Students drawn from all over; Strong marketing effort pushes university’s image

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page U4

Like any other college, the University of Toledo needs students.

When they haven’t been forthcoming locally, the university has had to look elsewhere. They may come from Cleveland or Columbus, Beijing or Bahrain, but to university officials, what’s most important isn’t where they come from, it’s where they end up. And for the last decade, UT has done very well in bringing them to Toledo.

Officials were quick to point out that most UT students are still from northwest Ohio, including 46 per cent from Lucas County. But statistics show that UT is now drawing much more heavily from outside the metropolitan Toledo area than it used to.

For the last decade, Lucas County has been producing fewer and fewer public high school graduates – the group traditionally most likely to attend UT. That number has dropped more than 10 per cent in the last six years alone. During that same period, the number of UT students from metro Toledo has dropped by more than 2,600.

Much of that gap has been taken up by students from Cleveland, Columbus, and the rest of Ohio. In 1986, only 15.8 per cent of in-state students at UT were from outside northwest Ohio. Last year, 27.6 per cent were.

University officials said that rise is the result of a conscious effort to push UT’s image statewide, an aggressive marketing campaign to bring in more students from outside Toledo.

“It was a normal evolution of recruitment,” said Scot Lingrell, UT’s associate director of high school relations. “We were looking for expanded markets.”

At the same time, UT became more attractive to students from across the state because of the addition of on-campus housing. A decade ago, there was only room for about 1,700 students to live in dorms. All freshmen were required to live on campus, but the rule was never enforced because there simply wasn’t room for them all.

Three major building projects in the 1990s have brought that total to nearly 2,900, and they’re almost completely full.

“We did it, in large part, for the number of students desiring to come from outside commuting distance,” said Wayne Gates, director of residential life.

For someone new to town, living on campus is often considered preferable to all the worries associated with finding an apartment in a strange place.

The new dorms have all been given themes: the McComas Village for fraternities and sororities, an academic house for honors students, and the International House for both foreign and domestic students. Each has been praised by students.

“It’s taken the stigma away from coming to Toledo,” said Kent Hopkins, UT’s enrollment manager.

Those dorms are high on the list of talking points for UT’s admissions counselors when they hit the road, talking to students around Ohio. The university now has five admissions counselors, each responsible for a separate region of the state. One of them handles Cleveland and its Cuyahoga County suburbs.

These counselors spend much of each fall traveling their regions, talking to students at high schools and at college night events.

“We’re taking the university on the road,” Mr. Hopkins said.

Each counselor spends anywhere between 5 and 12 weeks a year on the road, pushing UT to all comers, then spends the rest of the year following up on those contacts.

The key selling points are UT’s relatively low price, the new dorms, and the convenience of being close enough to home to visit on weekends, but far enough to avoid having Mom show up at the dorm at random hours. And anyone with an Ohio high school diploma is guaranteed admission.

Aside from attracting students, these trips help accomplish another university goal: getting UT’s name out across the region. Institutions drawing on a wider base of applicants are generally more respected than schools that are more parochial.

“The price of UT works well for a lot of families, and it’s a reasonable drive to most parts of the state,” said Sharon Anghilante, a guidance counselor at Rocky River High School in suburban Cleveland. “UT has been working hard to attract people to Toledo.”

Much of the credit for UT’s current popularity goes to the school’s admissions staff, she said. “UT has a very, very strong admissions office,” she said. She singled out a video the university put together for prospective students a few years ago as one of the best she’d seen.

“That video really pumped kids up and got them excited about the school.”

UT’s recruitment efforts don’t stop at the state line, either. Colleges like UT can buy lists of students fitting certain characteristics from the major testing companies. For example, a school could purchase the names and addresses of every Asian-American student in suburban Des Moines with SAT scores over 1400.

Each year, UT targets a few areas that, over the years, have sent multiple students to Toledo. As a result, students with high test scores in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., Cicero, Ill., Rockville, Md., and Sharon Hill, Pa. often receive letters in the mail from the UT admissions office asking them to consider four years in northwest Ohio.

“We might have a really good admissions counselor there, or we might have an alum there who is really promoting the school,” Mr. Lingrell said.

One other group UT has done well in attracting is international students, mostly from Asia and the Middle East. The university enrolls just under 1,600 international students, and a Chronicle of Higher Education study last December said UT ranked seventh in the country in the percentage of doctoral degrees going to international students.

Officials said Toledo’s ethnic mix plays a large part.

“The No. 1 one reason people come here is through friends and family in the area,” said Dawn Malone of UT’s Office of International Services.

Last year, UT enrolled 344 students from India, 292 from China, 158 from Malaysia, and 77 from Kuwait.

Ms. Malone said the university recruits through embassies in foreign lands and through agreements with 72 other colleges worldwide. Through the agreements, UT students are allowed to attend college overseas for a semester, while foreign students come to Toledo.

Judy Hample, UT’s senior vice president for academic affairs, said UT does a better job than most schools in bringing international students into the mainstream of campus life.

“The fact that the homecoming king and queen last year were both international is pretty unusual,” she said.