by Chris Killian

On the first floor of the Mandelle Administration Building, Eric Staab and his troops are fighting a kind of Cold War.

With top tier private colleges across the country competing ever more fiercely for students – and their all important tuition dollars – it’s an academic arms race, and Staab, dean of admissions at Kalamazoo College and his nine other staff members are on the front lines, crisscrossing the nation and world touting the uniqueness of “K” to convince students to come to the College for a one-of-a-kind education that ranks among the best in the nation.

“If you lose a student, you lose money,” Staab said simply.

Currently, the top four states from which “K” draws students are, in order, Michigan, Illinois, California, and Ohio.  While the Admission Office does spend more recruiting days in Michigan than in other state, it has, in recent years, been refocusing its efforts in the west and southwest.

About seven percent of students currently enrolled at “K” are from other countries, the highest percentage ever. The top three nations or regions that send students to “K” are China, Jamaica, and Southeast Asia, with the College focusing its international recruiting efforts on Asia and the Caribbean.

Kalamazoo Admissions counselors visit about 500 schools annually.

The decision to develop an all-encompassing strategy to increase the College’s diversity was made about six years ago, Staab said, with the focus on both ethnic and geographic uniqueness on campus.

“You want different kinds of people in your classes,” he said. “You don’t want to rely on only one market.”

Forty percent of incoming freshman in the fall of 2010 were not from Michigan, the highest percentage since the 1970s, Staab said, and 18 percent identify themselves as being U.S. students of color.

“Geographically, ethnically, socio-economically, it’s more diverse than it’s been in a long time,” Staab said.

Still, Michigan “will always be No. 1,” he added.

So, apart from the College’s stellar academic reputation, what does Staab and his recruiters tell prospective “K” students?

There are so many positive attributes that finding a place to start can be difficult, but it helps that “K” is located in an urban area filled with things to do. That makes the College standout among other private colleges, many of which are located in rural areas.

Then there are the impressive facilities on campus, including the recently renovated Upjohn Library Commons and Hicks Student Center. The construction of a new building to house the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership and renovation of Angell Field and its surrounding athletic complex (both to begin in 2011) will add to this impressive list.

The stately Quad adds to the aesthetic beauty, too, Staab said.

“We have a drop-dead gorgeous campus,” he said. “Once we get prospective students on the campus, it’s kind of like an atmospheric pull. They want to come here. There are actually things to do here. Plus, we’re in a city.”

Using the massively successful student body as a marketing tool doesn’t hurt either. About 85 percent of “K” students study abroad and 80 percent complete an internship, Staab said, all integral components of the K-Plan, a recipe for academic and social success that has been a huge selling point for Kalamazoo for nearly 50 years.

“We have so many students that do so much. That’s what distinguishes us in terms of other programs and schools,” he said.

But there’s always more work to do, more student populations across the nation and world to tap into to extol the virtues of a college degree – at “K.”

Professionals from Kalamazoo’s Admission Office work with community-based
It helps that "K" is located in an urban area filled with things to do. That makes the College standout among other private colleges, many of which are located in rural areas.
organizations in urban areas across the United States, such as Miami, Milwaukee and Minneapolis-St. Paul, to break into cultures that don’t traditionally push a college-going mindset.   

In 2008, Kalamazoo became the first Posse Foundation partner college in Michigan. The foundation works with colleges to place “Posse Scholars” – public high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential, but who come from groups that are underrepresented in American higher education and are often overlooked by traditional college selection processes – into institutions of higher education across the nation.

Fifty students from Los Angeles public schools will enroll at “K” through a partnership with the foundation. Starting in 2009, “K” started a plan to enroll ten Posse Scholars each academic year over five years, from the Class of 2013’s matriculation to the Class of 2017’s graduation.

All Posse Scholars enrolling at “K” will come from the Los Angeles Unified School District, the public school system that serves the city of Los Angeles and many other cities and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. More than 72 percent of the district’s nearly 700,000 students are Hispanic, 11.2 percent are black, and 3.7 percent are Asian.

“The more we work to diversify, the more we make ‘K’ even more of a unique place,” Staab said. “This is our mission.”


Dean of Admission Eric Staab (foreground, right) talks with Admission Counselor Emily Yeagley in a “war room” of sorts. Admission professionals set up the Olmsted Room on an “x” and “y” axis of top competitors and annual mailings, respectively. The exercise required the entire floor of the large room, a measure of the fierce competitiveness of attracting students to a four-year residential liberal arts college, and provided a chance for the college to see how it stacks up.

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Chris Boyd on February 2, 2011 at 7:42 am
As a K College grad myself, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my son was applying. We live in Chapel Hill, NC, and I don't remember him getting any marketing materials. He tells me he's always heard good things about K from his friends. Of course, he knows I went there, but I believe it really is more the word-of-mouth factor at work here. Far and wide, when kids think liberal arts, they think of Kalamazoo College.
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