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Academic recruiting grows on college campuses

| Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010

Pitt's frozen campus was enough to warm Caitlyn Christensen to the idea of moving two states away.

"I toured Pitt in the dead of winter, and I still loved it," said Christensen, 20, of Leesburg, Va., a junior majoring in English and U.S. history at the Oakland campus. "I don't think I've ever been colder."

Christensen is among a growing number of out-of-state transplants attending Pennsylvania universities that, for a change, are engaged in a recruiting battle that doesn't involve athletes.

Universities have stepped up their sales pitches because of a projected decline in high school graduates statewide. The state Department of Education projected a 12 percent decline between the 2009-10 and 2014-15 school years.

"If we want to continue to grow and sustain ... we have to look at expanding our recruitment somewhat," said Jim Begany, associate vice president of enrollment management at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where the number of out-of-state undergraduates grew 42 percent from 2003 through 2009.

In 2003, out-of-state students made up 15 percent of undergraduate enrollment at Pitt's Oakland campus. By last fall, that number had grown to 22 percent — more than 1 in 5 students.

"The goal is to increase the applicant pool from all states, including Pennsylvania, if you can," said Betsy Porter, Pitt's director of admissions and financial aid.

Tuition for out-of-state undergrads can cost twice as much as their in-state counterparts, ranging from about $3,700 to $11,800 more a year.

Money is "a factor but certainly not the primary and not the only" factor when the university recruits, Porter said.

Students at private institutes such as Duquesne and Carnegie Mellon universities pay the same tuition regardless of residency.

At Duquesne last fall, 1 in 4 students — graduate and undergraduate — were from out of state. Officials hope to increase that number to 2 in 5 in the next decade, in part, by focusing on regions with a strong alumni presence and continuing to grow its distance-learning programs, said Paul-James Cukanna, associate provost and director of admissions.

"We will always serve those whom we're called to serve," Cukanna said, "but geography provides a nice form of diversity for an institution."

California University of Pennsylvania has hired two recruiters — one eight years ago and another two years ago — who focus on out-of-state students, said William Edmonds, dean of admissions. The number of undergraduate out-of-state students has more than tripled from 2003 to '09, accounting for about 10 percent of students last fall.

"We're taking a focused and concentrated effort on reaching out-of-state students, and it has been paying off," Edmonds said. "We understood that if we don't make a change way before the change happens, we're not going to be in a position to succeed."

Robert Morris University in Moon has expanded its undergraduate recruiting efforts in states such as Ohio, Maryland and New York, said Mike Frantz, vice president of enrollment. Out-of-state undergraduate enrollment grew 48 percent from 2003 through '09.

"Very few of us wish to be smaller institutions in the future," Frantz said. "By virtue of there being the same number of colleges and a declining number of high school students, that increases competition. Robert Morris is not alone in trying to expand its geographic boundaries in order to attract more students from farther away."

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