Rochester enrollment hits plateau

After peak enrollment in 2013, school leaders are re-evaluating their recruitment strategies.

Brian Edwards

With a recent plateau in enrollment at the University of Minnesota-Rochester, school leaders are looking for ways to boost the student population on the campus. 
Enrollment at the school peaked in 2013 but has declined since then, which has prompted UMR to reassess its enrollment strategy as the University plans to expand the campus.
While Regent Darrin Rosha said the Board of Regents has not officially discussed Rochester’s sluggish enrollment, the board is bound to discuss the trend because numbers haven’t matched projections.
“It doesn’t worry me,” said Rosha. “But it signals a need for assessment of current strategy.”
In fall 2009, the campus had 57 students enrolled. The number of students peaked at 495 in 2013, and as of fall 2015, the school enrolled 416 students — the second consecutive year where enrollment dropped. 
“Rochester is a niche institution,” said John Hachtel, director of marketing and communications at UMR. “It’s attractive to a certain type of student.”
The campus, created in 2006, focuses on health sciences, he said, which can make it less flexible for students who decide to switch fields to non-health-related studies. 
The school plans to shift its recruitment efforts to attract students already interested in health sciences before they start college, Hachtel said.
The school will also redefine its criteria for awarding some scholarships to help boost enrollment numbers, Hachtel said.
Rosha said since academics on the campus are already up to school standards, more students should take advantage. 
Regent Thomas Devine said there have been critics of the enrollment numbers at Rochester, and the school needs to recruit students more aggressively.
But those criticisms don’t take into account the full scope of goals for the campus, he said.
In 2009, the University laid out plans for new school buildings in downtown Rochester. 
And in 2010, the school partnered with the Mayo Clinic, the city of Rochester and other sponsors to create a redevelopment plan for the city’s downtown, which is closely tied to the Destination Medical Center project. 
The project is expected to draw about $5 billion in private investments on top of the state’s investment of $585 million.
Devine said enrollment numbers may not be what University officials want at the moment, but he expects enrollment to follow as the area grows.
“We need to go through all of the steps to build up infrastructure,” he said. “All the little pieces are making a bigger picture.”