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June 11, 1998

Freshman applications hit all-time high

Freshman applications to the Pittsburgh campus are at an all-time high. So are the SAT scores and class rank of those students.

So far, 13,480 students have applied to enter the University as Pittsburgh campus freshmen next fall — 11 percent more than last year at this time, and 72 percent more than in fall 1995, Pitt announced this week.

The University plans to accept 2,979 freshmen in Oakland next fall, a planned decrease in class size from last year's record high of 3,157.

While the number of freshmen will decline slightly, their academic credentials are on the rise.

The average SAT score among this year's freshman applicants is 1160, up by 19 points over last year; 55 percent of the new freshmen rank in the top 20 percent of their high school graduating classes, up from 47 percent last year.

Among the applicants, 601 have SAT scores of 1270 or above and rank in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes, meaning they are eligible for Pitt's Honors College. That's up from 557 such students last year, and 77 percent more than in fall 1995.

Approximately 80 percent of the Pittsburgh campus fall 1998 freshman applicants are from Pennsylvania, about the same percentage as last year.

African Americans comprise 11.2 percent of the applicants, up from 9.2 percent last year.

q The University's Office of Admissions and Financial Aid projects that applications for fall 1998 ultimately will reach 13,594, said office director Betsy Porter.

Unless the applicant pool nosedives this summer — a highly unlikely occurrence, Porter said — Pitt will enjoy its second consecutive year of double-digit increases in freshman applications.

That's in contrast to most of Pitt's competitors, according to the Association of Chief Admissions Officers of Public Universities. Freshman applications increased by an average of just 3 percent last fall among public universities in the Middle States region (which includes Pitt), according to the association.

"Some people may say these double-digit increases [in freshman applications] are a national phenomenon or a state phenomenon, but they're really not," Porter said. "This is a Pitt-specific phenomenon." q Provost James Maher, in a written statement, said: "The increase in both the number and quality of the freshmen is clear indication of the growing recognition, both statewide and nationally, of the quality of the academic programs at the University of Pittsburgh. The number of students eligible for the Honors College is further evidence of this trend. These are the students who are most serious about the quality of the education they will receive, and Pitt is attracting them in steadily increasing numbers." Admissions and Financial Aid director Porter attributed the University's freshman recruiting success in recent years largely to what she called a "unity of vision" among trustees, administrators and faculty.

Pitt's student recruitment policy is clearer than it's been for at least the last 20 years, according to Porter, who has worked in the Admissions and Financial Aid office since 1978.

Three years ago, the University set a goal of recruiting more academic high achievers and out-of-state students, without compromising Pitt's commitment to enrolling minority students and/or western Pennsylvanians.

"When you have the Board of Trustees, the senior administration, deans, department chairs and faculty all agreeing, in general, on the kinds of students we ought to be recruiting and the efforts we should be making to retain and graduate those students, it sends a very clear and consistent message to people in Admissions," Porter said.

Some 400 alumni recruiters nationwide, along with 100 upperclassmen who recruit freshmen through the Pitt Pathfinders program, also have been "extremely important" to the University's recruitment efforts, Porter said.

"I also think we've done a better job of delivering our message," she added. "I think Jim Maher said it very appropriately: Our academic programs, once they're communicated, are very attractive to students across the country." While Pitt's Board of Trustees and senior administration have set a goal of recruiting better-prepared students, the University is not becoming elitist, Porter said.

"First, our efforts to improve quality have been incremental. They haven't been so dramatic as to suggest that thousands of students are unable to enroll here who would have been eligible previously.

"Secondly," she said, "we're making much better use of our regional campuses and our agreements with community colleges in Allegheny County and other counties. So, if students don't meet the admissions standards for Oakland, they can enroll at the regionals or at one of the community colleges, and then transfer later to the Pittsburgh campus with 60 transferable credits." Last fall, the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid referred 1,127 students to the Greensburg and Titusville campuses who did not meet Pittsburgh campus admissions requirements, according to Porter. So far, 2,667 such students have been referred to Greensburg and Titusville for fall 1998, she said.

q During the 1960s and 1970s, as baby boomers reached college age, southwestern Pennsylvania produced enough traditional-age freshmen that Pitt could be academically selective and still enroll mainly Allegheny County residents, Porter recalled. But the region's population of 18-year-olds peaked in 1979. Since then, Pitt has spread its recruitment net — state-wide at first, and now nationally.

In fall 1977, 53 percent of Pittsburgh campus freshmen were from Allegheny County. Another 41 percent were from other Pennsylvania counties. Only 6 percent were from outside the state.

In fall 1987, only 38 percent of freshmen here were from Allegheny County, with 50 percent from the rest of Pennsylvania and 12 percent from outside the state.

Last fall, 24 percent of Pittsburgh campus freshmen were from Allegheny County, 58 percent from the rest of Pennsylvania, and 18 percent from out-of-state.

— Bruce Steele

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