I called myself a pseudo-poet. With a degree in mathematics from MIT, I did not fit the traditional image of Stanford GSB poets who needed a little refresh on their math skills. Instead, I came from the nonprofit, education sector, which meant I was definitely out of my element among classmates from the consulting, tech, and finance industries. My motivation for being there was to build my toolkit of business and organization management skills and apply them to higher education.
Early in my professional career, I dedicated myself to improving college enrollment and access. I’d chosen a path to support students on their road to college and inspire them to reach higher for opportunities beyond their imagination. I desired to be a change agent and make a lasting impact by removing barriers.
As a former high school teacher and admission officer, I came to realize that one could catalyze change on multiple levels — one-on-one between individuals, at the institutional level, or on a much larger state or national scale. This was never more true for me than when I took a role at the College Board on their corporate strategy team. We focused on K-12 and higher education market trends and student achievement at the macro level. We studied the complexities of state-by-state education policies and the challenges those variations imposed on setting and achieving national benchmarks.
When the vice dean, director of strategic planning position came open at the University of Pennsylvania, I knew I’d found the perfect job for me to return to a college setting. Little did I know that when I set out to conduct a proper strategic plan for the Penn Admission Office that the work would result in fundamentally changing the admission profession at over a hundred campuses and counting.
The key finding of that strategy project was that despite steady gains, Penn’s application growth rate was lagging its peers. The other reality was that its antiquated holistic evaluation process was well over maximum capacity and was simply unsustainable. We set out to develop a fair and equitable evaluation approach that leveraged technology and reduced redundancies. Committee-based evaluation (CBE) was born, ensuring that each application would be read and analyzed by two admission officers simultaneously, thus reducing reader bias and providing daily professional development of younger staff.
Despite being a great competitive advantage for Penn, we shared the CBE concept with other institutions, which transformed the lives of admission professionals around the country and ensured that every applicant to those institutions had a thorough discussion and analysis of their qualifications.
After Penn, I moved to Rice University in Houston, where I kicked off my role as the vice president for enrollment by conducting a proper strategic plan. We found that Rice offered everything high-aspiring college students desired, but realized that we could significantly increase interest in the university if we were to simplify and clarify how affordable a Rice education could be for low-, middle-, and upper-middle-income families.
At the same time, Rice alumni were pleased with all that the university was doing for low-income families but implored us to do more for middle-income families. From this came The Rice Investment (TRI), which communicated up front with families what financial aid they would be eligible for, using familiar terms like “income” and “tuition.” Families earning less than $65,000 would get close to a full ride, families earning between $65,000 to $130,000 would get a scholarship to cover tuition, and families earning between $130,000 and $200,000 would be eligible for a scholarship to cover half-tuition. This simplified approach to communicating our aid packages sent a ripple through the financial aid industry and has inspired other universities to follow suit.
From poet to strategist to game-changer, I look back now at my Stanford GSB experience and can see how it equipped me with the tools to make an impact on education, students, and professionals beyond anything I could have imagined.
— Yvonne Romero DaSilva