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Penn History

Images in Flux: The 20th Century Development of the Undergraduate Experience at Penn Part 6: Demographic Changes and the Beginnings of Recruitment

This exhibit was created in September 1999 by James Ermarth

Let us briefly examine Penn’s undergraduate demographic distribution in the mid and late fifties. Professional schools predominated over Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences from 1954-1960 in terms of the percentage of students enrolled in either undergraduate professional programs or the liberal arts division. But something interesting occurred in 1957 which the university had not seen since the early part of the century; the undergraduate division of the Wharton School was surpassed by the School of Arts and Sciences in enrollment, with Arts and Sciences at 38% and Wharton with 36% of the undergraduate population respectively. Between 1956 and 1957 Wharton saw a decrease in the percentage enrolled by 5%. By 1960, the School of Arts and Sciences Arts and Sciences had 10% more undergraduate students enrolled in their programs (with 40%) than Wharton (30%).

These numbers do not appear to represent staggering losses to Wharton nor do they suggest decline in the quality of the business program; it was simply that Wharton had to admit fewer and fewer applicants in deference to the image of the University as an Ivy League research institution. Although it was not always evident in the enrollment records of those years (because figures of enrollment fluctuated), the Arts and Sciences program for undergraduates was growing numerically. It was very clear by the end of the transition that Penn had grown in sheer size, but during the actual transformation one incontrovertible fact appeared every successive year: the percentage of the Arts and Sciences division in relation to the total undergraduate body climbed progressively.

The rationale for this increased “selectivity” (in the form of decreased enrollment) in the Wharton School (which represented for the most part, Penn’s old public reputation) and the increase in the undergraduate Arts and Sciences sector was simple: to increase the size of the undergraduate Arts and Sciences contingent. While on the surface that seems an illogical way to approach increasing selectivity and intellectual status, first it was a necessary to have the “critical mass” or sheer size and then begin to become more selective as a college. So Penn set about removing the crucial bits of the old and eminent professional super-structure, in order to build a new reputation as a prestigious Ivy League research institution.

Public relations was another prime strategy for the University to convey its plans to reorganize the core aims. The University, during the 1960s, was flooded with inquiries about recruitment publications and ways to entice the finest academic minds to Penn. These publications (such as “Why Pennsylvania?” developed in 1966) served to promote Penn to potential matriculants. The administration was well aware of the power and purpose of these documents. Perhaps the best assessment of the administration’s goals came from Robert Coryell in his explanation of “Recruitment Publications,”: “Publications are tools, not goals.”

By the late 1960s it is clear from the enrollment records that Penn had completed revamping the whole undergraduate enrollment pattern. The Arts and Sciences division contained a little over 66% of the full-time undergraduate body while the professional schools enrolled the remaining third. The discrepancies in terms of distribution of the undergraduate of 1948-1968 were astounding when considering how established and illustrious certain programs were at Penn. Statistics from that period reveal a brief and calculated transformation within the University.

Distribution of Undergraduate Enrollment

1948 Arts and Sciences: 35% Professional: 65%
1952 Arts and Sciences: 34% Professional: 66%
1956 Arts and Sciences: 37% Professional: 63%
1960 Arts and Sciences: 39% Professional: 61%
1961 Arts and Sciences: 44% Professional: 56%
1962 Arts and Sciences: 49% Professional: 51%
1963* Arts and Sciences: 61% Professional: 39%
1968 Arts and Sciences: 66% Professional: 33%
1972 Arts and Sciences: 65% Professional: 35%
* 1964 enrollments unavailable.

The surprisingly abrupt transformation took place between 1960-1963 during which the percentage of total undergraduate enrollment of the professional schools in 1960 does a “mirror-switch” with the Arts and Sciences division of 1963. During those three years Penn increased its Arts and Sciences enrollment more than two-fold for women and 31% for the men. Now, by the late sixties, the figures of University enrollment were distributed in proportions that were emphasizing the Arts and Sciences programs, Penn could move on to narrowing the gap between itself and the other Ivy League schools based on selectivity and recruitment.

Academic recruiting was a tool in the process of erecting an intellectual image and it was pursued quite seriously. Recruiting received particular attention from the university’s administration in the mid-late sixties and early seventies. A report of the Subcommittee of University Council on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid of 1971 saw three “end results” of the recruiting program at Penn: “First, to encourage students to apply; second, to encourage them to matriculate when they are accepted; and third, to improve public relations for the University on a continuing basis.” During this era, the University sought to enlarge the enrollment of the college but concurrently, admissions and all members of the university also desired a distinguished student body to represent the undergraduate population. In effect Penn had changed its image very rapidly: from an excellent professional curriculum to a liberal arts program for undergraduates.