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Spring enrollment follows trend, decrease in incoming students

In the past few years, Concordia College has seen a significant drop in enrollment. While the college is going to great lengths to improve its admission numbers, there is one trend that Concordia continues to see each year: there are always fewer students in the spring than in the fall.

In the fall of 2016, Concordia’s total enrollment was 2,132 students. For the beginning of this spring semester, that number had dropped to 1,984.

Some students graduate after fall semester, some students transfer to other institutions, some choose not to continue with higher education, and some students will take time off to either work or to study abroad with a program that’s not directly associated with Concordia. Compared to last semester, this semester saw a drop in new, first-year, first-time college students with the number going from 545 to just seven students. Additionally, the number of new transfer students at Concordia fell from 50 to 13 students.

Karl Stumo, vice president for enrollment and marketing, finds a couple of reasons for low enrollment.

“I’d say there are two things at play [for low enrollment],” Stumo said. “Number one, the number of high school graduates has been continually dropping in our primary market … and price sensitivity has gone up. Every year folks are more and more price sensitive.”

The price of Concordia increases a bit each year, and Concordia tries to mitigate some of that price increase with additional financial aid.

“Initially the market is always sensitive to the sticker price and that makes sense, but I think after they drill down and find out what the out-of-pocket is, and understand the learning experience fundamentally different and you’re guaranteed to be done in four years, that’s when Concordia becomes I think much more competitive with public institutions,” Stumo said.

There are a lot of different pieces that go into helping enrollment grow. One piece is having an competitive set of admissions staff and admissions activities.

“You have to have really good people recruiting students … the college is not as competitive as it needs to be,” Stumo said.

Stumo and others are working very closely with the marketing and communications staff to be able to tell the Concordia story in a compelling way.

“We’re not just some small private liberal arts college in the middle of the open west and the prairie. We’re a fabulous place that balances both the liberal arts and the pre-professional in a community of a couple hundred thousand,” Stumo said. “We also make the connection to our Lutheran heritage where students are really pressed to use their education to do good things in the world, to influence the affairs.”

One of the pieces that’s important to the college is that the diversity of the region and of the state is reflected among the students.

“One of the areas of high school graduates that is increasing are students of color, first generation students of color. So, the admissions office, the marketing office, really the campus as a whole has been thinking critically about the way in which the college better positions itself to be an attractive option for students of color. We need to grow, and … we need to have students of diverse backgrounds in the learning environment … to help improve the excellence of learning in that classroom because if we’re a monoculture where everyone thinks and looks, and behaves the same, we’re not learning as much as we could or should. So, we need to bring more of a greater diversity of students to campus, and that will help without growth,” Stumo said.

According to Jasi O’Connor, Concordia’s director of institutional effectiveness, about 25 percent of Concordia students fit the Concordia definition of first-generation students.

O’Connor explains the difficulty of defining a first-generation student at a college or university.

“The thing that’s tricky about first generation students and how we count them is there is no one definition,” O’Connor said. “Institutions sort of have the chance to define first-generation students in different ways. When you’re comparing institution to institution you’re not always comparing apples to apples.”

Concordia recently changed how they defined first-generation students.

“In the past we were defining it as students whose parents did not have college degrees,” O’Connor said. “The way we’re defining it now is that neither parent has a four-year college degree.”

Concordia changed the definition to benefit a wider group of students to be able to give more services.

“First generation students … often come without a lot of family history about what it means to go to college,” O’Connor said. “We think that an institution [like Concordia] that is a highly residential four-year private liberal arts college is different than attending like a two-year tech college or a junior college … so we made the change so that even if student’s parents have that kind of experience… it may not help the students know what it’s going to be like at Concordia.”

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