Admissions Reduces Staff, Travel, Will Use The Web for Recruiting

The admissions office has laid off staff, will reduce travel spending by 30–50 percent, and will move much of its communication with students to the Web. The measures will help Admissions meet MIT’s mandated 5 percent budget cut for the fiscal year beginning in July.

The changes came as MIT processed a record-high number of applications to the Class of 2013 in what will almost certainly be a historically selective admissions cycle. This year’s acceptance rate will likely be the lowest ever.

Citing privacy concerns, Dean of Admissions Stuart Schmill ’86 declined to disclose how many staff had been laid off. The office has about 35 employees, although not all work for the entire year.

The layoffs were not immediate: staff were given notice within the last month that they were being laid off. MIT administrators are “offering as much support and help for the staff as we can,” Schmill said.

Were staff given advance warning that layoffs were coming? “It was never taken off the table that layoffs might occur” in discussions about the budget, Schmill said.

“This was a painful decision and was made reluctantly,” Schmill wrote in an e-mail.

Layoffs come during busy season

Admissions staff have been under pressure this spring because of the increased workload caused by increases in applications, Schmill said. MIT this year received about 15,600 applications for the Class of 2013, 17 percent more than last year and almost 50 percent more than applied to enter the class of 2009.

Unless MIT accepts more than about 1,800 students, this year’s acceptance rate will be the lowest ever. Last year’s acceptance rate was 11.6 percent, a record-low, with 1,554 students accepted. 35 more were admitted in May off the wait list.

Applications were level for years but rose dramatically after MIT launched a new admissions Web site in 2004, Schmill said. Applications decreased from year to year for the classes of 2007–2009 but have since risen, overall increasing about 50% from the Class of 2009 to the Class of 2013.

The current admissions staff will be able to absorb the laid-off employees’ workload, Schmill said. “We’re gonna figure out how to become more efficient,” Schmill said, and “we’re gonna figure out how to do things a little bit differently.”

Online recruiting efforts increase

As part of that difference, Admissions is steering its recruiting efforts away from travel to attempts to reach more prospective freshmen online.

To accommodate a 15 percent budget cut, Harvard’s admissions office cut its travel budget in half, eliminating virtually all high school visits, The Harvard Crimson reported on Tuesday.

“We will likely have to cut back our travel as well,” Schmill said. Admissions will likely cut its travel budget by one third to one half, he said.

The cut means that MIT will visit fewer high schools, although “we have done significantly less of that anyway than some of our peers.” But some visits will still happen as part of a “targeted outreach” program.

Although expensive, MIT’s traveling regional information sessions do work. “We’ve always had very, very strong attendance,” Schmill said. “The feedback that we have gotten from the sessions have been very positive … So it does help us recruit.

But “visits to specific high schools have had more mixed results,” Schmill said in an e-mail.

Admissions staff will continue to travel to parts of the US where they think students are not already being pointed towards MIT. Underserved areas, in particular inner cities, will be a focus, Schmill said.

Schmill has already begun the cuts, cancelling a planned trip to New York City to visit spring college fairs. Instead, Admissions has asked alumni in the area to do outreach.

That request may come naturally to Schmill, who before becoming Dean of Admissions was head of the Educational Council, the group of alumni who volunteer to recruit and interview prospective students.

“Leveraging alumni is a great idea … we should be doing it regardless” of budget concerns, Schmill said.

Schmill has other ideas for changing the way students apply to schools. By redirecting travel funds toward a “more robust Web site,” Schmill is staking the future of MIT’s admissions on the promise of Internet community.

How, exactly, could the MIT admissions Web site stand to improve? Schmill said he doesn’t want to change anything about the blogs. But he had in mind “more kinds of Web communications, like video.”

And to cut costs, paper mailings will be largely supplanted by outreach online through the Web.

The Web is “the most egalitarian way to communicate,” Schmill said.

Some spending is still safe

Some recruiting costs won’t be cut.

Recruitment targeted at minority and low-income students will continue with no budget cuts, Schmill said. “We may well enhance some of our targeted recruitment efforts,” he said. Currently, MIT keeps in touch with specially chosen high schools and reaches out to community-based organizations and to local Boston-area schools.

Admissions also funds trips to visit the MIT campus for some admitted students whose financial situation would make it hard to travel. Schmill said he is “fully committed” to supporting those expenses.

In fact, Campus Preview Weekend is not expected to change much, although Admissions will try to make minor reductions to the budget. “It’ll look very much the same,” Schmill said.

And what about recruiting exceptionally high achievers, the so-called “superstars” that MIT recruits aggressively?

Athletic superstars are largely the responsibility of MIT coaches, not Admissions. For music superstars, MIT will continue to connect students with music faculty.

And for other superstars in academics or extracurricular activities, Admissions will largely continue to make special visits to events across the country to attract students such as national competitors in the FIRST Robotics competition or entrants to the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair.

Even as Admissions plans to spend much less to go see prospective students, recruitment travel will be “targeted” and “focused,” Schmill said.

“I don’t think this will have an effect on our ability to recruit the best students,” he said.