Yale broadens its national reach

For Lassen Gale ’08, adjusting to the contrast between her native Wyoming and her newfound cramped quarters of Lanman-Wright has been uniquely difficult.

A native of Wheatland, Wyo. — “a really, really little town,” as Gale describes it — she is also the only member of the class of 2008 to come from the nation’s least populous state.

“I’m used to wide open spaces,” Gale said. “This many people this close has been hard.”

While Yale College attracts students from all 50 states, substantial disparities exist among the number of students attending Yale from the different regions of the United States, even though the University currently draws more than ever from outside its traditional New England stronghold. In particular, since the 1970s, Yale has seen a strong increase in the percentage of its freshmen class drawn from the South and the Pacific Coast, while there has been a decrease in the percentage of freshmen from the Middle Atlantic region, including New York, according to a report by Yale’s Office of Institutional Research.

Still, the numbers of Yale students from less populous or remote regions of the country, including the Deep South and the Northern Midwest, have remained consistently low due to both population losses and poor recruiting efforts.

Historically, Yale has drawn most of its students from the New England region, Gaddis Smith, professor emeritus and University historian, said. Its expansion outside of that region has been driven by better transportation — the train and the airplane — as well as the changing patterns of where Yale alumni chose to settle, he said.

“Once you get people who are living in these other places who have gone to Yale they bring the reputation of Yale to their own communities,” Smith said. “Yale started with a very strong New England emphasis and then Yale alumni tended to move due west. You had very strong alumni groups in Cleveland and Chicago and Minneapolis.”

In the latter part of the 20th century however, Smith said, alumni, particularly in the corporate world, have been more mobile. Such mobility broke up isolated enclaves and made students across the entire country — including those from Southern states that were traditionally not well represented at the University — aware of Yale.

But Yalies hailing from areas of the country such as Wyoming, Mississippi, Idaho, Montana and the Dakotas said that Yale’s recruitment efforts in their regions are lackluster and ineffective.

Yale Dean of Admissions Richard Shaw said the admissions office is conscious of the changing population pattern in the United States, and it tries to recruit applicants nationally.

“There are thousands and thousands of candidates all over the country,” Shaw said. “There are tremendous growth spurts in the Southeast and Southwest … We will spread our resources to the extent possible nationally.”

The number of students attending Yale from Florida, the third fastest growing state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost tripled from 1975 to 2004, as the number rose from 14 to 40, the OIR report said. The number of students sent to Yale from Texas and California also nearly doubled. The number from New York, however, declined from 276 in 1975 to 197 in 2004.

Still, students from rural areas say, Yale is hardly considered as an option for many students because they have had no exposure to alumni or admissions officers. Even fewer have friends already in New Haven.

Gale, who did not live close enough to an alumnus to have an alumni interview, said that while a couple of students from her high school had attended Harvard, no one had ever attended Yale.

“In my graduating class, I felt that there just wasn’t a real interest in an Ivy League or East Coast school,” she said. “Because there were so few who did it before, we don’t really see it as an option.”

Amelie Hutchings ’08, from Anchorage, Alaska, agreed with Gale that Yale was “not even on the radar” for college-bound seniors at his high school.

“[Yale] sounds a lot more grand and a lot more exotic [in Alaska],” said Hutchings. “It’s not one of the normal options of where to go.”

Yale does not make intense enough efforts to recruit rural students, including Native Americans, said Raina Thiele ’05, an Alaska native who last year was Yale’s student recruitment coordinator for Native Americans.

When Thiele was applying, she said, she attended one information session in Anchorage run by Yale and a few other colleges. That session, however, was poorly run and unfortunately inaccessible to the many students in Alaska who would have had to take a small plane to reach Anchorage, Thiele said.

“They really didn’t go out of their way to really actively recruit,” she said. “Especially students who live on reservations; these are kind of secluded, rural areas.”

Shaw said while it is obviously more difficult to recruit in areas far from New Haven, his office nevertheless is working to expand Yale’s reach. The recent reforms to financial aid, he said, will help such outreach, as will the ambassador program the Yale College Council and admissions office are planning together. The ambassador program will send Yale students to visit at low-income high schools.

“Clearly the biggest areas of opportunity are in the urban markets,” Shaw said, “but we also make every effort to try to reach smaller cities as well. The secondary markets are often overlooked, and that’s where we’re focusing some energy.”

Smith explained that some of the same national economic trends which have swelled the populations of Florida and Texas have reduced the populations of the northern Midwestern states, making it more difficult both for Yale to reach students from there and for those students to be able to make it to Yale.

“Much of rural America is sad,” Smith said. “Schools are closing down, the little main streets are dead … Is it worth being hard-headed about it and spending $50,000 to send admissions officers up to a very remote place and get one student in 10 years?”

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