Grads, be true to your school
In year ahead, an admissions challenge to alumni

Student Using Telescope in ObservatoryThe ground rules have changed.

In years past, Calvin could rely on reasonably predictable patterns of student enrollment behaviors. Admissions professionals pretty much knew how prospective students and their families would respond to college overtures, how many students would eventually apply and what the final enrollment numbers would be come September.

Economically challenging times and changes in the way families view the college search process have made the admissions process decidedly more unpredictable.

“It seems like there are no sectors of industry that have managed to claim complete immunity to the current economic conditions, and Calvin is no exception,” said Ben Arendt, associate director of admissions and financial aid. “While we enjoyed record numbers of applications and admits, we also saw an increase in student need financially and subsequently saw a lower number of deposited students than desired.”

For example, two years ago the college welcomed a robust class of 1,048 students to the first-year class, an amount appropriate for the campus size and the college budget. However, the last two years have resulted in enrollments of 942 and 947, and that’s with increases in the numbers of applicants and admitted students.

Sure enough, the admissions “yield”—the percentage of actual first-year students from the number of admitted students—has gone from 48.3 percent to 46.4 percent to 40.5 percent.

Times like these call for increased assistance from a respected source of information: Calvin alumni.

“The alumni association has always been about encouraging young people to visit and then enroll at Calvin,” said Mike Van Denend ’78, executive director of the association. “But it is clear to our leadership that alumni need to step up even more in this competitive admissions environment and help the college draw students to campus.”

Students walking on campusArendt noted that the college needs to continue to develop fresh strategies to increase the Calvin audience into far-reaching markets, but also be mindful of limited resources and steward wisely: “There are several ways that we can partner with the larger Calvin community, specifically our committed alumni base,” he said.

Calvin alumni have always been a part of the admissions process, dating back to the Calvin Admissions Support Effort (CASE) from the mid-1980s. Since then, numerous initiatives have featured alums writing testimonial letters and e-mails to prospective students, hosting regional receptions across North America, serving as college fair representatives worldwide and organizing trips to the admissions visit program “Fridays at Calvin” for groups of high school students.

The alumni association board schedules a meeting with the admissions staff all three times the board meets on campus during the year, working with college professionals to find effective ways for grads to help the enrollment effort.

The association’s current admissions liaison is Lyndi Katje ’07. Katje works with alumni board and chapter leaders to creatively search out ways to get alumni off the sidelines and into the admissions game.

A recent success story in finding new ways for alumni to assist admissions came from the Southeast Michigan alumni chapter. Partnering with college staff member Noah Kruis, alumni from the Detroit-Ann Arbor area met with prospective students and their families, interviewing and encouraging at the same time.

Nine alumni were assigned a student or two, and 20 prospective students from the region wound up conversing with Calvin alums.

“This alumni scholarship interview process was an excellent way for alumni to give back to the college in a meaningful way,” said Ross Weener ’04, chair of the chapter and president-elect of the alumni association. “We had alumni who graduated from the Franklin campus and also alumni who had been on campus just a few years ago all sharing their Calvin stories with prospective students.”

Admissions professionals noted that these 20 students enrolled at a higher rate than the regional population in general. Students and families were impressed that Calvin alumni took the time to talk with them and were inclined to take a serious look at the college. And alumni involved saw the assignment as significant and fulfilling.

Arendt believes that an alumni presence at college fairs and the promotion of the “Fridays at Calvin” visit program are two primary ways alums can help.
“We are certainly limited by funding with regard to travel, but even if we had endless cash reserves we would still need alumni and friends volunteering at events such as college fairs and high school visits,” he said.

Students on campusThe number of alumni college fair hosts is increasing. Three years ago, 16 college fairs were covered by an alumni volunteer; in the year just completed, that number was 50.

The extension of the college fair involvement is encouraging students and families to visit Calvin. The attractive campus, tremendous facilities, and engaging students, faculty and staff make “Fridays” an important component in the search process.

“It is well-documented that students who come to campus and visit are the most likely to become Knights,” said Arendt. “This point cannot be understated. We need to get students on campus.” 

The college has established a group visit program that offers financial assistance to students traveling to Calvin for a campus visit; it also covers the travel expenses of an adult chaperone who has organized such a trip. Alumni chapters, church youth groups, high school classes and other organizations can make such an experience happen.

“The admissions team has made it clear to the association that it will work on any alumni collaboration that will help students and families,” said Van Denend. “Creative alumni like Ross Weener and the Southeast Michigan crew have proved that these initiatives benefit Calvin and are enjoyable for alums. We need to do more of this kind of work to support our school. Now’s the time.”   

Chapel serviceWeener said that his experience taught him that he can make a difference for Calvin, even in its enrollment, if he is willing to put some work in. “I challenge all Calvin alumni to think about ways that they can make a difference for their alma mater,” he said. “There is not a shortage of ideas, but there is a shortage of people power to get them done. Please consider calling your chapter leadership or the alumni office to find a way to plug into the exciting opportunities that are happening at Calvin.”  

How can alumni best help with admissions?

  1. Bring a group to campus.
  2. Represent Calvin at a college fair.
  3. If possible, come to campus for an alumni calling session [read more about the Alumni Admissions Support Network].
  4. Talk to a local church or school youth group about Calvin.
  5. Send Calvin student names, contact information and anything else that might help make a positive connection.

An article about the Alumni Admissions Support Network was featured in the Spring 2005 issue of Spark.

General information:
www.calvin.edu/admissions

Visit Calvin:
www.calvin.edu/admissions/visit

Ways to help:
www.calvin.edu/admissions/ambassadors