Enrollment numbers for fall 2016 are down at the University of Wyoming despite its best efforts to realize increases.
Even though there was a “full court press” to increase enrollment numbers, Sara Axelson, UW vice president for student affairs, said preliminary fall enrollment counts are down 267 students from 2015 during a Wednesday meeting of the Board of Trustees.
“We need to make significant progress in overall enrollment growth, and we haven’t had that over a period of years,” Axelson said. “We need to make some significant movement going forward.”
On the fifth day of classes, there were 192 fewer students on the Laramie campus than in 2015, primarily among undergraduates. There were also 75 fewer students taking outreach courses across the state, though the number of graduate students increased by 19 students on the Laramie campus. In addition, there are 22 more students at the UW Casper campus than in fall 2015.
Axelson said historic enrollment counts are normally measured from the 15th day of classes as the period to add or drop courses, as well as payment, has ended. Fall enrollment on the fifth day of classes in 2015 was down by 87 students from the previous year. Though the 2014 numbers were up slightly from 2013, UW enrollment has not reached its high water mark of 12,864 students in 2012. Following the 15th day Monday, Axelson more data would be available, including how many students who attended classes at UW in May but did not return in fall 2016.
“We did have a drop off for this year’s fifth day but, over time, it’s stayed fairly constant,” Axelson said.
She said efforts to increase enrollment did have university-wide support, but came up short. Direct surveys are going to students who did not enroll, as well as those who came and did not return, and Axelson said that information would provide more insight into what areas would be important to focus on going forward. In addition, Axelson said more information would come from National Student Loan Clearinghouse of students who were here as well as new students who didn’t return and whether they went someplace else — a source for degree verification and enrollment verification and student educational outcomes research — of students who were here as well as new students who didn’t return and whether they attended another college or university.
“That data will be extremely helpful in our strategic enrollment planning, as well as what we’re doing for fall 2017,” Axelson said. “We can’t lose momentum and we have to increase in fall 2017.”
The enrollment management planning is going to work toward long-term solutions, but Axelson said more inroads need to be made to plan for the coming academic year.
What didn’t work
Year-to-date counts in May indicated UW was down by 644 students for the fall 2016 semester. Though 377 additional registrants were added after those counts, Axelson said it was too late to make inroads with new incoming freshmen.
“We didn’t expect it, but we had high hopes we’d make progress,” Axelson said. “There were some changes that we needed to make earlier in the cycle to be able to grow that freshmen class.”
The spring semester was down 286 students, which compounded with a large graduating class that affected enrollment, Axelson said.
As Wyoming remains in fiscal peril, Axelson said it’s possible there’s a correlation between the state’s economic outlook and enrollment.
“Experience and studies indicate that when the economy is down that there is potential of enrollments increasing because those who may not be employed seek educational opportunities,” Axelson says in an email. “However, when there are individuals or families leaving the state seeking employment, enrollment will be negatively impacted.”
Making it work
Increasing enrollment through reminder calls and emails to undergraduates were more appreciated than effective, Axelson said. Personal contacts to graduate students encouraging early registration prompted some early registration in mid-summer, but didn’t turn into additional registrants. A social media push through the Institutional Communication department also contributed.
Privately funded scholarships were also offered to certain populations, but Axelson said evaluations of the approach’s effectiveness are ongoing.
“The impact of these awards will help inform scholarship policy going forward,” she said.
A relatively small supplemental budget request of $500,000 would largely go to creating a strategic enrollment management program, at an estimated cost around $475,000. To meet enrollment goals for fall 2017 and beyond, Axelson said the university will be working with an external consultant.
“The is preliminary — we still need to fully vet it with (UW) President (Laurie) Nichols and also work with Provost (Kate) Miller as part of enrollment management planning — but we will be working for fall 2017 with external consultant that has expertise in enrollment management,” Axelson said. “To be able to grow to that fall 2017 mark where we need to be, we really believe we need that external help.”
Implementation of an admissions recruiting and scholarship plan is underway, which includes closer coordination with institutional communication to increase marketing efforts. By expanding social media efforts, e-recruiting and expanding outreach for more prospective students would access more potential enrollees, Axelson said.
“To be able to get to applicants we need, we need to have more prospect names we can access who become inquiries, then admits, and hopefully, enrollees,” she said.
Faculty are being recruited to call prospective high-achieving students, adding to presidential visits to high schools and community colleges. Each college will be called upon to develop recruiting and retention plans, as well, Axelson said.
Current students are also being recruited to make calls to prospective enrollees and efforts are being made to attract children of alumni.
To retain students, Axelson said there are efforts underway to understand what makes students successful at UW, as well as revitalizing advising programs.
Board of Trustees Treasurer John McKinley said he had concerns about whether scholarships were being effectively used to increase enrollment. In addition to making sure scholarship opportunities are being made available, McKinley said he wanted assurance that centralizing scholarships awards under the Admissions and Financial Aid departments would honor the intent of the grants.
“Centralizing and awarding scholarships by admissions and financial aid may be contrary to endowment agreements that are required to be followed for the awarding of scholarships,” McKinley said.
Axelson said the centralization of scholarships — with Admissions and Financial Aid working closely with colleges and using software called AcademicWorks — ensures the intent of the donor is met, and also maximize the opportunities to distribute the available funds.
“It means close coordination, but that doesn’t mean it takes the colleges out of the roll of understanding who is being awarded,” Axelson said. “I assure you all the details of every scholarship are loaded into that system and we know we’ll be better stewards because the money is in the hands of students and not sitting in accounts not expended.”
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