PMC Featured in "Dean & Provost" and "Enrollment Management Report"

Commit to mission of increasing access

For most of its 100-year history, Pine Manor College enrolled women who were almost all white and wealthy. But following a decision in the mid-1990s to change its mission, the liberal arts college in an upscale Boston suburb consistently ranks as one of the most diverse institutions in the country.

The trustees and alumni supported the new direction, which grew out of an institutional focus on social responsibility, said President Gloria Nemerowicz.

In 1998, not long after the mission changed, PMC lowered tuition by 35 percent so that it would be more affordable for low-income students. It remains at the low end of costs for private, four-year liberal arts colleges, Nemerowicz said.

To keep tuition down without a large endowment, officials seek revenue streams that support the undergraduate program. For example, the college offers English-language programs, Nemerowicz said.

To recruit students who might be a good fit for PMC, officials visit students at schools and at their churches and synagogues, said Barry Ward, vice president for enrollment and strategic connections.

They also work with access organizations to encourage officials to refer students. Since those organizations mentor students to develop a college-going expectation, the students often are more likely to persist. “We envision them at our graduation four years later being embraced by their family,” Ward said.

PMC officials build relationships with high school teachers and staff in part by providing free workshops in the public schools through the Center for Inclusive Leadership and Social Responsibility, Nemerowicz said.

Recruitment is particularly successful at certain high schools in the Boston area, said Bill Boffi, dean for recruitment and retention. Getting students to visit PMC is the best encouragement for them to enroll. The high school counselors suggested that providing transportation really helps the students attend events, so PMC has arranged that for some occasions, he said.

PMC also hosts admissions days when students can visit campus and get instant admissions decisions. Although the college has also offered instant admissions events at high schools, the on-campus events offer the added advantage of encouraging students to visit, Boffi said.

When officials speak with families, they stress the value of a private liberal arts education.

Once students enroll, they go back to their communities and talk about how much they like PMC and how well their studies are going, Ward said.

Many institutions want to attract low-income and first-generation students, but their admissions standards exclude many students in these categories, Ward said. “Most institutions only address the need and make education available to high-achieving students,” he added. PMC committed to giving more of these students a chance, admitting those who might be “diamonds in the rough,” Ward said.

Once students enroll, retaining them is a priority, Boffi said. “Our success is simple,” he said. Faculty and staff members get to know students and engage with them.

PMC provides academic, financial, social and emotional support, Boffi said. An early-alert system identifies struggling students, and PMC offers a strong learning center.

A financial outreach ombudsperson is available to all students. The ombudsperson, who is not officially part of the financial aid or business office, helps students determine the best way to pay for college, he said.

To share ideas about what works at PMC and elsewhere, the college recently hosted a conference of colleges with similar missions. Institutions that were invited enrolled Pell-eligible students as at least 50 percent of their total students. The students’ SAT average was 1,050 or below. The institutions enrolled 2,000 or fewer students, and their graduation rates exceeded the average for their student demographics.

“We really think a little college in Chestnut Hill can impact on a national level,” Nemerowicz said.