Spring 2008 Cover Story
UDM Campuses are bustling with increased enrollment. Who are these new students, and what attracted them to UDM?
Sophomore pre-Dental student Graham Greenland of Rockford, Mich., was accepted to four universities, but after campus visits, decided that University of Detroit Mercy was, “everything I was looking for.”
He recalls the first faculty member he met, Assistant Professor of Chemistry/Biochemistry Matthew J. Mio, and says, “This man is probably one of the most challenging professors I have ever had, as well as the most motivational and energizing. It was a great experience to meet with him and other UDM staff members to learn about all this University had to offer: a top-notch chemistry club, intramural (sports), a learning center run by students, a writing center and work-study opportunities, to name just a few. To say the least, UDM is for me, the perfect choice.”
He cites three experiences that have “most definitely” validated his selection:
• The Chemistry Club: “It furthers my experience in chemistry and also allows me to gain more friendships with other students studying in the science field. Another great part of the club is all the service events we participate in.”
• Being a Presidential Ambassador (outstanding students who are selected by faculty or deans to represent the University at alumni events and other functions): “To be part of this program is a great honor.”
• Working at the University: “I have had great experience working with the staff in the Admissions office and as an undergraduate research student (in the Chemistry Department).”
Graham also looks forward to the experience he will gain in UDM’s urban dental clinic, which serves the Metro Detroit community. He says, “The dental school will make certain that, as a student, I have encountered every situation to prepare me for the real world.”
Freshman Biology major Marisa Soave, also one of the University’s Presidential Ambassadors and a scholarship recipient, chose UDM because, “it was a much smaller school, which I thought (would provide) better student-teacher interactions and a (better) education.” She was admitted to UDM’s Pre-Physician Assistant Program, a unique program not offered at the other schools she applied to.
“I’ve been extremely pleased with my choice of UDM,” she says. “My overall experience has been very rewarding, and I’ve learned a lot. My studies are tough but will prepare me for the graduate program and my future.”
A member of the Class of 2011, Marisa is part of the largest freshman class, which also has the highest ACT composite scores, since University of Detroit and Mercy College consolidated in 1990. Both full-time students, Marisa and Graham are representative of the target audience of UDM’s strategic enrollment growth strategy.
Examining the increase in freshman enrollment and scores, Executive Vice President Michael Joseph says, “This is not a one-year phenomenon. We have had four outstanding freshman classes prior to this year, and for fall of 2008 we’re 45 percent ahead in applications and acceptances over last year’s record pace. Our incoming freshman ACT scores are up over two points in the last five years. And we’ve achieved the improvement while maintaining a diverse student population.”
Joseph, who joined UDM in 2002, oversees the University’s Admissions and Enrollment Management efforts, as well as Marketing, Development, Alumni Relations, Athletics and Student Affairs. He attributes the enrollment achievements to several factors.
“It begins and ends with the fact that UDM is a terrific institution with great academic programs, outstanding faculty and a solid reputation in the region. Secondly, we have enhanced our marketing to emphasize the University’s strengths; we have a good Admissions team and an institutional focus on recruiting and retaining full-time, high-caliber students…and we maintain our Jesuit/Mercy mission to educate the whole person in an urban context.
“We’ve turned things around and are heading in the right direction,” says Joseph as he describes the University’s trend of going from 65 percent part-time students five years ago to today’s 65 percent full-time student population, more of whom are also choosing to live on campus.
His Admissions staff has focused on increasing the number of full-time students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In all, UDM has recorded an increase of 1,000 full-time students since 2001. The full-time undergraduate population is at its highest—2,179—since consolidation. Also seeing significant growth in recent years are the graduate, dental and law school enrollments, which complete the University’s student population for a total of 5,723 students.
Denise Williams Mallett, associate vice president for Enrollment Management, manages the Admissions team for whom the “Road to Recruitment” begins in late summer and typically wraps up in December, but the process of recruiting students happens throughout the entire year. Her team visits approximately 300 high schools each year.
“At each school, we may meet with 30 students or three, and we tailor our presentations accordingly,” says Williams Mallet, who joined UDM six years ago.
The key to their success, she believes, is the personal approach they provide to prospective students.
“We go into the high schools and focus on providing good customer service to the counselors and building a personal relationship with each student who shows an interest in UDM and with the student’s parents.”
Each interested student’s needs are individually assessed and addressed during the recruitment and enrollment process, she explains.
Freshman Lynita Taylor from Farmington Hills, a Marketing major, remembers her admissions process as “a smooth trip.”
“They give you the basic information, and if you have concerns, they’re more than willing to work with you until you are comfortable,” she explains. “You never feel rushed or like a number. You feel like a real person who is cared about and taken seriously.”
Where to apply to college is a decision that students are making at increasingly younger ages. To address their curiosity, UDM Admissions staff members in recent years have also been meeting with juniors and even sophomores during visits to area high schools.
UDM also exposes younger students to its programs and campus through a variety of initiatives, including summer camps, engineering “road shows” and other outreach programs—all of which contribute to building students’ awareness and interest in UDM.
“The foundation of our success is to approach students and introduce them to UDM early,” Williams Mallett explains. “Students often make their decision in the junior year of high school, narrowing their choice from two or three schools they’ve applied to. We’re confident that if we can present University information and our scholarship packages, then UDM will be in the running.”
For students considering UDM, a visit to the campus can be an important part of the decision-making process. During a campus visit, prospective students may have the opportunity to meet with faculty or the dean in their selected major, spend a night in a residence hall and shadow a student for a “day in the life” experience in their chosen major.
As Presidential Ambassadors, Graham and Marisa share their experiences with prospective students during their campus visits.
Sophomore Architecture student Scott Lakin of Clinton Township lives on campus and also serves as a Presidential Ambassador. He recalls, “When I went through the process, my Admissions counselor was extremely helpful and friendly.”
A member of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, Scott tells prospective students about UDM’s smaller class sizes, students’ strong relationships with professors and “amazing friendships.”
Scott chose UDM because of its School of Architecture and the scholarship he was offered. “Being unsure about my major, I wanted a program that would put me into design classes my first semester so I could make a firm decision quickly. Also, the School’s mission statement and overall artistic focus attracted me, along with the five-year Master of Architecture program.”
Scott, like many students, had an idea of what major to pursue, but wasn’t totally sure.
Williams Mallett says that about 90 percent of applicants have decided on a major. For those who aren’t as sure, the Academic Exploration Program helps keep students on track while they explore options and settle on a field of study.
For students who have decided, UDM has developed a number of unique “packaged” programs through which students follow a “fast track” to a specific degree or to a dual focus of study. Williams Mallett says her staff has found that these programs are a key reason that a number of high caliber students choose UDM. Some of the more popular offerings include the five-year accelerated Physician Assistant Program and the seven-year Dental Program. The Physician Assistant Program, which biology-major Marisa is pursuing, is one of three current programs offered to motivated students to earn bachelor’s and advanced degrees at an accelerated pace. The five-year bachelor’s/master’s track for aspiring physician assistants began in 2006. It joined the long-standing seven-year B.S./D.D.S dental program and the five-year B.S./M.S. engineering and science programs.
Another academically competitive program to begin next fall (2008) will offer 30 incoming freshmen the opportunity to prepare for a career in Intellectual Property Law (or Environmental Law) by combining studies in engineering and law. The program will take approximately seven years to complete (four for the engineering degree, three for the J.D.). Admission to UDM’s School of Law is available to those students who maintain a 3.25 GPA in UDM engineering studies and who record an LSAT score of 150 or higher.
The more traditional UDM curricula also attract students.
“Our Architectural program has had record-level enrollment for the past several years, as has Nursing,” says Joseph. “The sciences are also very popular, and we do a good job by offering exciting faculty-student projects and great faculty who engage undergraduate students in their research,” says Joseph.
Graham had the opportunity to work with Katherine C. Lanigan, associate professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, this fall as part of an undergraduate research group. As Lanigan states, “Undergraduate research is an invaluable experience for science majors. It provides students with an opportunity to apply the knowledge, investigative and problem-solving skills and laboratory techniques they have learned. They also learn to communicate both in written and oral format with professional chemists through their papers, posters and presentations. It also provides students a chance to gain confidence in their abilities and to get to know professors outside of the classroom.”
Of interest to sports enthusiasts is UDM’s expanded athletics program. Recent additions include both men’s and women’s lacrosse and men’s tennis. Joseph explains, “We have a full complement of Division I sports within a close-knit environment. The multi-purpose field and all-weather track have been wonderful additions for both our athletic teams and the general University community”
Whether for academics or athletics, students from around the globe call UDM home. “We still have a significant regional Catholic population, but also have a multiplicity of ethnicities. Approximately 12 percent of our total student population is international, with students from about 40 countries,” Joseph says, “We’re seeing an increase coming at the graduate level particularly from Southeast Asia, including Taiwan and China. We also see potential for growth from the Middle East.”
But concurrent with offering new programs and focusing on increasing enrollment, UDM remains dedicated to its ongoing commitments. As a Jesuit/Mercy institution in an urban environment, the University continues to focus on its mission and community.
“UDM is one of the very few top-tier universities in the U.S. with such a high level of diversity on campus,” says Joseph. For the past three years, UDM has ranked in the top 10 of U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” for its diversity. “It’s something that makes us not only distinctive, but relevant,” Joseph adds.
Five years ago, UDM joined an existing partnership of colleges called COMPACT to work with the Detroit public schools to share the message: “send us your best students,” Williams Mallett explains. “COMPACT’s students must achieve a 3.0 GPA or 21 ACT score or higher. We want those students to know we are accessible, and we are committed to Detroit. Our focus is on attracting top-caliber, full-time students while maintaining our diverse population.”
As the University looks at enrollment, Joseph emphasizes that, “we don’t want to lose sight of serving part-time students and other diverse groups. Part-time students typically have busy lives outside campus with work or families, so they have a different level of affinity for the institution. It’s part of our mission to continue providing opportunities for all of our student populations.”
Increasing costs are another consideration that can affect the student population, both part time and full time, and one that the Admissions counselors are also attuned to.
“‘Can I afford this?’ is a major question for incoming students and their parents,” explains Williams Mallett. “To help them, we have staff who can estimate the financial aid package and share that information as early as a year prior to enrollment. We’re also among the first schools to send aid packages out to students in March. We have very generous scholarships and are working to build awareness of their availability.”
Alumni also play a major role in supporting funding for scholarships.
“Funded scholarships from our alumni and friends are critical to our success,” Joseph says. “We serve a fairly significant number of first-generation college students who benefit from financial assistance. We want to remain affordable to these students by offering need-based and merit-based scholarships.”
Alumni contribute to the enrollment strategy, as well, by sending children, grandchildren and other family members to the University.
Marisa’s aunt and uncle and Lynita’s mother are all alumni. They join 11 percent of the current freshman class who have a family member who attended UDM.
Communicating with alumni and other key audiences is part of UDM’s overall enrollment efforts. The University currently works with Lipman Hearne Inc., a marketing firm in Chicago, for assistance in developing and implementing its marketing plan to help attract more full-time students.
“We have been ranked in U.S. News & World Report for a number of years as a top tier Midwest master’s university. Our goal is to be in the top 15,” says Joseph. “A major component of our enrollment initiative is that we have the capacity and desire to grow. It’s exciting. There are opportunities that come with growth, such as additional faculty hires and facility enhancements. These are wonderful issues for the University to address.”