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December 10, 2009

Pittsburgh campus freshman class bigger, better

Following a season of economic turmoil that left college admissions officers across the nation struggling to foresee how financial market meltdowns and uncertain family finances would impact students’ college choices, Pitt landed a slightly larger, slightly better freshman class this fall.

In her annual report on the incoming Pittsburgh campus freshman class, director of the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid Betsy Porter told the Senate budget policies committee Dec. 4 that the University exceeded its enrollment goals.

In spite of the uncertainties, Porter said Pitt still had “a very, very strong, increasing number of applications.” The question, however, was how families’ economic issues might impact the number of freshmen who would accept Pitt’s offer of admission, she said. “We were figuring out whether we could or should admit more students based on yield considerations.”

This fall’s figures reflected some successful guesswork, Porter said.

Of 21,737 applicants, 12,722 were admitted and 3,642 ultimately paid deposits for a place among the Pittsburgh campus freshman class, for a yield rate of 28.6 percent. In comparison, in fall 2008, the yield rate was 30.4 percent: 3,488 students out of 11,467 who were admitted.

Pitt surpassed enrollment goals in all areas, enrolling 2,722 in the School of Arts and Sciences, where the goal was 2,660; 484 engineering freshmen, exceeding the goal of 460; 315 in the College of Business Administration, exceeding the goal of 310, and 121 in nursing, exceeding the goal of 110.

Freshman quality

Forty-nine percent of the Pittsburgh campus freshman class graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class (up from 48 percent last year), while 78 percent came from the top 20 percent, the same percentage as last year. These figures only include students from high schools that use class ranks, Porter said, noting that about 35 percent of the class came from high schools that do not rank their students.

The average applicant admitted to Pitt had a grade point average of 3.89 (up from 3.86 last year) while the 2009 freshman class had an average GPA of 3.87, the same as last year. Of this fall’s freshmen, 1,151 freshmen had grade point averages exceeding 4.0, Porter said.

Twenty percent of the freshman class was eligible for the University Honors College, with an average SAT score of 1447.

The mid-50 percent range for freshmen’s SAT scores held steady from 2008. The middle half of the freshman class posted SAT scores of between 1180 and 1340, with mid-50 percent ranges of 570-680 for the verbal portion, 590-680 for math and 560-660 for writing, all holding steady from fall 2008.

Although there are three components to the SAT, each based on a maximum of 800 points, Pitt continues to report its overall mid-50 percent SAT score range based on a 1600-point maximum combined math and reading score.

However, Pitt is using the writing component as another tool in admissions and scholarship decision-making. “We are looking much more closely at the writing score,” and have informed prospective students and their families, Porter said.

Noting that college admissions testing is in flux, with some schools shifting to test-optional policies, the use of subject tests or favoring ACT scores over SATs, Porter predicted “some significant changes” over the next decade, but said a full-fledged shift from tracking the freshman class based on the current 1600 SAT scale to a 2400 scale isn’t imminent at Pitt.

“We’ll do that when a majority of institutions do it and right now very few do,” she said.

Where they’re from

Applications from within Pennsylvania fell 3 percent from the prior year, dropping to 13,026 from 13,455.

However, 7 of 10 Pitt freshmen were from Pennsylvania, and 16 percent of the freshman class came from within Allegheny County.

In addition, applications from Pitt’s primary out-of-state markets all increased: Applications from Maryland rose 3 percent; from New York 9 percent; New Jersey; 13 percent; Ohio 15 percent; Virginia 17 percent; and Delaware, 42 percent.

Continuing progress in nearby states is linked to student satisfaction, Porter said, pointing out that word-of-mouth has an impact. “Our students who come to Pitt love Pitt. They go home and talk about their Pitt experience in positive ways and we get more and better students from those high schools and those communities as a result.”

Applications from more distant states also are rising: Pitt saw double digit increases in applications from Arizona, California and Massachusetts.

This fall, international student admissions, which had been under the Office of International Services, moved to the central admissions office and their numbers are included in the freshman class statistics, Porter said, adding that there were nearly 1,000 international applications for the freshman class — more than ever before.

Looking beyond Pennsylvania’s borders for quality students will continue to be important in the future. The number of high school graduates has been on the decline since 2004 and is expected to fall 5-10 percent by 2014. “Among all the other reasons that it is institutionally healthy for us to pursue a national agenda, we are forced to do it to make up for some of the differential that won’t be existing in the state of Pennsylvania in terms of quality students who are graduating from high school,” Porter told BPC.

“We have to continue to get the best students we can get from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, recognizing that there will likely be fewer of them. So where can we go to fill the slots with high-quality students who may not be from Pennsylvania?”

Growth states including Texas, California and Florida are being targeted, Porter said. “For a whole variety of reasons they’re going to increase high school graduation rates. They have more students in high schools and more of the high-quality ones are going to have to leave the state because the public systems can’t accommodate them,” Porter said.

The ones that got away

Porter said the nearby schools that once were big competitors for potential Pitt students, such as Duquesne, Indiana University of Pennsylvania or West Virginia University, have given way to other large, urban schools or students’ home-state institutions.

“Mostly we’re competing with schools like George Washington, NYU, Boston University,” Porter said.

Still, Pitt’s biggest competitor remains Penn State, both for in-state and out of state students, Porter said.

Additional freshman class demographics can be found at

In other business at the Dec. 4 BPC meeting:

Vice Chancellor for Budget and Controller Arthur G. Ramicone noted that the University had made its annual budget request to the state for fiscal year 2011 support.

In Pitt’s Nov. 12 request to the state Department of Education, the University stated it intended to limit tuition increases to 4 percent and to increase the compensation pool by at least 3 percent if it receives the requested $194.68 million in state support, a 5 percent increase. (See Nov. 25 University Times.)

The committee noted that the University’s consolidated financial statement for fiscal year 2009 now is available online at

BPC chair John Baker reported that the medical school salary issues he raised earlier this year (see May 14 University Times) have been resolved by the Senate tenure and academic freedom committee. “It appears to have been an isolated case,” Baker said.

Committee members agreed to continue meeting in 501 CL at 12:10 p.m. on the last Friday of the month during the spring term. The next meeting is set for Jan. 29.

As a follow-up to a prior BPC request, in a closed session Baker said he updated the committee on the status of the attribution study.

In September, BPC directed Baker to ask the University planning and budgeting committee (UPBC) about the future of Pitt’s attribution study and to request it or some other document containing similar financial information. The report, prepared by the Office of Budget and Controller as a tool for UPBC, attributes annual revenues and expenses to each of the University’s responsibility centers.

The attribution study has been a bone of contention for more than a year since BPC requested the public release of the fiscal year 2007 report in order to facilitate discussion in an open session.

Administrators balked, and have since declared the report a private document for the use of UPBC.

UPBC members have since called into question the document’s usefulness, but BPC members have pushed for the production of the report or a similar document to aid their committee’s participation in the University planning and budgeting system. (See Oct. 1 University Times.)

Baker said the matter was discussed in closed session because the attribution study is not a public document. In a statement following the meeting, Baker told University Times that UPBC has agreed to try to simplify the attribution study and that BPC will work with UPBC to achieve that goal.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 42 Issue 8

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