Univ. seeks to attract A.B. Dukes

While the program's website proclaims that the search for Angier B. Duke scholars is an "intense" competition, the University, as it wraps up A.B. Duke recruitment weekend, may be finding that they are the ones competing intensely.

After a disappointing yield last year left the program's Class of 2006 with only 10 scholars, administrators are taking steps to make the prestigious A.B. Duke scholarship program a little more prestigious to high school students. In 2000 and 2001, the program offered 15 scholarships.

"I expect it was a fluke," said William Chafe, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences and vice provost for undergraduate education. "Almost everybody who didn't come went to Harvard [University]."

The A.B. Duke scholarship is the highest award offered to incoming undergraduates. Providing full tuition, the program also gives scholars the option to spend six weeks at New College in Oxford, England. The program routinely turns out Duke's Rhodes, Truman and other scholarship winners. Duke uses the scholarship to lure the best prospective students, who are also often considering other top schools such as Harvard, Princeton University and Yale University.

Two years ago, the program had a very high yield. In 1999, Duke admitted an unexpectedly large class of 18, Chafe said. Noting the volatility of year-to-year assessments, he added that he is not concerned that last year's comparatively smaller class indicates an ongoing trend. "I wouldn't make a one-year experience a pattern," he said.

Nevertheless, administrators decided last year to host a separate recruitment for prospective scholars, and are considering other steps to sweeten the deal for prospective A.B. Dukes to entice them to choose Duke.

Ian Baucom, associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in English, began running the A.B. Duke program this year. He said that as an increasing number of University scholarships--such as the Robertson Scholars Program, now recruiting its third class--are offered, having one weekend for all prospective scholarship recipients has become too difficult because the scholarships emphasize different aspects of the University.

"Spreading out the weekends would let us particularize the experience relative to each program," he said.

Baucom said the program's goal is to offer between 12 and 15 scholarships every year, out of a 200-student applicant pool sent to the selection committee from the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, and he expected this year's crop of scholars to hit that number.

Officials also point to higher overall SAT scores and grades in Duke's applicant pool, thus allowing the University to compete for even more impressive applicants-making the competition for A.B. Dukes more difficult and the yield lower, as students choose from among even more tantalizing options.

"Duke is attracting larger applicant pools every year, so you'd assume that to be the case," Baucom said.

Baucom also said the Class of 2007's A.B. Duke scholars will have an extra fellowship incentive. Currently, A.B. Duke finalists who are not chosen to receive the scholarship but still come to Duke automatically receive Presidential Research Fellowships for summer research. For the first time next year, Baucom said, the program will allow A.B. Duke scholars themselves to apply for and receive extra research funds of around $2,500.

"Over time, it looks as if most, if not all A.B. Dukes will have a very good chance of [receiving funds]," Baucom said. "It lets A.B. Dukes have another summer research experience."

Baucom added that a new intellectual life committee has been established among current A.B. Duke scholars to plan more activities and facilitate interaction among faculty and prospective students.

Freshman A.B. Duke scholar Hirsh Sandesara said that the program takes good care of its students and that he has so far enjoyed being an A.B. Duke.

"Specifically, I liked that it was at once a community within a community," Sandesara said. "A lot of the opportunities it offers are absolutely fantastic. There's the monetary aspect of it. Then there's so much more. We get the chance to study abroad on scholarship, and there's a lot of faculty dinners, a lot of symposia, that sort of thing."


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