Top recruiter

Michael B. Sexton joins SCU as the new vice president of enrollment management.

This summer, SCU’s Director of Marketing Margaret Avritt interviewed Sexton for SCM to get a handle on his approaches and philosophy of enrollment management. Here is an edited transcript.When Mike Sexton moved into his office in Varsi Hall this September, he was in familiar territory. A decade ago, his daughter Lauren Sexton Formo ’02 was an undergrad at the Mission campus. Now Sexton has augmented his status as proud parent with a new role: SCU’s vice president of enrollment management, charged with helping chart the course for student recruitment, enrollment, diversity, and financial aid. How he directs these efforts will play a large part in the University’s future success. And it will determine which students will be shaped by—and, in turn shape— the University for years to come.

How do admission professionals go about shaping the incoming class so that it reflects the institution’s goals and mission?

Getting the right information to the right person at the right time. Our identification of potential in students is much more than what their SAT score is, what their grade point average is. GPA is the spongiest number in the world these days. Context is the important part. We get applications here from more than 2,000 different high schools, and we’ve seen every conceivable grading scale and weighting scheme you can imagine.

Top Recruiter Winter 2009

What’s behind the number is more likely to tell us the person’s chances for being academically successful and for flourishing in this kind of a rigorous environment.

How do you figure out what’s behind those numbers?

It’s a very labor-intensive process. It’s curriculum, where the students went to school, what’s been available to them, what they chose to take, how well they did, and what the trend line was like from ninth through 12th grade. All of that can be masked by a cumulative GPA. You need human eyes on this. So there’s a lot of staff time spent looking at what’s behind the numbers.

After prospective students fill out the Common Application and the supplement, they have to ask themselves, “Is there something else Santa Clara should know about me that there wasn’t a blank for?” If there is, they need to get it in their application files—by writing about it in their essay or their short-answer questions.

After we’ve answered whether we can predict academic success for students based on what we see, then we get to ask: How is that student going to contribute to the Santa Clara campus? How is that student spoken of by his or her high school counselor, by his or her teachers? What kind of citizen has that person been? That’s not a formula.

What do you think about rankings as guides in the college search?

That’s an interesting question. Many guides and their websites do contain valuable information—everything from objective data that the colleges report to single student quotes, sometimes taken out of context. Statistics-laden guides are a great place to start, but I advise against letting someone else decide which of those statistics should be most important to you in your college search.

I’m now on a committee for the National Association for College Admission Counseling that is meeting with U.S. News & World Report. We had our first meeting this fall. I went into this letting them know that I’m kind of a skeptic about this. I’m also on the board for the Education Conservancy, a non-profit organization that works to overcome commercial interference in college admissions by affirming educational values and looking more at outcomes.

No one can know the “best” institution for a student unless you know the student. Each student does have to do college research—but each student also needs to do an honest self-assessment before deciding where he/she might want to wake up for the next four years.

Remember, knowledge is power.

Your daughter, Lauren, is associate director of admissions at Eastside Preparatory School in suburban Seattle. How did you experience SCU when she was here?

Probably in a way that no other admissions officer knows. It was a great insight to know her before she got here and then to watch the maturing that took place. Most telling, when she was home on break, or even since she’s graduated, has been hearing her say phrases that didn’t come from our house. They didn’t come from her high school. They occurred from her learning here.

Before she moved to Seattle, where she married Jason Formo ’02, she spent three years in San Jose working with students at a nonprofit called Friends Outside. The work that she did was, in large part, because of exposure to the Eastside Project in San Jose. It resonated with her. We never expected that part of her to blossom the way it did and for her ultimately to choose a career in education.

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