One year, 900 students lost: Spring enrollment drops again

By Ariana Portalatin, Campus Editor

Zoe Haworth
One year, 900 students lost: Spring enrollment drops again

The most recent enrollment data indicated an 11.4 percent decline in student enrollment from the Spring 2016 to Spring 2017 semesters.

The Spring 2017 report, published on the college’s Institutional Effectiveness site, showed Columbia’s current enrollment at 7,179 students—a loss of 921 for both undergraduate and graduate students since Spring 2016—putting the college at its lowest enrollment since 1991, when enrollment was 7,022, according to the College Archives.

The report, which also tracks the amount of students who return to the college after the Fall semester, showed declines in almost every department. The Science & Mathematics Department reported no change. Columbia lost 941 students from the Fall 2016 Semester enrollment of 8,120 students. The Humanities, History & Social Sciences Department was the only department with slight growth, of 5 more students. The report did not indicate how many students graduated in the fall.

Many department chairs did not respond to The Chronicle’s requests for comment— Design Acting Chair Matt Doherty; Fashion Studies Chair Jeff Schiff; Theatre Acting Chair Peter Carpenter; Cinema Art and Science Chair Bruce Sheridan; Creative Writing Interim Chair Tony Trigilio; Education Chair Carol Lloyd Rozansky; Audio Arts & Acoustics Chair David Worrall; Interactive Arts & Media Chair Joseph Cancellaro; Television Chair Sharon Ross. Radio Department Chair Barbara Calabrese declined to comment.

Departments with the most significant losses from the fall include the Design Department, which lost 95 students, and the Fashion Studies Department, which lost 87 students.

Current enrollment shows a loss of 871 undergraduate students registered for Spring 2017, and a loss of 50 graduate students from Spring 2016. The statistics come after unofficial figures published on the college’s IRIS website during the Fall 2016 Semester showed only 601 fewer registered students for Spring 2017, as reported Dec. 12, 2016, by The Chronicle.

Registrar Keri Walters attributed the unofficial figures from fall 2016 to the college’s 9.4 percent enrollment decline for the Fall 2016 Semester from the previous fall semester.

As reported Oct. 3, 2016 by The Chronicle, the Fall 2016 Semester enrollment showed a loss of nearly 850 students, putting the college at a 20-year enrollment low during its seventh consecutive year of enrollment declines.

Erin McCarthy, acting chair and associate professor of the Humanities, History & Social Sciences Department, said she could credit her department’s enrollment increase to initiatives within the department designed to benefit students’ experience, including providing additional course time slots.

“I’m hoping that’s why we weren’t hit as hard, that students didn’t have as many reasons like, ‘Oh, I couldn’t find anything that fit my schedule,’” McCarthy said. “I feel that we’ve addressed a lot of issues that might turn students off or be a reason they wouldn’t find us as accommodating.”

McCarthy said although the college’s enrollment has continued to decline, she is still hopeful that the college will be able to make a turnaround.

“It is not easy for anyone to see enrollment decline,” McCarthy said. “But I think the administration [is] paying a lot closer attention to keeping students here. There’s encouraging signs that we’ve turned the corner with entering freshman classes, but it’s not easy managing and figuring out how many sections to offer and getting that right.”

According to a March 1 statement from college spokeswoman Anjali Julka, the college always sees the most significant increase in new student enrollment during Fall semesters, and the college anticipated the Spring 2017 numbers.

Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden declined to comment on the drop.

“At all colleges and universities, there is a certain amount of expected enrollment attrition from Fall to Spring,” the statement said. “Given the Fall 2016 enrollment numbers, the Spring 2017 enrollment numbers are on par with the college’s expectations.

Additionally, continuing students registered for Spring 2017 at a rate of 88.3 percent, which is consistent with the same rate from last year.”

The administration declined to answer additional questions including ones on the spring 2016 to spring 2017 comparison and whether enrollment will be reflected in a tuition increase.

Although she said the enrollment numbers are a concern, McCarthy said there could be a few reasons why higher education institutions in America are experiencing declines.

“The baby boomers aren’t having kids anymore, [so] demographically there is a smaller pool of 18- to 22-year-olds, and every institution— with some exceptions—[is] struggling with it,” McCarthy said.

The American Sign Language-English Interpretation Department reported a loss of approximately 17 students from the Fall 2016 semester but overall, the department saw a 6.7 percent increase in enrollment from the Spring 2016 semester, according to the report.

While the loss of students from Fall 2016 to Spring 2017 was small for his department, Department Chair Peter Cook said he is not concerned about the loss of students.

“It’s just a matter of students graduating and as those students are graduating, there’s a healthy number of transfer students and traditionally, we have a smaller number in the spring than we do in the fall,” Cook said.

Junior audio arts & acoustics major Nicki Rulk said she was not surprised by the declining enrollment and attributed it to the cost of attending the college.

“I can see why because, as a commuter, I doubt anyone wants to wake up early to commute here, not to mention tuition is really high,” Rulk said.

Rulk added that the college can work to retain its current students and increase enrollment by lowering tuition, increasing advertising and investing in the needs of each department.

“The studios aren’t really up to par to other studios [and] the school isn’t investing in certain program needs,” Rulk said.

As reported Sept. 19, 2016, by The Chronicle, a rebranding campaign, costing $686,500, was launched to increase enrollment and national brand awareness but was met with mixed reviews from students and faculty.

Sophomore fashion business major Savannah White said the enrollment drops for the Fashion Studies Department, one of the college’s highest, are understandable because Columbia is not well known for the department.

“I can see it happening with a lot of students that might want to go to a school that’s more focused on fashion,” White said.

White said the enrollment declines were concerning, but ultimately based on students’ individual experiences.

“It’s a little unnerving,” White said. “I really like Columbia so it’s kind of sad to see that there are people that are leaving or don’t feel like enrolling in our school. At the same time, it’s an individual kind of thing.”

White added that the college should offer more opportunities for students to be engaged with cities that are more involved with fashion to retain their students.

“[Chicago isn’t] necessarily a fashion capital yet, even though we have the potential to be,” she noted. “For Columbia itself, if they had more opportunities in relation to New York or L.A. that have more of a fashion scene, that can encourage students to want to pursue fashion with [Columbia].”

McCarthy said it is important for the college publicize its unique qualities in a competitive higher education market.

“Chicago is a very attractive destination for students, and we have to make sure that what we can offer that other institutions can’t—we have to make sure that is getting out,” McCarthy said.

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