Retention declines

By CiaraShook

The Columbia community experienced a drop in enrollment this spring that resulted in numerous classes being canceled.

Columbia retained 81 percent of the freshman and 86 percent of the transfer students who enrolled in fall 2009, according to a statement released by the Office of Research, Evaluation and Planning on Feb. 3. These numbers compare to last year’s retention, when 83 percent of transfer students and 88 percent of freshman students who enrolled in fall 2008 stayed for the spring 2009 semester.

Last year’s enrollment of 11,431 students, 9,826 full-time and 1,605 part-time, compares to this year’s enrollment of 10,972 students, 9,532 full-time and 1,440 part-time.

This is the first dip in enrollment the college has seen in three years, as retention had been rising steadily since

spring 2007.

“We knew there would be a decline,” said Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs. “There’s a number of students in the residence halls who left Columbia not because they didn’t like Columbia, but because  the challenge of affording a private college education is becoming more difficult.”

The School of Liberal Arts and Sciences saw an increase of 18 percent, with students enrolled in the creative nonfiction program increasing by 139 percent to 79 students, up from 33 last year. The School of Fine and Performing Arts decreased by 2 percent of enrolled students, but the Music Department increased by 11 percent, with 46 new students.

The School of Media Arts had the largest decrease of 8 percent, with a 14 percent decrease in the Journalism Department, a loss of 92 students.  All of these numbers are compared to spring 2009 enrollment.

Len Strazewski, associate professor and acting chair of the Journalism Department, said there are different factors in the Journalism Department’s drop.

“The economy is the single biggest issue,” Strazewski said. “If the economy were better, Columbia would still be

a bargain.”

Strazewski sites the other two factors as local program competitors such as DePaul University and Loyola University and the current state of the journalism industry.

Kelly said the economic climate “absolutely” played a part in the spring 2010 decline, and does not represent lack of interest in the college.

“We are 43 percent up in new freshmen applications, a stunning number,” he said. “The fact is, interest is very high in prospective students, but then the issue is affordability.”

Louise Love, vice president for Academic Affairs, said the college always anticipates a smaller enrollment in the spring than in the fall, but this spring’s enrollment was somewhat lower than usual.

Love and Kelly have formed a retention discussion group that is held every Monday at  1:30 p.m.

“Our goal [in the retention discussion group is to maximize student satisfaction and success in the expectation that retention will be a by-product of that success,” Love said.

Kelly said one way Columbia could improve retention is to become a highly selective college by changing student characteristics and not taking a chance on students.

“We’re not going to do that,” Kelly said. “Though we are going to be more demanding of students and for the college to make sure they’re ready for what we expect.”