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UCLA, UC Berkeley Travel Far-And-Wide To Diversify Applicants

Paresh Dave |
November 10, 2011 | 8:54 a.m. PST


Garfield High senior Anna Milioutina of Seattle stands outside a building at the University of Washington, which faces growing competition from University of California campuses for high-achieving Washington students. (Courtesy of Anna Rachel Lusby)
Garfield High senior Anna Milioutina of Seattle stands outside a building at the University of Washington, which faces growing competition from University of California campuses for high-achieving Washington students. (Courtesy of Anna Rachel Lusby)

High school senior Anna Milioutina would love the chance to escape what she described as the "gray monotony" of Seattle and get her creative juices flowing in the culture capital that is Los Angeles.

But she wasn't sure that the University of California, Los Angeles would be the right fit or that she could even get in.

To make connections with students such as her, admissions recruiters from UCLA and other University of California schools visited a growing number of cities outside of the state for the third straight year.

After attending's UCLA's information session last month at the Courtyard Seattle Bellevue/Downtown Hotel, Milioutina said she became certain the school would be a match.

The ramp-up to attract more applicants and students from outside of California -- and the higher revenues they bring in from paying a tuition surcharge of $23,000 on top of the $12,000 to $15,000 that everyone pays -- is surely placing a new cost burden on admissions departments.

UC Berkeley spent nearly $326,000 roping students in from around the world last year. UCLA has not yet fulfilled a public-records request filed three months ago for similar data. The money goes toward travel costs, catering, booking fees for venues and equipment rentals. Overseas events can attract anywhere from a dozen students to several hundred.

Berkeley also spent, among other items, $23,000 last year to run a targeted advertising campaign through Zinch and $5,800 on a breakfast for college counselors in St. Louis.

The schools cite the value of face-to-face interactions to justify traveling to where the students are, even if online communications could serve as cheaper recruitment tools. They say that online information sessions, Twitter chats and other methods of attracting students can only complement direct visits not replace them.

Milioutina said she appreciates that colleges such as UCLA and UC Berkeley are spreading out representatives across the globe.

"This is a chance to talk to a real person that is from there, not just a website, and even if it's not perfect, it's still a great opportunity even if it is only to answer a couple questions," she wrote in an email. "Apart from the boredom during the presentation, I thought it was great that they took the time and money to visit us."

She said she learned a lot that might have taken her more effort to research on her own. Milioutina also praised UCLA's event for being more intimate than a similar recruiting event she attended where five schools had packed  in an overcrowded hotel ballroom. She enjoyed having her questions answered in person from alumni and the UCLA representative.

UC Berkeley's event in a Seattle a year ago cost about $2,500 to put on after $510 for audio visual costs, $950 for catering and $990 to rent space at the Seattle Marriott Waterfront. The school held a second event in April for admitted students that cost about $6,700, including $3,740 for catering and a few hundred dollars to travel to Portland for another event.

Berkeley's freshman class this year includes more students from Washington (96) than any state other than California, with most of them coming from the Seattle region. UCLA drew 24 students from Washington this year, down from a high of 29 two years ago and third to only Texas and California.

Part of the pressure on California's universities to fan out is the keeping-up-with-the-Jones' factor as state universities across the country also see the tremendous value in increasing diversity on campus and boosting nonresident income.

"I don't think it's a surprise to anyone that it's a very competitive environment," said Steve Ritea, a UCLA spokesman. "You can use technology in a lot of very effective ways, but in a lot of ways, there's no substitute to be right there with them engaging about the unique opportunities the university can offer."

Internationally, both UC Berkeley and UCLA maintained their outreach in countries such as China and India this fall.

Among its 20 trips in the past year to Asia, UCLA also expanded outreach in Singapore and South Korea.

After enrolling 10 students from Singapore in the three previous years combined, UCLA enrolled 15 freshman from Singapore this fall, according to preliminary data.

Berkeley representatives, meanwhile, for the first the time visited Thailand and Vietnam and South American countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. A host of European countries visited in 2010 by Berkeley didn't get visited this year, including France, Switzerland and Turkey. Domestically, the campus added Oklahoma City and San Antonio to its schedule along with cities in Virginia and North Carolina.

UCLA is just starting to track how many students who attend out-of-state events eventually end up enrolling. Berkeley reported that the data is already used in determining which cities to visit.

Nearly all of the visits and events are held and paid for independently by each university. While the UC schools hold a handful of systemwide information sessions in California each fall, it's a free-for-all during out-of-state recruiting.

"Each campus has its own vision and plan," said Anne De Luca, an acting associate vice chancellor and the undergraduate admissions director at Berkeley.

The university has tried to keep costs down by holding joint events with about three to four other schools from outside of California when possible.

The recruiting will only intensify the next couple of years as each campus works toward making non-Californians a fifth of their respective undergraduate student bodies.

De Luca said UC Berkeley expects to hit that high point in 2014, a projection reached by subtracting the number of spots the state funds at the university from the number of seats available in classes.

"Because we have a capacity, we're filling those seats with students from out of state," De Luca said.

Officials at both schools noted their out-of-state recruiting programs are in their infancies and that admissions departments are working within their existing budgets to make the recruiting possible.

"We are in a process of change," De Luca said. "We haven't had this focus before. It's important to tell our story in-person."

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