Cha-cha-cha Changes

Posted in Departments, Editor's Letters, Fall 2017

It’s fall — as I write this the new term has started, and as usual no one can find their classrooms in Curtis Hall.

We have a big freshman class this year — maybe you’ve heard? The incoming class of more than 3,250 is bigger and better prepared than ever. They still can’t figure out Curtis Hall, but that’s OK.

The University accepted 22,000 applicants and got a nice, fat yield. Yield is the number of applicants who actually enroll, and it’s a bellwether of sorts. Drexel’s yield had sunk from a peak of 24 percent to a low of 8.1 percent. This year, it shot back up shy of 16 percent.

So, what happened? I’m glad you asked, because it’s at the root of a lot of changes around Drexel, and at the root of some shifts that are going to be very good for alumni.

Drexel used to make it free to apply and easier than changing the channel on a remote. And for many years, it was somewhat exciting around here to be able to say that Drexel was receiving a record number of applications, while watching the student body get swole. But tellingly, yield kept shrinking, and retention wasn’t great, either. Students who came here so easily, also easily drifted away.

So a couple of years ago, Drexel tossed out its free, no-essay app approach and slapped on a $50 fee. Applications plunged 40 percent, but that was OK. Next, Drexel invested in larger financial aid packages and created an early warning support system for students at risk of dropping out. Student services were revamped to improve retention and engagement. All of the admissions advisers were retrained and required to chat up high school guidance counselors and hit the road for college fairs.

If one statistic says it all, it’s this: In 2014, university counselors visited 75 high schools. This year, they visited 1,375. Next year, it will be at least 2,000.

Drexel, the school that expects you to be a self-doer, is finally doing the work. And that’s already bringing in students who “get” this place, who arrive understanding the weird five-year structure and the crazy quarter system and the specialness of experiential learning and the advantages of the co-op program. This old-fashioned, word-of-mouth, personal approach is, I’m sure, how many of our older alumni originally learned about Drexel, and it’s probably part of why they remain our most loyal and engaged (hi, you). There’s no substitute for someone you trust taking you aside and saying, “Hey, this school is different; they may never get around to putting up a decent map of Curtis Hall, but you should really give this place a look.”

Enrollment is notoriously tricky. But the new strategy means that Drexel graduates will be more successful and better served, and that means higher rankings, deeper connections and a stronger institution in the long run.

Sonja Sherwood / Editor