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* Enrollment: Drop in entering freshmen offset by increases in
transfers and returning students.

The 1994 undergraduate population is stronger, both in quality
and quantity, than last year’s – reversing the downward spiral in
enrollment that plagued the university in the late 1980s and
early 1990s.

By the end of the third week of classes, the total number of
undergraduates was up by 349 over last year – from 14,185 to
14,534 students. Although the number of new freshmen has dropped
slightly, the increase in total undergraduate enrollment reflects
a healthy boost in returning students and a surge of new transfer
students, said Joseph Allen, dean of admissions and financial aid
and vice provost for enrollment.

With the increase in undergraduates, along with the numbers of
new and returning graduate and professional students and
special-session graduate students, the overall university
enrollment has shot up by close to 700 students, Allen said.

The numbers show that not only has the level of enrollment
stabilized, but that “we’re moving ahead,” he said.

Since coming on board last year, Allen has instituted a new
philosophy in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid – an
approach he calls “enrollment management.” This entails setting
realistic goals for admitting a target number of new freshmen and
transfer students – a figure that will meet the university’s
needs financially, make sense in terms of academic planning and
reflect the quality of students the university is seeking.

“This isn’t always a game to beat whatever you did the year
before, but to set goals that make sense in terms of our needs,”
Allen said. “Then you measure performance against the goal you
set, not against what happened in 1972.”

Allen said the campus goal this year was to enroll 2,400
freshmen, and 2,407 freshmen had signed up as of the third week
of the semester. Although the enrollment picture changes daily,
the numbers after the third week are traditionally used by
colleges and universities to measure fall enrollment.

Meanwhile, the number of transfer students rose by 183 – from
1,583 last year to 1,766 this year. Combined, the new transfer
students and freshmen represent 4,173 new students – 116 more
than last year.

Another part of the success story this fall is in the retention
rate of undergraduate students. Records indicate that 10,361
undergraduates came back to USC this fall, compared to 10,125 who
returned last year – an increase of 236 returning students.

The incoming freshman and transfer classes are also stronger
academically than in previous years. The average GPA for freshmen
this fall is 3.54, compared to last year’s 3.52. The average
freshman SAT score hit 1102 – the first year it has met the
university’s goal of 1100, Allen said.

Allen attributes the increase in academic quality to a decision
to admit fewer marginally qualified students by cutting the
bottom eighth of the admit pool. While this figure represented
potentially 400 students, Allen said, “these were definitely
borderline students, and we were concerned about their ability to
complete the academic program.”

The Office of Admissions and Financial Aid sought to change the
balance of the incoming student body by bringing up the ratio of
academically prepared students – especially underrepresented
students whose academic profiles put them just below the level of
Dean’s Scholars.

“These students have been in our admit pool for years, but we
weren’t enrolling them because they had so many other options,”
Allen said.

To attract these students, admissions representatives targeted
them throughout the year with aggressive recruiting. USC also
offered a strong financial aid package, consisting of an improved
grant-to-loan ratio. For these promising underrepresented
students, the admissions office also made available a new
financial aid award, the Trojan Award, which includes an
additional $4,000 grant and increased work study aid.

Allen acknowledged that dropping the bottom eighth of eligible
applicants was a risky venture. His goal was to raise the quality
of the student body while still achieving the targeted goal for
financial success and academic planning.

Along with cultivating the strong students through targeted
recruiting, Allen said programs that bring potential students to
campus – such as Preview USC – have boosted enrollment.

“One of the things we have found to be most effective is to get
the students and their parents to campus,” he said. “Then a lot
of their concerns about the neighborhood and about the campus can
be put at ease.”

Recruiters this past year have also been emphasizing USC’s
location in Los Angeles as a key asset, rather than a liability –
citing it as an international, multiethnic center as well as a
hub for industry such as communications and entertainment. “We
talk about it as a place to be, where students can thrive, rather
than trying to apologize for it,” Allen said.

In terms of retaining students, Allen said much of the
improvement is due to new and better advisement and tracking
programs, such as the Student Academic Record System Report,
offered through the Office of Academic Records. The STARS Report,
initiated in July 1992, is an automated update of each student’s
academic record based on data in the student information system.
The office sends out this record every fall and spring.

“It’s a status report of their USC course work, transfer course
work, courses in progress and any exceptions. It also tells them
how many units they have toward a degree, their university GPA,
major GPA and items needed to meet the requirements for their
degree,” said Rose Kukla, assistant registrar.

Another factor in better retention is the higher academic quality
of the past few classes, which means that more students are
capable and complete their studies, Allen said.

The average GPA for transfer students – 3.19 – is also higher
than in previous years. This is good news because most of the
growth in USC’s incoming classes has been through transfers in
recent years. Allen believes the greater number of transfer
students continues to reflect the recession in Southern
California, which is where most transfers come from.

“Given the economy, many students opted for community college for
their first two years,” #Allen said. “A lot of them didn’t want a
UC education – they wanted to come to USC, but felt the most
affordable way was to go to a community college first.”

The economy has also hurt the California state higher education
systems, which have suffered from decreases in senior faculty,
increased class sizes and fewer services.

While he is concerned about the decline of the state system,
Allen noted that this is a time for independent colleges like USC
to “step forward and make their case.

“It’s never easy to ask someone to spend $27,000 a year, but more
people are willing to listen to our arguments, and that’s the
difference. They’re looking for options.”

[Photo:]Above, new students try out “Fight On” at Freshman
Convocation. The average freshman SAT score hit 1102 this year –
the first time it has met the university’s goal of 1100.


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