Retiring associate provost improved diversity, selectivity

Amy Hamblin

Rebecca Dixon, the only associate provost for university enrollment in Northwestern history, will retire this June after 17 years of working to increase the selectivity and diversity of the school’s applicant pool, officials said Wednesday.

Dixon oversaw the growth in freshman applications to 15,649 this past year from 11,458 in 1988. NU’s intellectual quality of incoming students also improved, with the average SAT score jumping to 1398 for this year’s freshman class from 1320 in 1993.

“We have had 17 years of increasingly strong figures,” said F. Sheppard Shanley, senior associate director of admissions. “The data that has come out shows the truth that many aspects of undergraduate admission have improved.”

Provost Lawrence Dumas said he will begin a national search for Dixon’s replacement “soon.” The associate provost for university enrollment oversees undergraduate admissions, financial aid, the registrar’s office and the information systems office.

“Our goal is to conclude the search in the spring so the person can start in the summer and pick up the baton from there,” Dumas said.

Dixon said she was initially drawn to NU when an administrator offered her the newly created position of associate provost for university enrollment. She said she saw that the position would give her a chance to improve NU’s academic standing.

“It has been fun because we don’t have the sense that we have arrived and we just sit around being content,” said Dixon, adding that she has enjoyed seeing NU’s academic reputation gain more prestige over the years.

She counts NU’s improved student diversity as one of her most important accomplishments. Asian-American enrollment has increased from 11 percent to 16.5 percent, whereas Latino enrollment has grown from 1 percent to 6.4 percent. However, black enrollment has slightly decreased during her tenure.

“We have a great variety of students here,” Dixon said. “It is interesting to try and keep that balance.”

Dixon said she always placed financial aid at the top of her priorities. Despite rising costs, she ensured NU upheld its tradition of meeting students’ full demonstrated financial need. The university disperses more than $112 million annually in financial aid.

Shanley said Dixon’s expertise enabled her to create a more economically and ethnically diverse student body.

“Her long experience in admissions at different institutions and depth of knowledge when she came to Northwestern was invaluable,” said Shanley, of the admission office.

Before coming to NU, Dixon worked at other admission offices and also served as the executive director of College Board’s regional office in Evanston.

After 43 years of working in higher education, Dixon said she is ready to close that chapter of her life. The self-described workaholic said she plans to be more active in the Chicago Architecture Foundation, leading tours as a docent.

She intends to travel more frequently and to more exotic places. The Galapagos Islands, Australia and New Zealand top her list of destinations.

“I want to retire while I am still in good health,” said Dixon, who made the decision to retire more than a year ago. “There are a lot of things I want to still do.”

Reach Amy Hamblin at [email protected]

On Dixon’s watch

In the 17 years Rebecca Dixon has worked in admissions, NU has become more selective and diverse.

1988 2004

Freshman applicants 11,458 15,649

Admission rate 40% 33%

International students 2% 5%

Source: University relations