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The Daily Tar Heel

Budget cuts limit ability to recruit top students

Correction (September 26, 11:56 p.m.): Due to a reporting error, the story, “Budget cuts limit ability to recruit top students” inaccurately stated that this year’s freshman class had a lower median SAT score. The middle 50 percent score dropped slightly, with the lowest middle percentile score falling from 1210 to 1200. The average overall score increased by one point to 1304. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

UNC administrators often brag that their newest students are the best and the brightest. But this year, it might be the second-best and the second-brightest.

This year’s freshmen brought to campus slightly lower median SAT scores, fewer from the top 10 percent of their high school class, and fewer valedictorians than their sophomore counterparts did. And of the students offered admission, a smaller percentage chose to enroll at UNC than the previous year’s class, representing a decrease in the University’s highly-prized “yield” rating.

The slight dip reflects not only a competitive nationwide college admissions process that creates high demand for top students, but also demonstrates the negative impact of budget cuts on UNC’s admissions office’s ability to recruit.

In a presentation of the data to UNC’s Board of Trustees on Thursday, Stephen Farmer, director of undergraduate admissions, stressed that he does not believe the data represents a trend, noting the natural “ebb and flow” of the numbers.

“It’s not quite the best class in our history, but it’s the second-best,” he said. “As always, we must remember that these students didn’t have to choose UNC.”

But Farmer noted that without financial and institutional support from the University, the office could experience some of the difficulties faced last winter and spring in the coming year.

“I don’t want to make excuses,” he said. “But we have had several challenges.”

In April 2009, Gov. Bev Perdue ordered a freeze on almost all travel using state funds, inhibiting the office’s ability to send admissions staff to recruit. Farmer said they recruited half as much in North Carolina and did virtually no recruiting outside the state during the 2009-10 academic year.

The state also implemented a hiring freeze, preventing the admissions office from filling two empty positions, which composed 20 percent of their key staff.

Board Chairman Bob Winston, who hosted admitted students at his home for a barbecue, said he supports personal interactions between officials and students to increase enrollment. Seventy percent of those at his barbecue ended up choosing UNC, compared to the about 50 percent overall yield.

“We need to get out on the road more,” he said. “It’s what we do well in this process.”

The 2009-10 efforts also saw the implementation of the Connect Carolina system, which required the attention of already-taxed staff members at the expense of recruiting, Farmer said.

“But the best news is that all three of these things aren’t true today,” he said.

The travel freeze has been lifted, the two positions have been filled and Connect Carolina has been established. But Farmer acknowledged that the possibility of budget cuts still looms, and the expectations for next year are higher.

“We just can’t afford to miss a trick,” he said.

Chancellor Holden Thorp noted in Thursday’s meeting that the state is expected to have one of the greatest budget shortfalls in the nation, potentially as much as $3.2 billion, which would certainly affect the UNC system.

Farmer said his office is preparing accordingly, and has requested a $5 increase to UNC’s application fee, which already is $70. An increase, which was proposed but defeated last year, will have to pass through the fee approval system at UNC and UNC’s Board of Governors.

Either way, Farmer said he and his team understand the importance of this year’s results.

“We’re coming here to look sharp,” he said. “We’re coming here to play to win.”

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