The University prides itself on having a diverse student body, featuring students from 120 different countries and all 50 states. But sitting in a lecture in Angell Hall or walking through the Diag, nearly one student out of every six is from a few select high schools.
From 2004 to 2009, an average of about 16 percent of the University’s freshman classes came from just 20 high schools, though more than 1,000 high schools have sent students to the University each year during that time. That percentage ranged from 13 to 19 percent through these years.
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Officials from the University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions told The Michigan Daily in a series of interviews last year that the disproportionate representation is not intentional.
“It’s not by any design of ours that these schools are ‘the ones,’ ” said Erica Sanders, director of recruitment and operations in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. “Our goal is that we wish we have more schools where there were students that come that are having great experiences and more of their colleagues feel like ‘Gosh that will be a great place for me as well.’ ”
Sanders said one of the key reasons so many students come to the University from the same schools year after year is because students who come to the University from “feeder” high schools portray the University in a positive light in their hometowns.
“If a student enrolls in the University and has a good experience, when they go on, whether it’s home for the holidays or once they graduate, if they’re pursuing the things they enjoy and love, then it’s natural that the people in their community would then say, ‘Gosh, she went to that school and she’s successful and she was able to find a job. Look at her life; I want a similar life. I think I’ll apply to that school,’ ” she said.
According to Sanders, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions is actively working to break the pattern of disproportionate representation from select high schools. Every year, admissions officials take a look at the schools from which they don’t receive many applications and ask what can be done to attract more students the following year.
“We don’t just visit the schools where we receive a lot of applications,” Sanders said. “We also visit the schools where we don’t receive any applications to let them know about the opportunities that are available.”
These elevated enrollment patterns of students from specific high schools are also due in part to the University’s success in conveying to those schools that a student is choosing to go the University, not just settling to go there, Sanders said.
In-State vs. Out-of-State
Between 2004 and 2009, no fewer than 13 of the top 20 schools with students admitted to the University were in Michigan, and most of those were within an hour’s drive of Ann Arbor.
Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor has sent the most students to the University every year from 2004 to 2009. In 2009, 154 students were accepted from the high school and 110 students matriculated, producing at 71-percent yield rate – the rate of students that enroll compared to the number accepted. While the number of students from Pioneer attending the University was in the triple digits in 2009, schools like Genesee High School in Genesee, Mich. Only had one student apply to the University in the same year.
The Office of Undergraduate Admissions visits around 500 schools in the state each year. It is often, according to Sanders, the smaller townships that are farther away from Ann Arbor where admissions officials have a harder time reaching out to prospective students.
Sanders said students from these towns often come from smaller schools with graduating classes of about 50 people, which could make attending a 400-person lecture an intimidating venture.
Though it’s more likely for a student from a larger high school to end up at the University than a student from a smaller one, Sanders said this isn’t by design. Rather, it’s because bigger high schools have larger pools of applications and, by extension, more qualified students.
“As I’m reviewing (applications), I’m basing my decision on the information included in the application to make a recommendation for a decision,” Sanders said. “I don’t know when I’m reviewing if this is the 4th applicant or the 14th applicant (from the school) as I’m reviewing the files, so there’s no quota or cap on any particular high school in terms of the number of students we will admit.”
“Feeder” schools are often the same schools that admissions officials believe prepare students best to attend the University, whether in the state of Michigan or outside it. New Trier High School, located in Winnetka, Ill., an affluent Chicago suburb, sent more students to the University than any other school outside the state of Michigan in 2009, with 75 students accepted from the high school and 29 of those students matriculating.
Jim Conroy, chair of post-high school counseling at New Trier High School, said in an interview on Oct. 12 that he felt that a combination of returning college students and alumni in the area contributes to the number of applicants from New Trier.
“I think a lot of it is the history of family and alumni in the area that went to U of M,” he said. “U of M has such a high profile in the community, students keep applying.”
Conroy added that he believes the Chicago area holds one of the largest University alumni populations.
“I think that’s the case for a lot of Midwestern schools, just because the city is so big,” he said.
Conroy said that one delegate from the University Admissions Office works with the area around New Trier High School from year to year. And while he commended the Office of Admissions for their ongoing work with his high school, he said the students themselves are the best “salespeople” for the University.
Schools like New Trier, Pioneer and high schools in New York and Illinois — especially preparatory schools — have goals of preparing and sending their students off to top colleges. Applicants from these schools often take Advanced Placement courses and have what the University considers a challenging high school curriculum.
When admissions officials see these factors on a student’s application, they are likely to accept them, leading to a situation where certain schools repeatedly have high numbers of students accepted to the University, according to Sanders.
“There are definitely schools that have the right types of preparation,” Sanders said.
But despite the same criteria for in-state and out-of-state applicants, Sanders said the University has a certain dedication to the state of Michigan.
“The University has made a commitment to the state,” Sanders said. “We make a commitment to make sure we’re really educating the state population first, but quality is really what rules the day.”
Sanders said students applying to the University from out of state are often looking at schools within their home state, as well as universities around the country that offer a particular curriculum.
“They may be looking at a specific academic area of interest, they may be looking for a similar school to the one they may be considering in their home state,” she said. “But what we do know is consistently that the students spend a fair amount of time looking at the information we share about what we offer and what we require in the admissions process.”
Sanders added that while the University commits itself to its home state, being an in-state applicant doesn’t make acceptance any easier. The standards remain the same for all applicants.
She said that out-of-state students who apply tend to have more honors and Advanced Placement classes in their high schools, while many Michigan students who apply to the University have more limited curriculums at their high schools.
Still, Sanders said the students being accepted to the University are the best in their high schools, regardless of whether they are from Michigan or not.
Sanders also said that the admissions process is need-blind, so that admissions officers are unaware of how much financial need will be required for students before being accepted to the University.
The University aims to keep a two-thirds, one-third ratio between in-state and out-of-state students, respectively. And while that one third of out-of-state students makes up a minority on campus, the population of students from around the world is even smaller.
The International Effect
While ranked globally for its academics, the University has a surprisingly low number of international students. From 2004 and 2009, between 250 and 350 international students enrolled as freshmen each year, less than seven percent of the freshman class.
The small representation from other countries on campus has grown more homogenous in recent years as well. The distribution of countries yielding higher numbers of students has shifted dramatically toward eastern countries within the last five years.
LSA senior Hamidah Abdul came to the University in 2007 from Malaysia as one of only 18 other freshmen from the country. Though halfway around the world and with few others from her home, Abdul has found a new home in Ann Arbor.
According to a rising trend in international students matriculating to the University, Abdul will see an ever increasing amount of students from her home.
Malaysia, China, India and Singapore are the four most represented countries — outside of the United States — within the freshman class. And while the percentage of international students is small compared to the class as a whole, the number of students matriculating to the University from a more focused area of the world is increasing.
Only 10 international students from Malaysia enrolled in the University in 2004, but by 2008 the number increased six-fold.
In 2008, Universiti Teknologi Mara, located in Shah Alam Malaysia, sent 40 students out of its 43 admitted to the University. This high yield rate of 93 percent is very common among high schools abroad, though individual schools often have very few students applying and accepted to give such a high yield rate.
But the numbers remain inconsistent for Malaysia. In 2009, a total of only four students enrolled in the University from the country. No students from Universiti Teknologi Mara even applied.
A combination of small decreases in the numbers of enrolled students from other countries and a higher yield rate of students accepted has made students from these four countries, primarily Malaysia in 2008, a majority of international students enrolling in the University.
According to Stanford University Sociology Professor Mitchell Stevens, one cause of the shift is that American universities are going abroad more often to find international students not only for their academic ability, but as an economic strategy as well.
“The entire elite sector of U.S. higher education is moving toward recruitment of greater numbers of students from abroad,” Stevens wrote in an e-mail. “The reasons: talent and revenue.”
Stevens, who specializes in the organizational sociology of higher education, academic accomplishment and alternative schooling, said that the appeal of international students to universities in the United States increases with the growing ease of receiving higher education abroad.
“Steadily decreasing real costs of transportation and communication make international study ever more feasible for ever more students,” Stevens said via email, “and U.S. schools remain high-prestige destinations for people from all over the world.”
The growing desire to bring in more international students has brought about an increase in recruitment from American universities in high schools abroad.
Sanders attributed much of the recruitment work done internationally to alumni who live abroad and are looking to expand knowledge of and interest in the University.
“We have alumni clubs that will host events that will ask if they can volunteer,” Sanders said. “So we have an alumni student recruiter network.”
Abdul said that while she has heard of other colleges coming to her high school in Malaysia, the University had yet to be one of them, and that in her experience, the University of Michigan was not necessarily a popular school choice for students from Malaysia. Abdul said Pennsylvania State University, Purdue University and Drake University were popular choices among the students she knows.
“Although U of M isn’t as popular in Malaysia,” Abdul said in an email, “knowing in the back of my mind that I’m going to a good school, get a good education and excel in my field of study is all that I need.”
Sanders said international students are a vital part of the growing global awareness on campus.
“In terms of thinking of the University as a whole it’s a community so wanting to create an atmosphere that fosters education, part of that is about a global community.”
Stevens said that the increase in international students in American universities will not be fading out any time soon.
“We will only see more recruitment of international students, and more initiatives abroad by U.S. universities in the coming years,” Stevens said.