For most Concordia students, the announcement last spring of Fjelstad’s closing shocked many students and staff. Rumors were spread about a sudden, dramatic decrease in enrollment for the incoming freshmen class. However, people who have been looking at the numbers for the past few years though can tell you that there is nothing sudden about this. The fact is, less and less students come to Concordia each year.
While the rumors of a major decrease in class size were generally believed to be exaggerations, the official Concordia enrollment numbers don’t lie. According to recent college enrollment statistics, in the fall of 2013, the incoming freshmen class composed of 684 new students. For the fall of 2014, only 540 first-year students came to the college. Granted, the issue is not specific to Concordia – private colleges nationwide face a decreasing number of students.
According to Samantha Axvig, Student Recruitment Director at Concordia, the last 10 years have yielded a decreasing number of students graduating high school. Unfortunately, this trend is even more pronounced in the Midwest. With shrinking class sizes, the pool of students for colleges to recruit is reduced to an even smaller number than it was before. Axvig said as diversity in the Midwest increases, recruiters are having to adapt.
“The students that are traditionally looking at Concordia, that demographic is in a steeper decline,” Axvig said.
At the beginning of the 2013 academic year, only eight percent of Concordia’s students were of a non-caucasian variety. Axvig claims learning to recruit a more diverse group of students is not going to be something Concordia will learn overnight – it’s a large learning curve.
Private schools are being hit especially hard and must now recruit in new places.
“We’re seeing colleges from across the United States recruiting in our marketplace now that weren’t recruiting there before,” said Eric Addington, Interim Director of Enrollment at Concordia. According to Addington, there is more competition for recruitment.
Besides developing new recruiting techniques, Concordia also works hard to improve retention. Concordia President William Craft made a retention goal of 90 percent, which Concordia has not yet been able to meet.
Total enrollment shows a retention rate of 83 percent between the 2013-2014 academic year and the 2014-2015 year, according to college enrollment statistics. This is an improvement from the previous year’s retention of 80 percent but still falls short of the President’s goal.
To work on keeping students at Concordia, the faculty works hard to make students more comfortable and happy.
According to Dr. Sue Oatey, Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs, Concordia hopes to enhance career initiative and connect current students with alumni for internships and jobs.
“We’ve got alums all over the place,” Oatey said. “It’s possible to get students and alumni connected all around the country.”
Oatey said Concordia faculty members intend to integrate Concordia students into the real world and avoid a common campus “bubble.” This was addressed by working groups this summer as they focused on a more integrative education for students. Currently, Concordia means to find non-traditional educational opportunities such as study abroad, research, and internships. The goal is to be able to tell prospective students “if you come here, this is how we’re going to help you be successful,” Oatey said.