Admissions office targeting Puerto Rico in recruitment of students

Nine states are represented by students matriculating at Penn State New Kensington. For the fall semester, the unofficial “51st state” may be represented as well.

In keeping with Chancellor Kevin Snider's recruiting initiatives, the campus admissions office is making inroads into the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Danielle DeStefano, assistant director of enrollment management, spent spring break in early March in the unincorporated territory of the United States, where she visited high schools throughout the island in cities such as San Juan, Ponce, Myaguez, Caguas, Carolina and Bayamon. 

“Penn State is quite popular and very well known in Puerto Rico, so the name itself is a big draw,” said DeStefano, who joined the admissions staff in 2008. “When students and families hear that a degree at New Kensington is the same as the degree at University Park, they get even more interested in our campus.”

In the past year, the campus’ enrollment has become more culturally diverse, according to Penn State’s annual snapshot count taken at the end of the sixth week of fall semester. A first-year group of international students increased the campus total to six from China, India, Uganda and Ghana. The number of veterans at the campus continues to rise as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars wind down and more military personnel fulfill their service obligations and return to civilian status. Eight states, from California to Texas to Maryland, have sent residents to study at New Kensington. Targeting American citizens from an overseas possession -- Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917 -- seems like a natural fit for the campus.

“Puerto Rican students would provide additional diversity to our student body,” said DeStefano, who earned a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology at the campus. “There is a strong interest in soccer down there, so we may have some potential athletes from there as well.”

Another draw for the campus is the funding opportunities available to the island students. Unlike international students, Puerto Ricans are eligible for financial aid and scholarships. This year, new and returning students at the New Kensington campus earned a total of $293,000 in scholarship money. The campus has 50 scholarship endowments, annual gifts and program awards that funded 183 students this year with an average award of $2,000 per student.

“Because they are considered U.S. citizens, Puerto Rican students are classified as out-of-state students and can receive financial aid,” said DeStefano, a 2006 recipient of the Walker Award, the campus’ most prestigious student award. “This makes the cost of tuition much more affordable to them than an international student.” 

Travelling outside the campus’ traditional recruiting base of the greater Pittsburgh region is becoming a ritual for DeStefano. In November, she journeyed to Toronto to visit 25 high schools in the Ontario province in Canada. Her itinerary included visiting five high schools each day and attending college fairs each night. Future trips are in the offing. DeStefano expects to get a few students from Puerto Rico and Canada for the fall semester.

“Programs like this typically take about three years to grow,” said DeStefano, a native of Washington Township. ”Once we get our first group of students, they will then be able to help us promote the campus by word of mouth back home and possibly bring us even more in the future.”

About Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico, Spanish for “rich port,” is an archipelago comprising four islands in the in the northeastern Caribbean Sea. San Juan is the capital of the main island of Puerto Rico, which is located between the Dominican Republic and the Virgin Islands. The “island of enchantment” is a part of a group of islands that includes Cuba, Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti) and Jamaica that constitute the Greater Antilles.

A possession of Spain for more than 400 years, Puerto Rico was ceded to the U.S. in 1898 as a result of the Spanish-American War. The inhabitants elect their own governor but are not represented in the U.S. Congress, which holds sway over the territory. The 3.7 million Puerto Rican people cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections. 

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Last Updated April 05, 2013