Nondorf to lead admissions office next year

“As an admissions office, you should never go to work at a school that you don’t have respect for and want to represent,” Nondorf said. “Very quickly you are able to articulate and even brag about what an amazing place it is.”

By Michael Lipkin

Jim Nondorf will replace Michael Behnke as vice president and dean of college admissions and financial aid July 1, President Robert Zimmer announced last month. Behnke has served as the head of admissions for 11 years.

Nondorf, currently in his third year as vice president for enrollment and dean of undergraduate and graduate admissions at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), also served as director of student outreach and associate director of admissions at Yale for six years.

Nondorf, who interviewed with students, faculty, senior administrators, and trustees before being offered the position, will visit the University next week and throughout the quarter to study up on campus culture and admission policies.

“[I’ll] spend time with the staff to dive in and start immersing myself on how things are done and start bouncing ideas,” Nondorf said. “I am also trying to get the technology stuff down as quickly as possible [since application reading is done online], then get up to speed on our general outreach activities.”

While he hasn’t had much first-hand experience at the University yet, Nondorf said that he prides himself in being able to communicate the values of a school to student, parent, and faculty communities.

“As an admissions office, you should never go to work at a school that you don’t have respect for and want to represent,” he said. “Very quickly you are able to articulate and even brag about what an amazing place it is.”

Nondorf will appoint the next dean of college admissions to replace Ted O’Neill, who announced last month he would become a full-time professor next fall.

Nondorf graduated from Yale with a degree in economics before receiving his master’s from Valparaiso University. He initially entered the technology sector, founding and running publicly traded Internet start-ups. He integrated some of this background into his admissions work, creating search tools and Web sites for admitted students. Vice President for Strategic Initiatives David Greene, who led the committee that recommended Nondorf, said that the main criterion for the post was someone with senior admissions experience who “could get very positive results for their institution.”

Nondorf led several initiatives, both at Yale and RPI, to favorably increase admissions statistics.

“Yale was struggling in yielding some of what I would call very, very top students who we knew would get into every school they had applied. We devised a likely letter process which let students know how impressed we were with their accomplishments early on [before official decisions].”

An accompanying on-campus program that introduced prospective students to faculty increased yield of those students from 10 to 34 percent. At RPI, the school’s president set goals for more gender balance on the male-dominated campus.

“One of my prouder achievements has been…attracting the largest number of women and yielding three of the largest classes of women in the school’s history,” Nondorf said. “I can’t give away all my secrets here,” he said, “but sometimes it’s as simple as visiting more all-girl schools, for example…It’s more subtle things too, like what pictures you use [in promotional material].”

Greene told the Maroon last quarter that a key test for Behnke’s replacement would be the ways in which candidates spend their free time. “I was told time and time again that he spent an awful lot of time attending lectures, musical events, and other campus events, and brought admissions officers to those events. He was engaged in the fabric of student life,” Greene said.

Greene added that he was particularly impressed with Nondorf’s ability to channel an institution’s values to prospective students.

“At Yale, he was the first person to lead the outreach program, and to think about the way the admissions office projects their image,” Greene said.

Behnke, who announced he would be leaving in September, led an admissions office that saw an increase in almost all relevant statistics, including a 124-percent increase in applications. He also led vigorous outreach efforts that greatly increased the University’s name recognition among high school students. Despite these strides, Behnke said his successor would face several challenges.

“We still attract only half the number of applicants that peer institutions attract. And while our yield…has increased even while the quality of the students we are trying to attract has also increased, that yield [can] be improved further,” Behnke said in an e-mail interview.

To Nondorf, these statistics are important performance indicators to an admissions office, though he said it is not the only method.

“They signify that what you offer as an institution is valued. It’s a great way, but not the only way, to measure the success of your outreach and the perceived value of your [education],” Nondorf said.