Syracuse University Magazine

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Fast Forward

SU Recruitment Keeps Step with the 21st Century

By Christine Yackel

Ivan Rosales-Robles ’15 is a first-generation high school graduate and the first in his family to attend college. Born and raised in Southern California to a Mexican father and Guatemalan mother, he first learned about Syracuse University when it popped up on his Internet college search. “I felt right at home from the moment I stepped onto the SU campus during a spring reception, and I knew this is where I belong,“ says Rosales-Robles, an accounting and policy studies major who hopes to one day develop programs that help minority and lower-income students attend college. “The support I have here is greater than I could have ever imagined—people at SU truly care about me and my future success.”

Rosales-Robles embodies the shifting demographics of SU’s campus and the country at large, where one in three Americans is non-white and four states have “minority majority” populations, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. A decade ago, only 15 percent of the full-time undergraduate class was non-white, and approximately 46 percent came from New York State. Today, African American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian American, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and students of two or more races make up 30 percent of the full-time undergraduate enrollment of 14,169 students, and come to SU from all 50 states and 82 countries. “A high percentage of our students will always come from the Northeast, but a rich mix of perspectives creates a vibrant campus community that allows students to view the world through a wider lens,” says Donald Saleh, vice president for enrollment management. 

In addition to recruiting students from all racial and ethnic groups from around the country, a university with a diverse student body reflects a range of ages, a balance of genders in academic disciplines, and includes students from across the socioeconomic spectrum, transfer students, international students, military veterans, students with disabilities, and those who are the first in their family to attend college. “SU has always been passionate about diversity because democracy is furthered by equal access to education,” Saleh says. “Opening doors to students from all walks of life is an important part of our social mission.” 

Embracing diversity in all its complexity is also a business imperative. Although the most recent census records show high school graduation rates at a 40-year high, with a substantial increase in graduates from the West, Southwest, and Southeast, there is a shrinking pool of college applicants from New England and the Mid-Atlantic  states. The data also show white and Asian high school student populations have dropped off across the country, yet the number of Hispanic students who graduate from high school on time has jumped 10 points in the past five years. And while the number of high school graduates from upper- and middle-income families has declined, the number from lower-income families continues to rise. “Understanding the country’s changing demographics and how that will affect our applicant pool is vital to the University’s future,” Saleh says. ”Clearly, in order to succeed in the competitive college marketplace, we need to reach beyond the Northeast to attract students of color and students from across the socioeconomic spectrum.”  

Strategic Recruitment

Saleh says thinking strategically about how the demographics of the student body will change over a period of time is the first step in building a diverse incoming class. “We compile data from census records and a number of different sources to anticipate what will happen over the next 18 years,” he says. “The people who are going to be enrolling in college 18 years from now are babies, so we take a picture of the demographics of today’s kindergartners and look 13 years out to map where they live, identify their race and ethnicity, assess family incomes, and other factors, such as the educational level of their parents. So we can have a pretty clear picture of what the demographic landscape will look like 13 years from now. The major thing that can change is immigration patterns.”

Delivering a class—which meets the enrollment targets of the University’s individual schools and colleges and is composed of academically prepared and intellectually curious students who bring diverse backgrounds and perspectives to the classroom—works to enable the faculty to achieve educational objectives and the University’s mission. “Our approach to identifying this talent pool is rigorous and data driven and, when combined with an analysis of the broad demographic trends, results in a comprehensive global recruitment strategy,” says Maurice Harris G’89, G’02, dean of admissions. 

As an example, Harris cites the kind of innovative marketing campaign used in the Office of Admissions this year that featured advertisements about Syracuse University and its schools and colleges on 700 web sites worldwide. “By combining ad placements with a marketing technique known as re-targeting, we were able to create brand awareness of SU in the minds of our target populations,” Harris says. “While corporations have used these marketing techniques for years, higher education institutions have been slow to adopt them. We believe our marketing and re-targeting campaign is one of the factors that contributed to a 10 percent increase in applications this year.”

As part of SU’s recent fund-raising campaign, regional councils were created in key areas of the country—Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.—where alumni presence is strong and opportunities exist to establish partnerships with various institutions. Since these cities represent “geographies of opportunity” for recruiting as well, the admissions office works in close partnership with the Division of Advancement and External Affairs on alumni programming and recruitment activities. 

Beyond the bounds of North America, the University established its first international regional council in Dubai in 2012. The Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey Regional Council was created to enhance SU’s presence in the area, strengthen alumni engagement, and ramp up admissions outreach globally. “For the fall 2012 semester, 200 applications were received from Arab Gulf students—an 18 percent increase over the previous year,” Harris says. “SU’s alumni presence is worldwide, and the alumni regional council model is an important vehicle that enables the University to expand its footprint around the globe.” 

The University also is affiliated with national programs that help identify highly qualified students with leadership potential who might otherwise be overlooked by traditional college selection processes. For example, the San Francisco-based Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) is a network of free open-enrollment college-preparatory schools in under-resourced communities throughout the United States. KIPP participant Nathan Woods ’14, a first-generation African American student from Washington, D.C., is majoring in political science with minors in African American studies and child and family studies, and an eye toward becoming a juvenile advocacy lawyer. “I chose SU over 10 other schools because of its diverse campus community, and because I received a generous financial aid package,” Woods says. “My decision to attend ‘Cuse was a no-brainer.”

Closer to home, the Syracuse chapter of Say Yes to Education—a national initiative aimed at improving student achievement in city schools—is providing SU with a pipeline of students from a wide range of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds from the Syracuse City School District. This academic year, 156 Say Yes students are enrolled at SU, including 51 first-year students. “I’m told that 77 different languages are spoken in the Syracuse city schools,” says Margaret Himley, associate provost for international education and engagement. “Globalization is not elsewhere but everywhere, including right here in Syracuse. It’s critical for us to educate students to participate in this interconnected world—students who have achieved global knowledge and intercultural competence. An internationalized campus is a great place to start.”

Perhaps SU’s best recruiters are young alumni who stay engaged with the University after graduation. Jessica Santana ’11, G’13, a Latina from Brooklyn, earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the Whitman School and is studying for a master’s degree in information management at the School of Information Studies. After graduation this spring, she will start a job with the Deloitte consulting firm in its enterprise risk services practice as a technology risk consultant. “I absolutely plan to stay in touch with SU,” she says. “I work for the iGrad Recruiting office now, and I’ve been in contact with people at Lubin House who know I’m more than interested in becoming an active member of the New York City alumni network.”

Pathways to Success 

Building a diverse student body requires more than savvy marketing strategies. It requires offering competitive financial aid packages that make the University attractive and affordable to a broad range of academically qualified students. Last year, approximately 75 percent of SU students received some form of financial support, including assistance from institutional, federal, state, or private sources. Based on such information as family income, family size, tax status, marital status, and family assets, the financial aid office goes through a rigorous analysis to assess a family’s ability to pay for college expenses. “One of the things we do as we build our financial aid policies is project how they affect the class,” Saleh says. “Ideally, we’ll have an even income distribution among our students across the socioeconomic spectrum. We want to avoid a high number of students coming to us from low-income families, a high number of students at the top whose parents can pay for educational expenses themselves, and a dip in the middle.”

A financial aid package, which may include a combination of scholarships, grants, loans, and work opportunities, goes out in tandem with each acceptance letter in the spring to ensure students and parents have all the information they need to make a decision weeks before having to commit to SU. However, deciding on the right college can be complicated, complex, and confusing, especially for students who are the first in their families to apply to college. In an effort to help students and parents find the best fit, SU was one of 10 campuses nationwide to become an early adopter of the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, an idea initiated by the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The shopping sheet gives families the tools they need to make apples-to-apples comparisons among various colleges,” says Ryan Williams, associate vice president for enrollment management in the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarship Programs. “It helps them understand how student loans, debt loads, interest rates, default rates, and re-payments work, so they can avoid getting in over their heads with college expenses.”

Although SU has admitted some of its most gifted and diverse entering classes in recent years, progressive recruitment and financial aid policies are not enough—working to retain students must also be a top priority. Unfortunately, across the country many first-generation and low-income college students are facing a drop-out crisis due to crushing debt levels that threaten to shatter their American dreams. In recognition of this crisis, the financial aid office developed I Otto Know This!—a financial literacy program that provides SU students with skills and resources to help them successfully manage their money. “We wanted to make sure students are thinking about the financial decisions they are making well beyond student loans,” Williams says. “Although it’s not required, we ask all first-year students to complete a life skills inventory and set up a budget, and we discourage them from running up debt by using credit cards to buy pizza and coffee.”   

An off-shoot of I Otto Know This! is the Money Awareness Program (MAP), which was designed to reduce a select number of students’ debt loads by offering grants to those identified as borrowing excessively to pay for school. If they choose to meet the MAP criteria and complete the financial literacy program, SU buys down their loans with support from alumni and friends. “MAP has been in existence for only three years, so we’re just now in the process of what I call the real analysis to see exactly what our success rates are,” Williams says. “But we believe we’re going to find MAP participants are graduating at higher rates and attending graduate school at higher rates than their peers because they are leaving SU with less debt. Hopefully, as we improve aid awards to many of our students, MAP will no longer be needed.” 

From its very beginning in 1870, Syracuse University has exhibited progressive values, admitting women and people of color at a time when most other institutions of higher learning closed their doors to them. Today, SU continues to be ahead of the curve when it comes to offering equal access and opportunity to all academically qualified students while providing a sound business model that will help secure the University’s financial future. “SU is well positioned because we don’t have many big steps to take to keep pace with today’s demographic realities,” Saleh says. “Not that we don’t have a lot of work to do, and not that it won’t be difficult, but we’re better prepared than many private institutions that are just now recognizing the changing face of America.” «



Ivan Rosales-Robles ’15 is pursuing a double major in accounting and policy studies. He is chairman of the Student Association’s committee on student life, and as a member of the Student Philanthropy Council, he serves as the donor relations intern in the Office of Development.

Photo by Susan Kahn


Jessica Santana ’11, G’13 worked as a leadership intern at the Mary Ann Shaw Center for Public and Community Service and as a Literacy Corps tutor at a local elementary school. During her study abroad experience in Hong Kong, she tutored and mentored low-income Chinese students.

Photo by Susan Kahn


Nathan Woods ’14 is majoring in political science with minors in African American studies and child and family studies. He is a member of the University Judicial Board, the Black Celestial Choral Ensemble, the Student African American Society, and Sex S.Y.M.B.A.L.S.—empowering people of color to live healthy sexual lives.

Photo by Steve Sartori

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