The students who began moving into East Campus Wednesday to begin their Duke experience are as talented a group as any the university has admitted. They're also more numerous “ and not only by the 50 additional students Duke planned to admit to its Pratt School of Engineering.
The latest numbers show the Class of 2009 comprising 1,728 students, a total that may dip slightly in the next several days. Duke's goal was to enroll 1,665. Last year, its incoming freshmen class had 1,638 students.
Duke officials say the discrepancy is small enough to pose no serious problems for housing, class enrollment or other issues. They also say it illustrates Duke's growing popularity among top engineering candidates and the challenges of producing computer models that can precisely predict changes in higher education.
Each spring, as admissions letters go out, Duke and other universities rely on such models to predict how many high school seniors will accept offers of admission and enroll in the fall.
This year, because Duke wanted to increase its undergraduate engineering class by 50 students, it faced new uncertainties in predicting its "yield" rate, said Christoph Guttentag, director of undergraduate admissions.
In the end, Duke accepted 923 aspiring engineering students in the hope of attracting 322 students to Pratt -- a 35 percent yield rate. Instead, 38 percent, or 353 students, decided to enroll in Pratt. Even while admitting more students, the average SAT scores for incoming engineers also rose this year, Guttentag noted.
"Our model couldn't predict as well as it had in the past because we were admitting so many more students," Guttentag said. "We made our best estimate what the yield would be and we were still surprised by the results."
Another probable reason for the better yield, Guttentag said, is the opening of the Fitzpatrick Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering Medicine and Applied Sciences. "We made every effort when prospective engineering students came on campus to show them the terrific new laboratory and teaching spaces in the Fitzpatrick Center, so that may well have had an impact on who chose to come to Duke," he said.
In 2003, Duke's Board of Trustees approved a four-year, phased-in increase of 200 additional Pratt undergraduate students. The expansion, which began this fall, is the first planned increase in undergraduate enrollment at Duke since 1991.
This year's 45 percent yield for the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences was the same as last year. Looking ahead, Guttentag said Duke's computer model will continue to evolve and "will adjust to take into account this year's experience."
The racial makeup of this year's class is 53.6 percent white (compared to 57.5 last year), 21 percent Asian (16.8 percent last year), 9.5 percent African-American (11.5 percent last year), 6.4 percent Latino (6 percent last year) and 0.6 percent Native American (0.1 percent last year).
Guttentag said the increase in Asian students occurred in both Trinity and Pratt. He noted that the number of Asian applicants has increased by more than 50 percent in the last four years, saying "this reflects not only our increase in international applicants, but also the appeal that an increasingly diverse Duke has for all students of color."
The decrease in the percentage of African-American students, Guttentag said, can be traced in part to the fact that the same number chose to enroll in Pratt this year as last, even as the number of Pratt students grew significantly.
"Pratt School Dean Kristina Johnson has spoken on many occasions about the challenges the engineering profession faces regarding the presence of African-Americans and Latinos," Guttentag said. "This is a national issue."
Last year, Duke's 11.5 percent African-American enrollment in the entering class ranked Duke first among highly selective private universities by a considerable margin. "Had Duke been at 9.5 percent last year, the university would still have led all highly selective private universities," Guttentag said.
"Our enrollment last year was by far a record for us," he said. "Even this year's enrollment puts us among the top of the schools we keep company with. We are still very much a national leader in this area."