They are attracted by the interactive and collaborative nature of the University’s academic programs; the Scholarship in Action vision that invites students and faculty to be vital participants in the world; the wealth of hands-on learning opportunities, including study abroad, research, and internships; and the friendly residential campus, active student life, and blossoming relationship with the City of Syracuse. “If you look at what is happening with our enrollment from a broad perspective, it is a very positive picture,” says Donald Saleh, vice president for enrollment management. In the past five years, SU has seen a substantial increase in the number of applications received annually from aspiring students, going from fewer than 14,000 to more than 22,000. “As more people see what SU is about—the quality of our programs and the dynamic nature of the University—our reputation strengthens,” Saleh says. “And I suspect that, given the momentum this institution has and our increasing visibility, those numbers will continue to grow in the foreseeable future.”
The larger applicant base has allowed SU to move into a position of being very selective, admitting approximately 50 percent of those who apply. “Within that mix of applicants, we’re also seeing a greater diversity than ever before, including significant increases in the number of students of color, from abroad, and from outside our traditional geographic base—the Northeast,” Saleh says. “This is all good news. We have moved away from the challenge of filling a class to the challenge of shaping the class.”
According to Dean of Admissions Susan Donovan ’66, G’82, a variety of factors are considered in shaping the ideal incoming class. “First and foremost, we are looking for bright and creative students,” she says. “We look for students who contribute beyond the classroom, and who exhibit leadership qualities or have a history of volunteering.” The University seeks out students whose academic preparation allows them to bring to campus unusual experiences—international study, for example. Selection committees are also on the lookout for students who have done extraordinarily well academically and will be the first generation of their families to attend college—an indication of strength of character and motivation to achieve. “We now have the ability to select among highly qualified students to bring together a culturally and geographically diverse group—a very interesting mix of people who are eager to share their stories and backgrounds in ways that will enhance the community,” Donovan says. “That’s a hallmark of Syracuse.”
According to Vice Chancellor and Provost Eric F. Spina, the higher quality and increasing diversity of the student body reflect an overall positive trajectory in SU’s strength as an institution. “The trend line marking the quality profile of our incoming undergraduate students would be the envy of Wall Street,” Spina says. “Just as importantly, the incoming class has become more and more diverse—a clear characteristic of excellence. Further, we have sustained our commitment to remaining need-blind in admissions to sustain the socioeconomic diversity of incoming classes. These braided trends have had a transformative effect on the student body, as well as on the intellectual climate on campus. There are convincing reasons to believe that we are a stronger institution today, overall, than we have been before—perhaps ever before.”
A National Leader at Ensuring Access and Support
The unifying goal of all the University’s recruitment and retention efforts is to land students who are a good match for Syracuse, regardless of their financial circumstances. SU ranks first among private institution members of the Association of American Universities and is among the national leaders of all private universities at enrolling students eligible for the federal Pell Grant program, which provides support for those from low-income backgrounds. “We have a history of enrolling students from economically diverse backgrounds, and we’re proud of that,” Saleh says. “We want to continue to expand our reach in terms of the diversity of the student body and to be able to recruit talented students, including those who are the first generation in their families to attend college and others who have not traditionally been part of higher education. So we must look to our financial aid programs to allow us to open doors to them.”
For the 2008-09 academic year, the cost of tuition, residence life, books, and personal expenses for SU undergraduate students is estimated to be $47,820. Approximately $150 million is being given to undergraduates this year in the form of institutional gift aid—scholarships or need-based grants. By providing both need-based financial assistance and scholarships that reward academic excellence, Syracuse attracts the best students while ensuring diversity and opportunity. “Our focus is always on maximizing opportunities to recruit those students who would benefit greatly from the educational experiences we offer,” says Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, associate vice president for enrollment management and director of scholarships and student aid. “Right now, there are a lot of challenges to that, including the rising cost of higher education, changes in federal aid policies and decreased resources, which weaken the partnership between universities and state and federal governments, and falling real incomes that make it harder for families to pay for college.”
The University has signified “Student Access and Support” as one of five key goals in The Campaign for Syracuse University, seeking to raise $200 million for scholarships to provide access and opportunity for students from all walks of life. “Most families in today’s world need help to afford higher education,” says Brian Sischo, associate vice president of development and the campaign’s director. “With nearly 80 percent of the SU student body receiving some form of financial support, it is imperative that we raise significant new financial aid resources in this campaign. By doing so, we will indeed provide an opportunity for a Syracuse University education to deserving students who lack the funds to attend our institution.”
A number of factors indicate that additional challenges lie ahead for the University’s financial aid budget. For example, Saleh says, more of SU’s peer institutions are increasing the funds they devote to financial aid. A projected downturn in the population of 18-year-olds in the years to come is also likely to result in increased competition as the pool of high school graduates shrinks. Additionally, demographics indicate that during the next decade a higher percentage of students will come from lower- and middle-income families, requiring more financial assistance to attend a university of SU’s caliber.
Yet while many of the nation’s institutions may view these trends as problematic, Copeland-Morgan says Syracuse has good reason to remain optimistic. “Academic preparation in schools across the country is increasing,” she says. “For example, more students are taking Advanced Placement classes, which gives them insight into college-level work. And there is a greater focus in grades K through 12 on preparing students for college.” She points to several University partnerships within the community that provide comprehensive support for students’ academic achievement and college preparation, including the Partnership for Better Education, Say Yes to Education, and the Syracuse Challenge. “The combination of these efforts allows a rich diversity in high school graduating classes, and provides a wonderful opportunity for us to embrace our mission and create a richer learning environment for all students,” she says.
In preparing to meet the financial needs of its future students, the University must continue to carefully and strategically consider how to use and enhance its funds, Copeland-Morgan says. “We must look at the balance between merit- and need-based aid and make some changes in that area,” she says. “The situation also calls upon us to be extremely successful in conveying our story to those individuals, foundations, and corporations helping us in The Campaign for Syracuse University to raise the necessary monies to strengthen our financial aid programs.”
SU is determined to maintain its commitment to removing financial barriers for students in the face of these challenges. “We don’t want to compromise,” Saleh says. “We want to continue to do all we can to bring into the Syracuse University community the kind of students we want to have here—academically capable students who are enterprising and engaged with each other and their community.”