College combats low enrollment

By Samuel Charles

After reaching an all-time high in 2008, Columbia’s student enrollment has decreased for the second consecutive year, bringing the total number of undergraduate and graduate students attending at the college to 11,922.

Though a decrease of 542 students in the past two years may not seem like a big deal, the tuition revenue those students would have brought to Columbia totals nearly $11 million per year.

This information, along with other statistics regarding student demographics, faculty, tuition rates and other data is made available through an annual At-A-Glance Report released by the college, which can be found on Columbia’s website.

As fewer students enroll, the number of faculty positions also decreases.

Since fall 2009, the college has ended its professional relationship with 57 part-time faculty members. However, 13 more instructors have been added as full-time faculty during that same period.

“We’re continually trying to add full-time faculty,” said Provost and Senior Vice President Steven Kapelke. “Our full-time faculty is relatively small, given our student body.”

“About nine or 10 years ago, when [college President Warrick L.] Carter appointed me provost, we agreed that one of our priorities was to increase the size of the full-time faculty,” Kapelke said. “That’s in the best interest of all concerned [parties].”

Though overall enrollment is down again, the minority student population among undergraduates is up from 30 to 34 percent, an increase of approximately

415 students.

“We’ve made a commitment over the last few years to increase the diversity of the student body and the faculty,” Kapelke said.

Comparatively, DePaul University has a minority student undergraduate population of 29 percent within a total student body of 25,072, and the University of Chicago has 58 percent within its student body of 14,181.

Not only is Columbia’s minority population increasing, but new freshmen enrollment is also rising, according to the report.

“The freshman class has never been more diverse, based on geography, race and ethnicity,” said Vice President of Student Affairs Mark Kelly.

In the 2009 fall semester, there were 2,158 new freshmen, whereas this semester the college reported a new freshman class of 2,252, an increase of nearly 5 percent.

“We are becoming a first choice college for a lot of students,” said Patrick Fahy, director of Admissions and Recruitment. “The more we can expose communities to what Columbia is and what we have to offer here, we find that students are very interested in Columbia’s education.”

There are also 49 fewer undergraduate transfer students, 253 fewer continuing undergraduates, six more new graduate students, and 19 fewer continuing graduate students.

Fahy said the economic climate is a major factor in the enrollment numbers’ downward trend.

“It’s a very hesitant economy out there,” Fahy said. “People coming back to college have taken on a lot, and maybe by the second year that has hit them a little harder. They’re not able to continue.”

In an address to administration and staff in March, President Carter noted that Columbia has received more applications than any other time in the college’s history.

“It’s not that folks don’t want to be here,” Carter said, “It’s the economy that’s keeping them from being here.”

The loss of so many students would have been more detrimental if not for the rapid growth of the student body between 2005 and 2008. In those three academic years student enrollment increased by 1,622.

The college has taken several important steps to help reverse the trend of dipping enrollment. Four hundred new scholarships based on merit and need were introduced, totaling 1,000 scholarships for incoming freshmen for fall 2010.

Additionally, the Faculty and Staff Scholarship Initiative, which takes donations from faculty and staff and then matches them either one-to-one or twofold, has raised $106,717.23 to help students.

The Faculty and Staff Scholarship Initiative works in partnership with Scholarship Columbia. The program aims to either match or double contributions given to

the school with the intent of helping students in need.

For example, a donation by a faculty member of $100 gets matched exactly by Scholarship Columbia. But if that faculty member is an alum, Scholarship Columbia would give $200.

“We sent out the first letter letting people know about [the Faculty and Staff Scholarship Initiative] last December,” said Assistant Dean for Faculty Advising

Pattie Mackenzie.

“We had an immediate and wonderful response from faculty and staff.”

Recruitment is also an important part in the effort to build a sustained student body.

“We want to continue to do the recruitment that we do each year,” Fahy said. “We want to attract the right students, the right number of students, the right type of students, to Columbia. So we’ll continue that effort and continue to develop the markets that we’ve invested in.”