With spare time on his hands, retiree Dave Harris decided to write to some Akron North High School seniors who were thinking of attending the University of Akron.
He hopes to tip them into the “yes” column.
Harris, a Stow resident, is among about 400 faculty, staff and alumni who are reaching out to some of the 11,600 undergraduate applicants who already have been accepted to the university for fall.
“If they feel like they have a relationship with our people — could be faculty, could be alums — there could be a real chance for someone to chose us,” said Jim Tressel, UA executive vice president for student success, who is leading the effort.
UA is making what might be its biggest recruiting push ever to fill seats this fall.
In recent years, enrollment has flagged, dropping 6 percent last fall alone because of a shrinking number of high school graduates statewide, intense competition among other colleges and universities and because UA is tightening its entrance requirements.
The school is trying to reverse that trend with a multipronged approach, said Lauri Thorpe, associate vice president for enrollment management and assistant to the president.
For the first time, the university hired a direct marketer — Royall & Co. of Richmond, Va., for $250,000 — to target and communicate with students who might be likely to enroll.
The company will help clients “grow or shape your class while improving academic quality and increasing net tuition revenue,” according to its website.
That means it provides the technology and expertise to help UA reach the most promising students, Thorpe said.
The university also offered scholarships earlier in the admissions process and enhanced its visitation days to appeal to more students.
Tressel, meanwhile, amped up the modest letter-writing initiative he launched this year “to ensure these students know how badly we would like them to be part of the university,” he said.
He sent out a plea to the Roo Crew, the 800 or so alums he started recruiting last fall for such outreach as distributing UA brochures, greeting students at events, speaking in classes and other activities.
More than 200 Roo Crew members volunteered to write to more than 2,000 accepted students.
Roo Crew member Harris, a retired Hudson High principal, wrote notes to 25 seniors at North, his alma mater. His wife, Shelly, also a UA graduate, wrote about 10 notes to students at her alma mater, Akron’s Firestone High.
“The university has given me a lot,” Harris said. “It’s pretty important to me. You can’t give money all the time.”
Another 200 or so faculty and staff agreed to do the same for more than 4,000 students.
That list of volunteers includes Thorpe, the UA associate vice president, who wrote 53 personal cards to seniors at her alma mater, Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy; 39 to students at Woodridge High, her home high school district; and to almost 600 recruits referred by the Admissions Office.
Meanwhile, students are getting regular communications from the university — letters about financial aid, housing and the like.
The bottom line is that applications for fall are up 44 percent over last year, Tressel said. Since this is still fairly early in UA’s recruiting season, the university anticipates getting another 1,000 to 1,500 applications before fall semester.
All these healthy recruiting indicators could buoy UA’s enrollment.
But it is extremely unlikely that all 11,600 accepted students will show up this fall.
Since about a quarter of high school seniors nationwide apply to seven or more schools, many are weighing offers from multiple schools that want them.
At UA, about six out of every 10 accepted students typically go to another school.
“At this point, it is too early to determine the size of this year’s entering freshman class,” Thorpe said in an email. “We look forward to enrolling a strong class.”
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.