Joint admission-alumni effort targets socioeconomic diversity

March 20, 2006, 5:15 p.m.

From the March 13, 2006, Princeton Weekly Bulletin

As part of its goal to expand the recruitment of students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, the Admission Office has partnered with the Alumni Schools Committees (ASC) of Washington, D.C., and Boston in a pilot project targeting public high schools in those cities.

The purpose of the project is to build long-term relationships with the target schools to increase awareness of the opportunities afforded by highly selective universities and Princeton, in particular.

“I think that this is a fabulous program, and I am so pleased that the alumni are willing to join a partnership with us,” said Dean of Admission Janet Rapelye. “We can’t expect students to come to us if we’re not willing to go to them.”

Rapelye emphasized the importance of establishing relationships with the target schools rather than prematurely assessing results. “This is going to be a building project, and we already have students coming to Princeton as a result of it. It’s more about the relationships we’re creating with the schools, and having more visibility in specific areas,” she said.

Now in its second year, the Washington project is focusing on 12 area high schools — up from 10 the first year — whose students are largely or predominantly minority and low- to moderate-income. The Boston project is in its first year and is working with nine schools.

According to Martin Gruenberg, co-chair of Washington’s ASC and a member of the class of 1975, the top students in these schools typically apply to state institutions, universities that provide merit scholarships and historically black colleges.

“What is really needed is an outreach effort targeting public schools to let them know that Princeton is well within reach, and that financial aid is available on a need basis,” said Gruenberg. “Princeton’s financial aid program makes the University affordable to anybody regardless of the income of their family.”

The University has implemented a number of significant changes to its financial aid program in recent years, including replacing loans with grants, which do not have to be repaid.

Across the country and internationally, more than 5,000 alumni serve as Princeton ambassadors through their Alumni Schools Committees and focus on interviewing applicants to Princeton. In the pilot project in Washington and Boston, the roles of alumni volunteers are greatly expanded through activities scheduled throughout the year.

Based on the first year of the Washington program, organizers have established four main components of the recruitment pilot project. The initiative normally starts in the fall and extends to late spring, although the timing will vary in different locations.

First, there is an initial visit to each target school by a Princeton admission officer and approximately three local alumni. The visit includes a presentation about the University to interested students, and a meeting with the guidance counselor. Second, the Admission Office and ASC host a breakfast for the guidance counselors from all of the target schools to discuss Princeton and selective college admissions. Third, the Admission Office and ASC sponsor an event for promising high school juniors, who are invited based on the recommendations of school guidance counselors. Fourth, the Admission Office and ASC host an evening program for freshmen, sophomores and juniors from the target schools, as well as their families, to discuss selective college admissions and Princeton.

“I am not aware of any college that has tried this kind of outreach effort,” said Gruenberg. “The responses of students at the target schools have been uniformly positive.”

In Boston, Andrew Hoffman, vice president of the Princeton Association of New England and a member of the class of 1989, said that they are following the model of the Washington project for their start-up year, and are enjoying great interest among alumni.

“For the first week of school visits this February, 28 alumni signed up,” said Hoffman. “There is so much interest among alumni, and we know we have to earn our way in and earn respect from the schools.”

Since these are the early days of the initiative, Rapelye said she is most interested in solidifying the success of the program in Washington and Boston before considering expanding it to other cities.

She also noted that other geographical areas could require variations of the program. “Public schools in different areas have developed differently,” she said. “And cities have different constituencies across the country. Also, not every high school has a guidance counselor — these positions are being eliminated in some parts of the country — and we would have to consider how we would work with such schools.

“I have great enthusiasm for the program and a deep appreciation for what the alumni are doing,” added Rapelye. “And if it were not for Marty Gruenberg, we would not be where we are right now.”

According to Gruenberg, the pilot project also has benefited from the support of the Association of Black Princeton Alumni and the National Schools Committee, a standing committee of the Alumni Council that assists the ASCs.