Drexel University has made some major changes in their recruitment and admissions strategies this past year in an effort to increase student retention and graduation rates. In a move to attract more interested students, Drexel cut its VIP application last fall and became common application exclusive, requiring an essay, SAT scores, two recommendation letters and charging an application fee of $50. Now that official commitments have been made, the number of freshman students enrolled for next year sits at 2,929 — only a little less than the 3,100 students that were set to enroll at Drexel this time last year despite the fact that the University received about 25,000 fewer applications. According to Randall Deike, Drexel’s senior vice president for enrollment management, the University is pleased with the numbers and is busy making other changes in Drexel’s recruitment strategy, continuing the University’s mission to increase student retention rates.
Deike said the idea was that despite the decrease in volume of applicants, the University would have a higher retention rate and that the 28,727 applicants this year were presumably more interested in Drexel and applying to the school based on its academic reputation and renowned co-op program rather than its free application.
In comparison to last year, where some student applicants didn’t even know what city Drexel is in, this year’s applying students seemed to do more research. Natalie Frost, who will be enrolled as a Public Health major in the fall, commented that she did a fair amount of research before applying, becoming aware of what factors make up the Drexel experience. “What set Drexel a part from the other schools was its different approach to a college education. The co-op program and an urban campus along with many opportunities within the Philadelphia area were major selling points for me,” she said.
Attracting informed students like this was one of Deike’s initiatives. “Our long term goal is to make sure that we’re attracting students who know us well and who are committed to the University. That’s part of the reason we eliminated the VIP app,” Deike expressed.
There were about a thousand less attendees at accepted students day this year — 2,600 compared to the average 3,600 that attended in years past. Deike said that of the students that attended and the yield who enrolled was actually higher and jumped from about 47 percent to 64 percent.
There several other statistical changes, including a three-point change in average SAT scores, and a rise in the average applicant’s GPA from 3.47 to 3.55.
Deike also credited this year’s 4.9 percent increase in applicant yields to the University’s renewed commitment to better representing itself to high school guidance counselors, who he said can represent hundreds to thousands of high school students and making sure these counselors understand the Drexel model.
“The big change is really in how we’re recruiting not in how we’re admitting students,” Deike said, expressing that Drexel recruiters have been more active than ever this year traveling to high schools and sharing what he called “the Drexel story.”
“There are other things that we’re doing in order to influence retention and graduation. We’re looking at a ‘first year experience,’” Deike continued.
The first year experience encompasses things like combining what had previously been Drexel’s nine separate summer orientation sessions into one giant one at the beginning of the school year and creating what Deike called a “welcome week.”
Here, first year students, transfer students and international students will all be able to come together at the same time. He said that although official plans haven’t been set yet, the University hopes to make the week into a giant celebration that Deike hopes will foster a sense of belonging at the University for students and their families. Hopefully this sense of belonging will help retention as well.
Deike described changing Drexel’s rankings among other universities and increasing the yields as an “offshoot” benefit because rankings focus heavily on retention and graduation as Drexel’s retention and graduation rates increase the rankings should be better.
“Where [the ranking] absolutely has value is that people pay attention to it. Whether the methodology is perfect or not, people pay attention to it, which is important,” Deike said,
Brendon Agaraj, an incoming business major commented on his consideration of Drexel’s national rankings, saying, “I did consider Drexel’s rankings but its job placement rates were great. Regardless of its university rankings, I know that Drexel will offer a good education and how I will perform later in life depends mainly on myself. I know I’m in good hands regardless of the actual rankings of the school.”
Deike expanded that enhancing retention also means encouraging students to take full advantage of the Drexel experience — in the classroom, through co-op, working with peers, colleagues, faculty and staff.
“That’s my definition of success — that’s our primary goal. And if we do those things well, more students will graduate. It will impact our rankings, all of those things will come through, but for me its not motivated by rankings, it’s motivated by the fact that our retention rate, our graduation rate is not as high as it should be for a place like Drexel and we’re doing lots of different things to help affect change,” Deike said.
The new student welcome week will begin Sept. 12, the week before classes begin and will encourage current students, alumni, faculty and staff, to welcome this year’s incoming class.