Chris Watson, Northwestern’s associate vice president for student outreach and dean of undergraduate enrollment, will step down from his role and retire on Aug. 31.
During his 16-year tenure at the University, incoming classes have grown academically stronger and more diverse.
“Chris has played a critical role in elevating Northwestern to the nation’s top tier of institutions in terms of undergraduate enrollment and in the overall academic quality and diversity of our undergraduate students,” said Provost Kathleen Hagerty.
As the University worked to improve access to Northwestern for traditionally underserved populations, Watson helped lead the way. Under his guidance, Northwestern increased the socioeconomic diversity of its undergraduate student body, boosted enrollment by international students and increased the number of students from Chicago Public Schools by 175%.
During this period, applications for undergraduate admission from first-year and transfer students more than doubled to over 56,000. This year’s incoming class will be the most diverse incoming class in Northwestern’s history.
Approximately 30,000 of Northwestern alumni were enrolled under his watch, including several thousand who were the first in their family to graduate from college.
“After arriving last September, I very quickly came to respect and appreciate Northwestern’s top-notch and highly effective admissions and enrollment team,” said President Michael Schill. “I want to thank Chris for the hard work, creativity and leadership he dedicated to building the operation into what it is today. Even as we are sad to see Chris leave, we can be confident that we are in a position for sustained success.”
Among his many accomplishments, Watson coordinated the transition to a new undergraduate admissions facility that opened in 2014, including hands-on work in all schematic designs and branding for the Segal Visitors Center. His strategic oversight included staffing and all considerations aimed at welcoming 65,000-plus visitors annually.
Under his leadership, Northwestern established hundreds of partnerships with community-based organizations such as QuestBridge and Posse that focus on outreach and access for underserved communities. This led to a significant increase in the population of students from lower-income families, enabling the University to, ahead of schedule, meet its goal of having 20% of undergraduates be Pell Grant-eligible.
Over the past 16 years, Northwestern’s global reach has increased significantly. By expanding international recruitment, Northwestern’s undergraduate student body is now represented by more than 80 different citizenships.
“As I reflect on my time here,” Watson said, “I can say that Northwestern has been the perfect fit for me — both personally and professionally. Our shared ambition has long been to make this community more diverse and elevate Northwestern’s profile by every measure possible. But that goal could not be achieved without the extraordinary effort of our enrollment team and collaboration with so many talented colleagues from across the University.”
Watson came to Northwestern in 2007 from Princeton University, where he worked for seven years as director of admissions and associate dean. Before that, he was associate director of international admissions at Boston University from 1994 to 2000.