Pre-orientation programs brace for downturn

Economic woes could mean that fewer members of the class of 2013 enroll in the University’s pre-orientation programs.

Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trip co-coordinator Brian Boyle ’10 said the organization is expecting a decline in the number of incoming freshmen who sign up for the August backpacking trips. The recession could prompt some families to forgo the program, which costs roughly $400. Meanwhile, leaders of the University’s four other pre-orientation programs said they are either optimistic about this fall’s numbers or unsure of the possible effects of the downturn.

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“We are bracing for a drop,” Boyle said. “Compared to other programs, FOOT’s relative high cost makes it particularly vulnerable.”

Last year, a record 400 freshmen participated in FOOT, up from an average of 360 in past years. This year, Boyle and FOOT Program Director Priscilla Kellert are decidedly less optimistic.

At $395 and $425 for a four- and six-day trip, respectively, FOOT is the most expensive of Yale’s freshman pre-orientation programs. That cost does not include equipment, although the program does provide backpacks and sleeping bags to those who need them, and offers a subsidy — worth on average $200-$300 — to all freshman participants on University financial aid.

“For certain people a FOOT trip may seem superfluous given the current downturn,”Boyle said.

Only Harvest, a Yale Sustainable Food Project program that introduces students to organic farming, comes close to matching FOOT’s cost; Harvest charges $400 per participant and also offers need-based financial aid. Participation in Harvest rose 40 percent last year, said Hannah Burnett, coordinator of the program, adding that she is expecting a further increase this year.

The three remaining pre-orientation programs — Cultural Connections, Freshperson Conference and Orientation for International Students — each cost around $200.

Monica Weeks, coordinator of Orientation for International Students, said it is too early to estimate this year’s participation figures because there are still months before OIS registration closes.

“We typically have almost 100 freshmen attend,” she said. “I have not had any feedback yet that would indicate student numbers will be down.”

FPC Coordinator Elle Ramel ’11 said the program, which draws about 130 students annually, expects interest to rise this year because “FPC is the shortest and one of the less expensive programs.”

Representatives from Cultural Connections did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In an attempt to bolster numbers, organizers of FOOT said they will be intensifying the program’s promotional campaign. Among the events scheduled will be a party over Bulldog Days, where Boyle said FOOT hopes to use food and games to lure potential participants.

“It’s going to be a shock and awe campaign — we are going to make our presence felt in every bazaar,” Boyle said.

Money will certainly be a consideration for Lauren Croda, an incoming freshman from Richmond, Calif., when she decides which pre-orientation program — if any — to attend. Croda said in an e-mail that it was unlikely she would spend any money on a pre-orientation trip, should she decide to matriculate.

“The recession has created a [flurry] of adverse effects on my family,” Croda said. “As my father has recently started a new business, the economy has caused great hardships for me financially.”

But Jake Eliasberg from San Diego, Calif., said the recession has not affected his plans to do FOOT.

“My sister and her friends did it and really liked it,” he said. “Also, I like to hike, so I’ll probably enjoy it.”

The registration deadline for all of Yale’s pre-orientation programs except OIS is June 8. The OIS registration deadline is June 22.

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