Harding reflects on time at Iowa State

Thaddeus Mast

Marc Harding, Iowa State’s current assistant vice president for enrollment and director of admissions, will be heading to the University of Pittsburgh to become their new chief enrollment officer. Before leaving, he spoke about his time at Iowa State.

“In 1997, I had this amazing opportunity to become director of admissions at Iowa State University,” Harding said. “I spent more time here than any other place, so that almost speaks for itself.”

Harding worked in admissions at several other universities before settling down at Iowa State for the past 15 years. He described one reason why the average stay for a director of admissions is roughly six years.

“It’s a high energy job,” he said. “It requires a lot of creativity and innovation. It’s easy to burn out.” 

Harding said, however, Iowa State has helped him from burning out.

“Iowa State was such an amazing experience for me, professionally and personally, that it has fueled me,” he said. “It’s fueled my creativity and my ability to perform my job. I embraced it, and it embraced me.”

Harding has done well for Iowa State, breaking attendance records in 2011, with current estimates projecting another record with 2012’s incoming class.

“The numbers are the numbers, and they clearly point to great success,” Harding said. “In admissions we want to go out and represent the university in the best possible way and hopefully attract students to the university that become alumni one day. Not just to do it because we’re trying to get students to enroll here but be committed to attracting, recruiting, enrolling and hopefully retaining students who know this is the right fit.”

This is after a significant drop in admissions starting in 2001, when 3,729 new students were accepted, and reaching its lowest in 2004, with just 2,654 incoming students.

“It was a very challenging time,” Harding said. “Enrollment was falling; the number factors were out of our control. Cost was going up significantly. Economic conditions were not favorable.”

After the low in 2004, attendance started to pick up due to new ideas in admissions, such as more marketing.

“Starting in 2004-05, [former ISU] President Gregory Geoffroy asked us to put together a plan in the enrollment services area to increase the class. There were a number of things that happened at that time that allowed us to grow and to continue growing.”

Kathleen Jones, Harding’s direct supervisor since 2003, describes working with Harding.

“Marc’s a delight. I will miss him terribly,” Jones said. “He’s also very good. He’s innovative and visionary; he looks to the future. He is also energetic and fun to be around. He’s very much an ideas person, but also a collaborator. He’s very well known in the field, and he’s a mover and a shaker.”

Harding has done more than just raise overall attendance, however.

“We increased diversity,” Harding said. “I think U.S. minority students comprised 14 percent of our incoming class this past fall, and I think 11 or 12 percent of our transfer class. It’s not something that gets headlined, but in a state that has a 6 or 7 percent ethnic minority, achieving the type of ethnic diversity we’ve achieved takes a real effort.”

Harding also worked to make Iowa State a school where Iowans feel comfortable as well as completing the duties of a land-grant university.

“Iowa State enrolls more Iowans directly from high school to college than any other college on this planet,” Harding said. “We enroll more students from any community college in Iowa than any other college on this planet. We have far more Iowans here than [the University of] Iowa or the University of Northern Iowa.”

These increases are not all due to Harding and his work.

“I’m most proud in representing the incredibly talented and gifted enrollment team,” Harding said. “I have been successful because of the exceptional staff. This team gets to go out and represent an incredible university. Our job is to do it creatively and make sure students are a good fit and try to bring in a class the size the university wants us to. But I can’t tell you how proud I am of the number of Iowans we serve.”

Phil Caffrey will become the interim director of admissions after Harding leaves. The search for a new permanent successor has yet to begin.