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Freshman Class is One for the Record Books

January 18, 1999

Mark Miester

It's only right that the last freshman class of the millennium would be one for the record books. As of Aug. 31, the freshman class (including University College students) stood at 1,631 students, making it the largest freshman class this decade.

Admission's goal for the class had been 1,475. Perhaps even more encouraging than the size of the class is its quality. The average SAT score of the incoming class is 1296, a 18-point leap over last year and the highest in school history.

"We've gone into the top 5 percent of kids in the country," says Richard Whiteside, vice president for admission and enrollment management. "That's a big thing."

The size of the new class came as a shock, albeit a pleasant one, to Undergraduate Admission, which began to realize the potential for the blockbuster yield when commitment deposits started to arrive in May. With the opening of the Willow Street residence hall complex this year, which added 310 beds to campus housing, Housing and Residence Life had intended to take the top four floors of Monroe Hall offline. That plan was quickly modified.

"When Dick brought in this humungous class, those four floors that we weren't counting on using, we used," says director of housing services Philip James, explaining how his office accommodated the influx. "The other thing that had to change obviously was the number of faculty teaching," Whiteside adds. "So the individual colleges adjusted their freshman offerings to make sure we were fully covered and we weren't going to end up putting students in a class of 50 when it should be 20."

The explanation behind this years better-than-expected yield isn't easy to pinpoint. "When this kind of thing happens, you can't identify a single cause," Whiteside says. One factor that might have played a role in the increase is the success of the football team, whose Cinderella season last year made Tulane a topic of national conversation. Sports writers and commentators invariably noted that the football team's success was surprising given Tulane's reputation as an academic-rather than athletic-powerhouse.

"That message is a very important one-that we did this while we maintained our academic standard," Whiteside says. "I think there are a lot of families out there who believe that there's some integrity to what we do and they're fascinated by that."

Another factor Whiteside believes contributed to the increase may come as a surprise: Hurricane Georges. According to Whiteside, the response of Tulane staff to the threat of Georges last fall sent a powerful message to prospective students and their parents.

"When our community was threatened, the employees here, at risk themselves, flocked to campus and did everything that could possibly be done to make sure that students were secure," Whiteside explains. "The president, the provost and a lot of administrators moved into the dorms and tried to make sure that everyone was well taken care of. I think that that speaks highly for the institution."

As far as marketing strategy, Whiteside says his office cast a much wider net with its initial mailings, contacting some 300,000 high school students, or roughly a quarter of all college-bound students in the United States. This year admission also debuted a new scholarship category. Distinguished Scholar Awards, a series of $12,000-$14,000 scholarships, were introduced to attract Dean's Honor Scholarship candidates who fall short of winning the full-tuition prize.

"We paid a lot of attention to doing the basics right," Whiteside concludes. "Dealing with students who are trying to pick a college, when they ask for information, they want it then, not two or three weeks down the line when we get around to it. So I think internally the university did a lot of things very right and a lot of families were impressed by that."

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