By Jennifer Webb | Photo by Thomas Skernivitz
That’s what makes its new Recruitment and Outreach Center in downtown Cleveland an important addition to the university’s strategy to improve access and increase college-going rates in Northeast Ohio.
The center, on the 17th floor of the Terminal Tower in office space donated by Forest City Enterprises, opened last year to provide closer contact between recruitment officers and the hundreds of high schools and thousands of potential students and their parents in Cuyahoga and Lorain counties.
Tracy Shuman, senior assistant director, estimates that she and colleague Keith Lofton have visited 40 to 45 more high schools during the last year than was possible before, when OSU would send a recruitment officer to the area for three weeks. “We really had to pick and choose where to visit, where made the most sense, and now we can get the message out and work with students much more easily,” she says.
The pair also have hosted casual meet-and-greets at such places as Starbucks and Panera Bread, and they’ve spoken at 10 or 15 informational events for parents of high school juniors to preview the information they will need as their child enters the college fray.
“We can get out to them much more easily, meet with students one on one, and work directly with college guidance officials,” Shuman says. “It allows us to know the students more, know the counselors so the counselors can advocate for their students a little more, they can call or email us directly. We can make that connection a lot sooner and a lot easier for them.”
Their efforts led to a 2 percent to 3 percent increase in the number of applications from these counties in the center’s first year, although “early action” applications were due just three months after the center opened.
Shuman, who manages the office, says people she meets are most surprised to learn that OSU has become much more selective in recent years. As a land-grant institution, the university opened in 1870 to put college education within reach of the state’s high school graduates. Once upon a time, any Ohio resident who applied to the university was accepted at the main campus.
It’s not that simple anymore. As the number of students requesting admission to the university has climbed, over the last 10 or 15 years OSU has raised its minimum requirements for students on its main campus. Today the average ACT score of an incoming freshman is 28.5, and 58 percent of 2013’s freshmen ranked in the top 10 percent of their senior class. The university still offers open enrollment at its four regional campuses in Lima, Mansfield, Marion and Newark, and all students may transfer to the main campus after the first year.
Shuman tries to impress upon future students, as well as their parents and guidance counselors, the importance of planning ahead if they want to be a Buckeye. For example, she recommends that students take the most rigorous courses their high school offers – but only if they can complete them successfully.
“I also would say it’s important for students to find a balance. If a student is going to take five Advanced Placement courses and get all Cs, that’s not really successful. Maybe they should balance (AP courses) with non-AP or non-honors and be very intentional in what they schedule,” Shuman says.
Students interested in a particular major should take all the high school courses they can get in that area, she adds. For example, a future engineering major should take the hardest math and science courses available at his or her high school, she says.
However, she does not recommend pursuing post-secondary education courses during high school, for two reasons. One, OSU prefers the solid college preparation provided by AP curricula; and two, post-secondary courses draw students away from their high school and all the activities that go with it.
“Don’t forgo an AP course at a high school for a post-secondary class in that subject,” Shuman says.
AP classes allow students to remain active with their high school, she says. “[Otherwise,] they might miss out on some activities in school or pep rallies,” she says. “It’s finding that right balance.”
“When we read the applications that come in – and we do read all of them – we do this holistic review to see how they are doing academically and how are they going to contribute to our campus community based on what they do in school,” Shuman says.
“This office is really a way to continue to serve the residents of the state of Ohio.”
“The transcript continues to be the thing we focus most heavily on when making a decision,” she says. “We want to see what is offered to that student, what he or she took advantage of, and how well he or she did in those courses.”
This year, Shuman estimates she and 50 to 75 other employees in OSU’s undergraduate admissions office read 80 to 100 applications a week. More than 42,000 applications were submitted; 19,000 were admitted to the main campus with a goal of enrolling about 7,000 freshmen. “We had quite an increase,” she says.
Each application is considered alongside a school report each college counselor provides that explains how many AP and honors courses are offered, as well as the grading scale used, since grade-point averages can vary significantly. “That’s why the counselor relationship is important,” she says.
In addition to working with high schools, Shuman spends part of her time helping students at two-year colleges transfer to OSU to complete their bachelor’s degree. Partnering with the nonprofit College Now Greater Cleveland – which also has an office in Terminal Tower – Shuman is able to help nontraditional students find their way to OSU.
She eagerly shows nursing students that they can complete their degree online through OSU. Most other programs require a move to Columbus, however, and Shuman says her office can help with that transition. Some financial aid is available for nontraditional students, she says, and she works to reassure them that they will not “stick out like a sore thumb” among the other students on campus.
With the success of the center’s first year, OSU officials now are looking at ways to replicate the model in Cincinnati, Shuman says. “Our goal will continue to provide as much outreach and support to the community as possible, to build that college-going culture in Northeast Ohio,” she says. “We want to continue to enroll the most talented and competitive students that we can in Columbus.”
For more information: undergrad.osu.edu
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