Saturday, October 17, 2009

Assistant Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Services: "We have the basic standard to live by."

By Odalis Suarez

As students of UC Irvine, the last thing we would ever need to think about is admissions. However, even as an already admitted student it’s still essential that we become aware of how the budget cuts affect our admissions department. My interview with Brent Yunek, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Services and acting Director of Admissions and Relations with Schools, provided a great deal of information regarding how admissions would be affected because of the budget cuts.

Q: Specifically how much is the state planning to cut from our school (or in your own unit as well)?

A: The result or impact of the budget cuts on the office of Admissions as well as other departments within enrollment services is resulting in a 15% cut in our state funding. I can tell you for all of Enrollment Services that’s resulting in about a $1.1 million cut. For Admissions specifically its in the mid $200,000 I don’t have the exact figure on hand although I can get for you if you need it.

Q: Are employees within the Admissions department being affected by this, are you cutting hours or are you cutting certain jobs?

A: The impacts on each department are different so staff across the campus and across the system are taking pay cuts or furloughs, perhaps you’ve heard of these. They range anywhere from 4 to 10 percent depending on your salary level.

The staff at admissions specifically just like other staff that are participating in the furlough program, with the one exception right now because its unresolved and those are the represented staff which there are three of in our department, already have the information of what their furlough is or pay cut is. So that’s one specific way that the budget is impacting the staff.

There’s about 4 positions in particular that I would love to fill, two of them are technical positions, IT and Programmer Analyst jobs. There are a couple of other student affairs officers, one that would be more an evaluation expert, somebody who reviews applications and clears files, and another that would be more focused on the recruitment and yield side of the house. However, without the funding we can’t reopen the positions, the result of that (getting back to your real question; what’s the impact on staff) so those that are currently hired and working today are receiving a pay cut there without other positions being filled generally they’re taking more work assignment, which is not unique.

I mean I don’t want to make them sound like they’re doing more than counterparts in other offices, every staff group is really being asked to do quite a bit more right now because of the vacancies and also receive less money. We’ve tried to be strategic, we’re trying to be efficient so with a smaller staff group we have it means that we can commit to fewer school visits this fall, for instance, than what we’ve had in the past. It means that we’re trying everything possible to rely on technology and new ways even beyond what we had in the past. So there’s new tools for the upcoming evaluation cycle for the fall 2010 application process that will be more electronic and guide that evaluation process so its less people intensive, but I mean it sounds great, really minor changes, but those are a couple examples hopefully to convey what the changes are.

We’re not an office that’s not cutting back on hours although I know others are. We just feel like we’re too much of a public information office to be able to do that. We’re juggling staff schedules and really working in a way that is pretty thin not always appropriately staffed and respond to the load of traffic is my biggest concern and I hope that’s not going to show itself too much this year because we are service oriented.

Q: You said something about student affairs with evaluation experts, are you saying that you would like to fill positions within that area?

A: That’s one of the key areas that I wish I could. Here is an example: a student affairs officer who primarily works on reviewing undergraduate admissions applications is, we loosely refer to as an evaluation expert. They are evaluating the application. I have a few individuals on staff that are working in that capacity. With the growing number of applications that we’ve seen as a trend in recent years, this past year once again was another record setting year with over 44,000 freshman applications, nearly 11,000 transfer applications, we expect growth going forward in 2010 we’re expecting growth in a number of application type set involve some complex evaluation requirements. So they’re staff intensive and these require staff who pick up training over time, it’s not something that can be quickly trained.

Another exacerbating factor here is that we have in the last couple of cycles especially lost valuable long time staff due to retirements, so we’ve also got the challenge of building up the professional knowledge again and hoping to do that with as many staff as possible so that the long term are positioned well to respond to the growth and applications.

Q: You said that you are going to be expecting an increase in applications. So if you can’t fill the evaluation experts positions, is that going to affect the admissions process at all?

A: One of my biggest concerns is being able to have files evaluated and completed and within a time frame that allows us to do the modeling that we need to do in order to arrive at an admit decision. So the longer it takes us the less time we have for modeling or the later part perhaps the notification period will be for notifying students from fall 2010 of their admission decision, those are key things that could possibly slide if we don’t have the work completed in time.

Q: With the cuts in effect, how much are you planning on decreasing the admittance rate for the fall 2010 year?

A: The admit rate first of all is really a result numerically of the number of applications and number of admits. We’ve been on a trend of smaller admit rate, I think roughly 43% this year compared to 48% of the applicant pool were admitted in fall of ’08. So for fall for 2010 it’s likely we might head further in that direction of that diminishing admit rate. A lot of that will hinge or depend on the application volume first and then truly what I can control is the admit number and after going through quite a complex set of modeling factoring in many different items we’ll arrive in an admit number that we believe will produce an enrollment target ultimately. That admit number divided by the applications will result in whatever admit rate we see for fall 2010.

If the trends continue the way they have I would expect a smaller percentage of the applicant pool admitted, but we still have many factors yet to be realized to know for sure. For instance, our enrollment target has not firmly been set for next year if something changes in that target that it would by any slip chance be allowed to grow, that could possibly change things in a different direction, so it’s a little early.

Q: Do you think the budget cuts might make that trend keep going with the decrease?

A: Everything seems to be showing that the budget cuts in the state of California are going to cause the university as a whole to still shrink back in terms of its enrollment target next year. How that plays out specifically in Irvine and any other campuses is yet to be seen. We took the largest reduction in our enrollment target in fall 2009 compared to all other UC Campuses because of that I’m hoping that for fall 2010 we can see a little to know change in our enrollment target and let some other campuses take the hit.

Q: For the possible trend of decreasing the admittance rate, when you look at the applications will you be looking at one aspect of the application or looking more at the SAT score this year than you ever did before?

A: Our process is fairly comprehensive in fact it’s called the Comprehensive Review Model for reviewing freshman applications. There are fourteen different factors that go into comprehensive review; high school grades and aptitude test scores, but there are many others that go just beyond just the quantitative type indicators of success.

So the simple answer is no there is not one factor that will change to help us arrive at a different admit number, really what happens is after putting all students through a comprehensive review there are two different scores produced.

There’s what we refer to as a couple of profile scores and based on kind of a mapping of those scores across several different cohorts of students we end up with really a 3D model, if you will, that we can apply a selection cut and based on the number of students in each cell, if you will, on that matrix we’re able to admit more or fewer students. So again it would never be just for one specific factor or in response to a change in one specific factor.

Q: So you’re staying with the original Comprehensive Grouping Model?

A: Yes.

Q: Is there also going to be a limit on the number of students based on the school they are applying to, because I know you are cutting classes and instructors, so will that limit the number of people you can admit in regards to what school they are applying to?

A: Anything is possible and again I’ll be making decisions about how many students to admit in blankly February and March so between now and then any new information can present itself and I’ll have to adjust accordingly. Predominately the campus’s approach to admission at UCI is that we admit to the campus; we do not have a history to admitting to the major. With very little exception and I’ll point out a couple of these, one would be that we have, because of special requirements surrounding audition in performance related majors in the arts. There are those considerations to make and that has a quasi effect of admitting to major. They’re unique for obvious reasons, I think.

There are two other key majors that the campus limits access to because of resource constraints in terms of faculty and teaching, lab space and the overall academic program. They’re both relatively new and so there still starting up. One would be the bachelors program in Nursing Science. Another one would be the Business Administration major which is fairly new; it just welcomed its second cohort of students this fall, because of space constraints there that were known as these programs are starting, we’ve asked to constrain admits to those programs. Otherwise students currently are admitting to the campus based on their overall selectivity. We accommodate students in there first major unless they are in what I just mentioned. That’s what I expect for this next cycle.

Q: Do you think that UC Irvine is going to consider admitting out of state students because of the budget cuts?

A: Well we treat them similar to in state students really when it comes to selection. So we’re looking for virtually the same requirements that [we would see] with in state students.

I say virtually because there are a couple of differences to the out of state or international student. If you’re not a California resident, you do have to satisfy a higher GPA requirement to be minimally eligible even. There are differences in terms of how we have to evaluate those records because their coursework is coming from out of the state. There’s complications with that. The selection of students is set to help produce ultimately the enrollment target and whoever is at or above that selection line is in, irrespective of California resident or not a resident status.

I think the rumor going around if I can imagine might have everything to do with maybe these students bringing in more money so there’s probably going to be more emphasis on admitting. I think there can be more emphasis on sharing the international opportunity that UCI has to offer or the global opportunity we have to offer.

I can tell you there’s a great number of high quality students that might meet our selection cut, from outside the state and we have a lot to offer in going both directions in fact sending our students abroad, welcoming diverse students on campus.

To promote really of a global education environment, but it does not mean we’re looking to admit more students just because they’re from out of state because we have the basic standard to live by.

Q: How about transfer students, will the cutbacks affect the transfer students?

A: You know it’s interesting, the cuts and the state are affecting the transfer students in different ways. What I see happening right now is that in general before public institutions were not able to accommodate as many new freshmen in fall ’09 as we would have otherwise hoped if the funding would have been there. The result of that is very clearly an impact on community colleges. It means more students as a freshman are enrolling this fall at the community colleges as a result we should expect to see more students come out of the community colleges within a couple of years looking for seats at the UC and probably the CSU as well.

The University of California has been for a long time trying to extend greater access to community college transfer students. This is a perfect time to have that as your goal because there are more highly qualified students attending community colleges because of what I just described. So we saw this year a goal of admitting 50 greater number of community college transfer students. I can only imagine that that number’s going to hold or possibly grow some more in the coming cycle, so long as there is the demand from students going through the community college system first I can imagine the UC is going to want to accommodate them. So long as they meet UC eligibility of course, but it’s a viable path it’s been a long time component of the Master Plan for California. So I would expect a growth in community college transfers.

Q: You have the transfer students, the out of state students, and the California seniors that are graduating from high school. How do you balance the percentages of people that you can admit through each category?

A: At my level I receive a target from Senior Leadership on campus and its an enrollment target so that I have to model what would be the admit number that would ultimately produce that enrollment come fall, both at the new freshman level and the new transfer level. Again, non-resident students come in at either level, but it’s a target for California resident students that I receive because they are a priority. We set a selection cut to produce a certain number of admits that will result in that enrollment target and we go form there.

Q: Is there anything that we the students or the community can do to help the admissions office and try to gain some money?

A: I think the community and students both can be very helpful at many times and it’s not just for the benefit for admissions, but really for the benefit of scholarship support for incoming students and continuing students alike. The community, in fact, plays a pretty large role in that. In fact a fundraiser was held over the weekend with commitments still coming in over a million dollars, I’m told. An annual event is held and community friends in the county especially are participating and pledging and providing support for undergrads and graduate students. It’s going to take probably a lot more of that. Hopefully more of that than less in student fee hikes. As you’re contributing to the bottom line it helps every department not just admissions.

In essence, the half-hour long interview cleared up months of rumors within the campus and concern for students off campus. This year will be another challenge for the Admissions department, but certainly nothing that they can’t handle. For students planning on applying to UC Irvine, you can be assured that the admissions department will not take any shortcuts or new strategies throughout their selection process. It will be a fair and balanced decision based on all aspects on the application, not where the most money can be gained.

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