information about the university last year, Barron said.

Tuition at UI for Iowa residents was $6,436 for 2011-12, or $7,765 with mandatory fees included. That was the second lowest in-state tuition among the 12 Big Ten universities, and $3,622 less than the Big Ten average.

The university is also using more scholarships to attract Iowans. This will mark the second year for the Iowa Scholars Award, a $1,000 one-time scholarship for qualifying in-state residents heading into their freshman year. UI awarded the scholarship to about 1,000 students this past year, Barron said.

Likewise, UI’s College of Engineering has established a matching scholarship, the Engineering@Iowa Scholars Award, which provides an additional $1,000 to first-year students from Iowa.

Jane Dorman of the College of Engineering said her college has been connecting with a greater number of young Iowas through programs like Project Lead the Way, in which UI works with high school and middle school teachers to promote engineering in their classrooms, and the FIRST Tech Challenge, a robotics competition that draws hundreds of high school students to UI annually.

“I think it’s really important that we reach out to students who are younger, so that they can see that engineering is really a cool, fun, interesting thing to do,” said Dorman, director of admissions and first-year experience for the College of Engineering.

That outreach — along with positive word of mouth — has played a part in the growth of the College of Engineering’s enrollment, Dorman said. The college had about 1,200 undergraduates five years ago; this coming year, 1,800 are expected.

Computer engineering major Zach Bodensteiner represents the kind of native talent UI is working to keep in state. Bodensteiner, who is from the Fayette County town of Hawkeye, began receiving information from UI as junior after taking the ACTs and sending his score to Iowa City, he said. He ultimately choose UI’s engineering school over Iowa State’s, and is happy he found the right fit in state.

“The fact that it’s a smaller engineering school gives it a real community feeling,” said Bodensteiner, who has a semester left before graduation. “The people I’ve met have been above and beyond what I expected.”