College addresses enrollment decline


Senior Graphic Designer

College addresses enrollment decline

By Campus Editor

In light of the college’s net loss of nearly 500 students and Columbia’s fall enrollment declining for the sixth consecutive year, as reported Sept. 28 by The Chronicle, the administration is creating plans to combat a further decline. 

Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management Jeff Meece said the new efforts will be a collegewide one including a new admitted students team and better communication with continuing students.

Final enrollment numbers, sent to staff and faculty in a Sept. 25 email from Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden, revealed a  5 percent decrease in total enrollment in the last year—down from 9,442 to 8,961 students. 

As reported Sept. 14 by The Chronicle, the college’s fiscal year 2016 budget, approved by the board of trustees in May, was configured with a projected enrollment of  9,333 students, which the college fell short of by 372 students, according to the final enrollment numbers. Deans met with department chairs Aug. 31 to revise budgets after early projections suggested the target enrollment would not be met. 

Wearden said the revised budgets were based on an updated projection of 8,950. 

“My anticipation is those budget reductions will have to be put in place,” he said.

Vice President of Business Affairs and CFO Michelle Gates said in an Oct. 1 emailed statement that the adjustment for the fiscal year’s budget is on target.

“The budget is not only tightly aligned with enrollment, but it allows the college to continue to invest in institutional priorities, such as classroom capital improvements and initiatives to support student services,” Gates said.

As of press time, Gates did not respond to requests for updated budget figures. A spokesperson for the college said the budget is pending approval by the board of trustees.

The Radio, Audio Arts & Acoustics and Education departments experienced the most significant enrollment drops. The Radio Department decreased 23.15 percent by 25 students, the Audio Arts & Acoustics Department fell 19.32 percent by 120 students and the Education Department decreased 15.70 percent by 12 students.

Four areas of the college increased in size. The American Sign Language Department increased 17.86 percent by 20 students, the Humanities, History & Social Sciences Department increased 15 percent by six students and the Theatre Department increased 5.77 percent by 48 students. The enrollment of students with no department, which includes undecided, at-large or interdisciplinary students, increased 16.06 percent by 22 students.

John Green, chair of the Theatre Department, said the department’s growth was caused by several factors, including its unique concentrations like Comedy Writing and Performance and its network of connections with students, faculty and alumni.

“We have excellent teachers who are excellent advisors,” Green said. “We have exciting programs that people respond to, and we have developed a good alumni relationship.”

Green added he expects the department’s enrollment to rise again next year by looking for programs that have room to grow.

Wearden said Columbia’s enrollment  decrease can be attributed to three events: a seven-year decline of new students—creating a smaller pool of possible continuing students; a need to improve the continuing student registration; and a need to improve curriculum and student services.

Meece said discussions of the new enrollment initiatives will include staff from the offices of Enrollment Management, Student Success and the Provost as well as the Orientation and Registration Strategic Plan Committee.

According to Meece, the college’s yield rate—the number of admitted students registering for classes—is approximately 30 percent, but he would like it to reach 40 percent. He added the college’s melt rate—the number of incoming students who pay their deposit but do not register, which is part of the yield—is close to 18 percent, about double the national average.

Meece said the admitted students team—projected to start next fall—is designed to improve the new and prospective student experience.

“We want to develop a model where it is a seamless experience for these students and their families,” Meece said.

The retention rate for 2014’s freshmen—those electing to continue at the college—is 69 percent, compared to the 71 percent retention rate for freshmen between 2013 and 2014. For incoming transfer students from 2014, retention was 80 percent, compared to the 86 percent between 2013 and 2014, according to the Office of Institutional Effectiveness’s website. 

Meece said the college will also evaluate and aim to improve the registration process.

The college began contacting students who had not registered during the summer, Wearden said, but the process should begin earlier, especially for students with holds.

“[Summer is] too late to help students [who are] struggling with getting themselves registered for a variety of reasons,” Wearden said. “Getting a call from an advisor to help them work through this helps.”

Meece said the college will begin calling campaigns as early as one to two weeks after priority registration ends, but the Office of Enrollment Management will evaluate the best methods for contacting students, possibly including text messages or using collegewide monitors to relay information.

Wearden said the college’s total enrollment decreased, but he was pleased to see new students increase. With incoming freshmen, graduate, transfer and “other” students combined, the total number of new students increased by 74.07 percent—198 students.

“We’re really excited about that because that’s the area we needed to begin turning things around if we want to turn the whole enrollment picture around altogether,” he said.

The Fall 2015 Semester’s freshman class is down .8 percent from last year, but Wearden said it is the strongest academically compared to previous years. The class’s average GPA is 3.26 and average ACT score is 22.9 compared to the 3.25 GPA and 22.7 ACT averages from the 2014 incoming class, according to the website for the Office of Institutional Effectiveness.

This fall, 88 percent of freshmen applicants were accepted—down 1 percent from 2014. The college’s increasing selectivity should also help improve the college’s retention rates, Wearden said, but it can also create a challenge.

“Better-prepared students are more demanding,” Wearden said.  “They have higher expectations of curriculum and faculty. That means we need to up our game in that area.”

Transfer enrollment increased by 32.6 percent to 815 students. 

Wearden said the college’s agreement to accept students from the now-closed Harrington College of Design played a role in the increase, but Columbia would have still seen transfer numbers up 14 percent without it.

Students in the “other” category, which increased 77.3 percent, include Harrington students opting to still receive a Harrington degree, but are taking Columbia courses, Wearden said, adding that  those students have until August 2016 to finish their degrees or will be recognized as transfer students.

According to Meece, the articulation agreements Keri Walters, assistant provost of Academic Services, made with two-year institutions to ease transferring credits largely contributed to the increase.

 “The biggest way we’re seeing [transfer growth] and can have an impact on it is to continue to serve them very well.”

Meece said he anticipates an increase in freshmen and transfer students next year. As new student rates increase, he said continuing enrollment could increase as well, but it will be a longer process.

“Part of the process with current students is provide support and services to provide a higher retention rate,” Meece said. “[Things like] registration, course schedules, advising—all that  will impact [retention]. The things we’re seeing with current student numbers this year, we’ll still have those kinds of challenges in the future because our current student population is smaller than it has been.”