Connecting in California

"You're from where?!" This is the response Megan Mahon '12 is used to hearing when she tells people she's from California. She repeats herself, with a smile, because she knows the questions won't end there.

expanding_reach_mahon"Why would you want to come to New York if you live in California?" they ask. But Mahon's answer is polished. "Just because I'm from California, doesn't mean East Coast schools weren't on my list," she explains. "I wanted my time in college to be about immersing myself in a new environment with different types of people. Clarkson gave me that opportunity while also giving me a great science education. I think the question is: why wouldn't I want to come to Clarkson?"

Mahon's experience is not unique. In fact, she will be among 17 Californians at Clarkson this fall, eight of whom are incoming freshmen - a steady trend for Clarkson and for students from beyond the Northeast.

What's interesting about this jump in numbers is that until March 2010, Clarkson's Office of Admissions had no formal outreach dedicated to students in California. This raises another question:  How were Californians finding out about Clarkson?

The answer is simple: word of mouth from over 1,200 Clarkson alumni and friends living in California, including newly elected Chair of the Board of Trustees Thomas Holliday.

"As someone who did not attend Clarkson, I bring an outsider's perspective and can see how Clarkson provides high school students from the West Coast a completely novel experience," says Holliday.  "From the outstanding work ethic that characterizes Clarkson students, to close ties with companies that depend upon Clarkson for talent, to the amazing outdoor recreation, I am in a position to tell, not sell, what Clarkson does best. Clarkson and its students do the rest on their own quite well." 

In an effort to help formally develop an admissions pipeline to the west coast and capitalize on word-of-mouth success, the Office of Admissions created a new assistant dean of admissions position to serve growing interest from California and Texas.

"We've seen the positive results (over 60 applicants this year) that have come about from word of mouth and we want to build upon these efforts," says Jessica Kingston, who was hired in the new position. "In the fall, I will start recruiting in major cities, focusing on top 100 schools, schools known for their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) excellence, and at schools with alumni connections and support."

Aside from Clarkson connections, the Office of Admissions has other reasons for expanding westward. "California is known for its science- and technology-based high schools, so Clarkson is a natural fit for many of those students," explains Dean of Admissions Brian Grant. "Having them on campus provides our community with more perspectives and diversity."

Adds Kingston, "Many times, students just want a different environment than what they've grown up in, which Clarkson provides through its proximity to the Adirondacks and Canada and its academically focused atmosphere."

Also, the recent tuition crisis of higher education in California might make going out of state for college a more viable option for California's students. In December 2009, California's state institutions announced a 32 percent mid-semester tuition increase, delivering a financial blow to current students and creating skepticism in those who were set on attending in the future.

A Rise in International Students

At the same time, Clarkson is also seeing increased interest on the international front. Despite a small decline after 9/11, the number of international students coming to the U.S. for higher education is increasing significantly.

In 2009, over 671,000 international students came to the U.S. for higher education, 62 percent of whom were from Asia. "We've been recruiting heavily in Asia since my position was created in 2005," explains Patricia Perrier, associate dean of international admission.

expanidng_reach_buncha"We actively seek out students in Asia for a few reasons. One is because we know many of the countries are sending more and more students to the U.S. each year. But more importantly, we believe that these students are likely to fit in well with Clarkson's academic environment because they work hard and want to solve complex problems, just like our American students."

One country in particular is China. Thanks to a rising middle class, a governmental push for secondary education and a shortage of high quality institutions to meet the growing demand, the U.S. saw an increase of Chinese students by 60 percent from 2008 to 2009.

"Prestige and future job opportunities are also huge factors for foreign students choosing schools in the U.S., which Clarkson definitely provides them" says Perrier. "And reversely, we love having them here because they add so much to the community and global feel of our campus."

Although Clarkson's recruitment efforts in China have been successful, Perrier isn't putting all of her eggs in one basket as she tries to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to recruiting. "We've been recruiting in China for the past five years and now they're being bombarded by U.S. schools. So we've expanded our focus to countries such as Vietnam," she says.

And she has help from alums too, even if it's an alum meeting up with a prospective student at Starbucks in China like John Rydzewski '91 has done recently.

"Our alums are very involved in international recruitment because many of them work abroad or studied abroad while students," says Perrier. "They make my job easier!"