How 3 Colleges Are Trying to Remedy Enrollment Woes

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The sectorwide drop in undergraduate enrollment over the previous decade isn’t taking place on each campus. However for some — significantly small personal establishments, public regionals, and neighborhood faculties — the declines have usually been acute. Right here’s how three such establishments have felt the results of sliding enrollment, the alternatives they’ve made prior to now, and the way they’re hoping to halt the downward pattern.

Like many small personal faculties, Fontbonne College has needed to adapt to outlive.

A Roman Catholic establishment of 955 undergraduate and graduate college students in Clayton, Mo., which borders St. Louis, Fontbonne was as soon as a ladies’s school. That modified within the Nineteen Sixties.

Extra lately, as Fontbonne has confronted enrollment declines, it has tried different techniques. Reducing workers. Including educational packages. Buying (then promoting) land. It has even began an uncommon soccer program.

The pandemic had a sobering impact on scholar numbers: In 2021, Fontbonne’s freshman-class dimension dropped 35 percent, and general enrollment fell by 14 p.c. Quinton Clay, vice chairman for enrollment administration, advertising and marketing, and communications, mentioned that the lack to recruit college students in individual performed a big function. An on-campus go to “is without doubt one of the strongest drawing playing cards for college kids and households to decide on this establishment,” he mentioned.

However Fontbonne’s challenges are usually not new: From 2006 to 2016, undergraduate enrollment dropped by greater than 45 p.c, with the variety of Black college students declining by practically 75 p.c for a part of the identical interval. Fontbonne, like different small faculties, is just not on the “sturdy endowment finish of the spectrum,” Clay identified, so it depends on tuition for a lot of its income. (The college’s endowment stood at $16.8 million, in line with its 2021 monetary assertion.) For at the very least the previous two years, Fontbonne’s core operations did not generate positive revenue; it relied on pandemic-related government relief funds to complete its 2021 fiscal yr within the black.

In 2020 the college submitted petitions to the Missouri lawyer normal and gained entry to just about $5 million price of donor-restricted endowment funds for scholarships. In 2018 the college laid off 27 employees — or about 10 p.c of its work power — to avoid wasting $1.3 million yearly. These reductions have been enacted below the earlier president, and Nancy H. Blattner, who took over in July 2020, said she doesn’t anticipate making any more staffing cuts. Under the previous president, Fontbonne also bought a former high-school property for $20 million to create athletic fields and adult-education lecture rooms. Fontbonne bought the property in November 2021.

“We’re investing all of our assets and vitality into the Clayton campus as a substitute of dividing it between two areas,” Blattner mentioned. “That was one other president’s dream, and he was entitled to that, nevertheless it wasn’t mine.”

Blattner has a distinct imaginative and prescient. A part of it nonetheless includes athletics — however facilities on a particular type of soccer group.

It’s referred to as dash soccer, a weight-restricted model of the game, by which gamers should weigh 178 kilos or much less to be eligible. Blattner mentioned Fontbonne would construct as much as recruiting 80 males to play on its group.

Before Blattner became president of Fontbonne, she led Caldwell University, in New Jersey. Under her leadership, Caldwell joined what was then considered the only sprint-football league in the United States.

“It brought more diversity to campus. It brought a gender balance because, like Fontbonne, Caldwell also began as a women’s college,” Blattner said. “The student vibrancy on campus around the football team was really exciting. And frankly, it attracted our alums and even some donors that were willing to give to football that hadn’t been interested in participating in that way.”

She wanted to employ the same strategy when she arrived at Fontbonne, but the sprint-football league that Caldwell belonged to included only teams on the East Coast. “We’re a thousand miles away,” Blattner said. “So it was really impractical to think we could drive.”

So she decided to start her own: the Midwest Sprint Football League. It has six faculties able to compete this fall, and others have contacted her to hitch in 2023.

Blattner expects that 40 to 45 men will come to Fontbonne to play sprint football this fall. “Frankly,” she said, these students “would not be here for any other reason except they want to continue to do something that they excelled at in high school, but they’re simply, through their stature, not able to compete in a D-I, D-II, D-III, or NAIA school on a regular football team.”

But sprint football is just one of many ways the university is trying to raise enrollment and revenue.

Illustration showing a tiny college diploma

A particular report on the implications of the enrollment contraction.

Fontbonne adopted a test-blind admissions policy for this fall’s incoming freshmen, making it the only college in Missouri to take action, in line with FairTest, a bunch that seeks to curb inequities associated to standardized testing. Clay mentioned the college had its second-largest applicant pool for freshmen — however he mentioned it could be “untimely” to provide particular particulars on whether or not that may translate into a rise in enrollment. The policy is about greater than enrollment anyway, Clay mentioned. “Eradicating limitations when it comes to college students doing the legwork,” particularly first-generation college students, is “actually, actually crucial and essential.”

Fontbonne can be restructuring its educational choices to draw extra college students. A criminal-justice main is awaiting approval from the college’s accreditor. And the college will start providing an undergraduate nursing program within the fall of 2022.

“We attempt to meet the wants of what the scholars are excited by learning, and people issues change over time,” Blattner mentioned. “It’s an evolution.”

In line with Blattner, the prices for the nursing program and the dash soccer group are lined by alumni donations. (When requested concerning the particular prices of the packages, Clay declined through e-mail to supply the main points.)

Blattner additionally believes the longer term for larger education, particularly for smaller faculties, lies in partnerships. Within the fall of 2021, Fontbonne started providing its graduate program in speech and language pathology at Avila College, in Kansas Metropolis, Mo. In 2023, it would do the identical with St. Catherine College, in St. Paul, Minn.

“Once we’re small, we don’t must reinvent the wheel,” Blattner mentioned. “We will share what we have now with different establishments, and college students in each places can profit.” —B.H.

Enrollments at many public regional faculties throughout the nation have been declining for years, and Adams State College isn’t any totally different. On the open-admissions Hispanic-serving establishment in Alamosa, Colo., undergraduate numbers have dropped by practically 24 p.c over the previous decade, although general enrollment has remained regular due to the college’s on-line graduate packages.

Unlike many regional public colleges, though, Adams State is located in an area of the country that’s growing rather than shrinking. Colorado and Alamosa County have seen will increase of their inhabitants, in line with the newest census information. The school’s struggles with low retention and commencement charges, and competitors from different public establishments, have made it tough to maintain the scale of its scholar physique. The decline has had different results: Adams State eliminated 27 positions to cut back personnel prices by $2.2 million in 2018. Many of the reductions have been voluntary, although 9 individuals misplaced their jobs.

The school hopes to discover a resolution by hewing near the mission it shares with many regional public faculties: to broaden entry to postsecondary education, promote fairness, and act as “stewards of their native communities,” mentioned Cecilia M. Orphan, an associate professor of higher education at the University of Denver and director of partnerships for the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges, which classifies Adams State as a rural-serving establishment. It’s attempting to stave off additional enrollment declines by recommitting itself to the area people and the scholars it serves.

“We have now an obligation to do issues effectively, not simply to our college students, which is our high precedence, but in addition to our neighborhood, our regional neighborhood, which is so depending on us with regards to driving the economic system, offering employees, being a supply of tradition, leisure, education, and the like,” mentioned David A. Tandberg, who was recently appointed to a one-year interim presidency after serving on the university’s Board of Trustees. “So we’ve got to figure this thing out.”

The interim presidency came with the condition that whoever was appointed would not be eligible to become the next president. Tandberg said that limitation is freeing because it allows him to focus on the issues the university faces instead of campaigning for the permanent job.

The biggest obstacle to enrolling more undergraduates may be the competition Adams State faces from other colleges. “We’re in a particularly competitive marketplace where the flagship research universities tap into our markets,” he said. “They’re very hard to compete against.”

Tandberg, who was previously senior vice president for policy research and strategic initiatives at the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, said the university needs to create better partnerships with local community colleges and high-school districts. High-school students, he said, need absolute clarity on what it takes to go to college. That means removing the bureaucracy that often comes with applying.

“In the San Luis Valley, we can literally tell every student that is going to graduate from high school that they’re admitted to Adams State,” he said. “All you got to do is complete. I don’t care what your grades are. You’re admitted to Adams State.”

Illustration showing melting composition books

Delcan & Co. + Danielle Del Plato for The Chronicle

Increasing enrollment, though, is only one step. The university has a 59-percent retention rate and a 38-percent graduation rate, which it is seeking to improve by better supporting students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college. Recently, Adams State has bolstered its student-success efforts and changed academic offerings. It has created broadly focused “metamajors,” reshaped the curriculum, and made the experience for students more inclusive.

As the student body has grown more diverse — 36 percent of Adams State undergraduates are Hispanic, and half come from underrepresented groups — it became clear to faculty members that the curriculum needed to reflect the students, said Matthew Valverde, an associate professor of voice and the project director for Title V grants at the university.

With funds from the federal government and buy-in from the faculty, the Adams Experience kicked off in 2020. The project includes a first-year seminar, eportfolios, capstone projects, reflections after courses, and more, to help students find their community on campus, understand the real-world uses of their education, and have a place to display to potential employers what they have done in college. The Adams Experience also created more internships for students and a peer-mentoring program.

“We’re really focused on, once the students are here, holding onto them and making them feel uplifted and feel affirmed,” Valverde said. “And of course, to learn a lot and have a really good experience all over our campus and throughout the Valley.”

The university has also created “metamajors” to bolster some of Adams State’s programs that weren’t recruiting well and give students more interdisciplinary options, said Colleen M. Schaffner, chair of the psychology department and director of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Schaffner oversaw the development of two metamajors in the social sciences, one focusing on prelaw and the other on forensics.

Ideally, the two new majors will enable fewer students to enter the university undeclared and ensure more of them don’t lose credits toward their degree if they switch majors. While it’s too soon to determine how these changes will affect retention, Schaffner has seen encouraging signs, like students in metamajors being in more-frequent contact with their peers in the program. The changes have also helped attract some students to the social sciences, she said.

Ultimately, Adams State will be judged on how well it achieves its mission, “to supply equitable entry to education for all,” which is a part of what drew some directors and college members there — college members like Charles Nicholas Saenz.

“Being Latino myself, I used to be actually enthusiastic about that concept of working at an establishment that was not nearly analysis, however actually leaning into educating the subsequent technology and offering a public service,” mentioned Saenz, a professor of historical past and president of the School Senate. “It wasn’t nearly producing wealth however really cultivating a complete inhabitants to succeed.” —W.M.

It’s no secret that the enrollment plunge of the previous two years has hit neighborhood faculties significantly laborious.

Enrollment within the sector had decreased by greater than 16 p.c as of the spring of 2022, with students of color accounting for most of the drop, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. More recently, as inflation and the cost of living have risen, people who might otherwise attend community college are focused on finding jobs to cover their immediate expenses. That’s why many of the institutions are making support services more available and conducting outreach to keep their enrollments up.

Take Quinsigamond Community College, in Worcester, Mass., for example. Quinsigamond experienced an 18-percent drop in head rely from 2014 to 2021.

The enrollment decline, mentioned Luis G. Pedraja, Quinsigamond’s president, has resulted in misplaced income for meals distributors and the campus bookstore. The school additionally laid off at the very least 12 part-time and full-time workers on the Youngsters’s College, Quinsigamond’s early-childhood-education lab college, in the course of the summer time of 2020, although they have been later rehired, in line with the Massachusetts Lecturers Affiliation.

To fight the decline, the faculty has targeted on retaining its current college students by bolstering help companies: hiring a career-success counselor, making extra mental-health assets out there, and spending extra on its meals pantry.

“We really feel like we’ve gone from simply being an academic facility to being extra of a middle for serving the neighborhood normally by means of social companies, in addition to education,” Pedraja mentioned.

The meals pantry has expanded each in dimension and within the quantity of donations it receives because it began, in 2018, mentioned Terry Vecchio, dean of scholars. It serves 451 college students, making it one of the closely used pantries within the space, she mentioned.

Vecchio mentioned the pantry had obtained grateful letters and emails from members of the neighborhood and from college students who’ve mentioned that the pantry’s companies allowed them to focus extra on their lecturers as a substitute of worrying about the place to seek out the subsequent meal for themselves and their households.

“It wasn’t uncommon for our college students to be struggling previous to Covid,” she mentioned. “Throughout Covid, it was far more difficult for college kids to get their fundamental wants met.”

The pantry has additionally served as a central useful resource for different companies and referrals the faculty can present. Employees members have provided entry to a legislation workplace that helps college students with housing or immigration legislation, or to financial-literacy courses to show college students the right way to handle their cash. Vecchio doesn’t anticipate that funding for the pantry will disappear if or when enrollment improves; the wants that the meals pantry seeks to fulfill existed earlier than the pandemic and have solely been exacerbated because it started.

“This isn’t a difficulty that’s going to go away for faculty college students,” she mentioned.

It’s too quickly to inform if Quinsigamond’s efforts have had an impact on retention. Between the autumn semesters of 2019 and 2021, the retention price held regular at 50 p.c, although that represented a four-percentage-point drop from the earlier two years.

To make sure, Quinsigamond can be pursuing more-traditional avenues to bolster enrollment, together with conducting focused outreach by means of ads at barbershops and the native division of motor autos.

However the concentrate on offering social companies to shore up enrollment is an “wonderful” use of assets, mentioned NT Izuchi, president of Quinsigamond’s School Senate. He’s watched meals insecurity run rampant for the reason that pandemic hit, he mentioned.

“I’ve been within the classroom for about three a long time, mentioned Izuchi, a professor of laptop programs and engineering know-how, “and I’ve by no means seen the kind of challenges we’ve seen prior to now two and a half years.”

In some methods, neighborhood faculties in Massachusetts looking for to reverse their enrollment drops are combating an uphill battle, mentioned Nate Mackinnon, govt director of the Massachusetts Affiliation of Group Faculties. Many residents, he mentioned, select to go away the state after they attain their 20s due to the excessive value of residing.

“It’s not the fault of neighborhood faculties in Massachusetts or wherever else within the nation,” Mackinnon mentioned. “Reasonably, it’s very a lot a results of exterior forces that our college students are confronted with, choices they must make, when it comes to how they prioritize their time and vitality.”

However neighborhood faculties aren’t with out selections, both. Mackinnon mentioned that most of the state’s neighborhood faculties are making funds for short-term certificates packages a precedence.

Quinsigamond has invested $2.7 million in Massachusetts work-force-development grants in packages like the faculty’s free “fast-track expertise academy” which gives job coaching in as few as 75 hours. This system trains college students for careers in a couple of dozen fields with excessive employer demand however a low provide of candidates, like medical medical assistants or back-end software program growth.

“It’s obvious proper now that we have now fairly the hole between … expert workers in high-skilled industries and the out there labor pool,” Mackinnon mentioned. ”That’s the place neighborhood faculties can actually fill the void.” —I.T.

Dan Bauman contributed to this report.

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