Enrollment declines, national average rises


Colin King

Spring 2015 Enrollment

By Campus Editor

While the national enrollment of students at four-year private, nonprofit colleges has increased in recent years, Columbia, like other private colleges in Illinois, has suffered continuous enrollment declines.

The college’s overall enrollment dropped 6.9 percent from the Spring 2014 semester to the Spring 2015 semester while retention rates increased, meaning more students returned between the Fall and Spring semesters this year than last year, according to Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden.

Despite the enrollment decline, college officials are viewing the slight increase in retention to 90.3 percent from last year’s rate of 90 percent as a success, Wearden said.

“I consider that to really be a positive sign of a couple things,” said Wearden. “One is I think it is a sign of the improving quality of our students themselves, and also I think it’s a sign of the impact of our increased financial aid.”

Wearden said 72.6 percent of incoming freshmen last fall received scholarship support from the college—a 12.1 percent increase from the previous year. Additionally, 48.3 percent of all undergraduate students received financial aid from the college compared to 37.8 percent who did in the Fall 2013 semester, Wearden said.

Despite increasing retention, the college has consistently experienced declining spring enrollment for six years.

The 6.9 percent decrease in overall enrollment from last spring occurred because fewer students enrolled at the college in the Fall 2014 Semester, Wearden said. Only 9,442 students enrolled at the college in the Fall 2014 semester, compared to 10,142 enrolled for the Fall 2013 semester, according to data from the Office of Institutional Effectiveness.

The population of college-aged students in the Midwest has decreased, which also impacts Columbia’s enrollment, Wearden said. The total enrollment among all Illinois colleges has decreased by 6.5 percent between the Spring 2012 Semester and the Spring 2014 Semester, according to the Spring 2014 Term Enrollment Estimates report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. While colleges face decreased enrollment rates in the Midwest, the rest of the nation is seeing a different trend. National enrollment among four-year private, nonprofit colleges increased 2.58 percent between the Spring 2012 and Spring 2014 Semesters. 

Three departments in the college saw an increase while the others declined, according to enrollment reports from the Office of Institutional Effectiveness.

The greatest decrease was seen in the School of Media Arts, where undergraduate enrollment is down 10.9 percent.

The main contributing factor in this steep drop is the dismantling of the Marketing Communication Department, which sent marketing students to the Business & Entrepreneurship Department in the School of Fine & Performing Arts, while the smaller Public Relations and Advertising programs merged with the Journalism Department, according to Mirella Shannon, associate dean of the School of Media Arts.

The departments most affected by enrollment decreases within the School of Media Arts were Advertising & Public Relations, Radio, Journalism and Audio Arts & Acoustics programs, which each saw decreases of more than 14 percent in enrollment, according to the enrollment report.

 “The areas of journalism and radio are undergoing a lot of changes in how the media is delivered,” Shannon said. “A lot of schools are in the midst of trying to redefine what the modern day radio station is and the same thing with what a journalist is.” 

However, Shannon said recent changes in curriculum within those departments will start to bring in larger enrollment numbers.

Len Strazewski, interim chair of the Communication and Media Innovation Department, said enrollment has declined in the journalism program because prospective students and their parents lack confidence that those students will find employment after graduation.

“This is a tough time for the world of journalism,” Strazewski said. “The conventional wisdom that people talk about is that journalism is not being held in higher regard by parents, and the belief is that there are not a lot of journalism jobs.”

Strazewski said merging the Journalism and Advertising & Public Relations programs into the new Communication & Media Innovation Department will make the programs more marketable as a 21st-Century education and should attract more prospective students seeking a modern take on the field.

Pantelis Vassilakis, chair of the Audio Arts & Acoustics Department, said that despite a decrease in enrollment, retention within the department has increased.

“This is a long-term outcome of work that has [gone on] for over four or five years now,” Vassilakis said. “The best way to increase retention is to engage students in the classroom and with events and to be able to show the students we know they exist, which we do through advising.”

Elsewhere in the School of Media Arts, overall undergraduate enrollment in the Interactive Arts & Media Department experienced a 6.6 percent increase.

“It is the whole area of technology [that attracts people to the college],” Shannon said. “People perceive those as skills that are needed in the future by everyone, so it’s appealing to a much broader and general audience.”

Within the School of Liberal Arts & Sciences, which saw a 2.4 percent decrease in enrollment, the ASL-English Interpretation Department’s enrollment increased by 12.7 percent since last spring.

“Over the course of the last several months, the ASL program has done some really good outreach in terms of both working with admissions and working with surrounding schools to highlight what the program is and does,” said Suzanne Blum Malley, interim dean of the School of Liberal Arts & Sciences. “I think that work is paying off.”

According to the Census Enrollment Report, the School of Fine & Performing Arts saw a 5 percent decrease. Within the school, the Business & Entrepreneurship Department—which gained students from the separation of the Marketing Communications Department—received a 15.2 percent increase in enrollment.

Philippe Ravanas, chair of the Business & Entrepreneurship Department, said his department demonstrates growth beyond the influx of students from the Marketing Communication Department, noting that more students are enrolled in Business & Entrepreneurship classes throughout the college than in previous semesters.

“We’ve increased from spring to spring by 26 percent in terms of students enrolled in business classes,” Ravanas said. “Twenty percent of this is due to marketing [majors] and 6 percent is organic growth.”

With the 3.3 percent tuition increase for the 2015–2016 academic school year being one of the smallest increases in the last decade and enrollment continuing to decline, Wearden said the college is working to incorporate more alternative forms of enrollment.

“[We are] looking at other areas for enrollment [other than undergraduate],” Wearden said. “Completer students, transfer students, graduate students, international students and students who are interested in online education—all of those things will make a difference in growing our enrollment.”

To combat declining enrollment, the college needs to focus on reaching out to prospective students from regions of the country with larger populations of college-age students, Wearden said.

“We have a search underway for a new Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management,” Wearden said. “We also have a search underway right now for a new Vice President for Strategic Marketing and Communication. I really believe that part of the problem is that we haven’t had really good brand identity and marketing in the city, state and nationally that tells a compelling story about Columbia.”