U numbers remain steady

by Robin Huiras

While high school seniors throughout Minnesota are choosing paths other than college, the University’s freshman enrollment is still consistent with administrators’ goals.
A study completed by the Research Department of the Minnesota House of Representatives reports that the number of high school seniors attending institutes of higher learning after graduation has decreased from 48 percent in 1987 to 40 percent in 1996, the last year for which statistics are available.
According to the study, the colleges most directly affected are those in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. Additionally, technical and two-year colleges have experienced a drop in enrollment.
Kerry Fine, the legislative analyst who completed the report, said the decrease might be due to tuition increases or a strong economy. Another reason, particularly for MnSCU, is that recruitment efforts have fallen by the wayside as the schools concentrate on maintaining employees’ salaries following a massive shift in the organization’s administration.
“Other states are not experiencing the declines we are,” said Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, chairman of the House Committee on Education. “We need to make schools more attractive and not downplay career planning in K through 12.”
Because universities receive state funding based on enrollment, the amount of money each school is granted will change this legislative session. However, the change will not be dramatic.
“Historically, funding is based on enrollment,” Carlson said. “Fewer students equates fewer dollars. That is just an automatic adjustment.”
Curbing enrollment
The enrollment at the University experienced a decline beginning in 1986 as part of a planned effort. Former University President Ken Keller’s Commitment to Focus initiative included lowering enrollment rates to coincide with a smaller number of graduating seniors to maintain a balanced graduate and undergraduate population.
The University’s enrollment of new high school graduates dropped by 1.5 percent between 1987 and 1996 while state universities’ enrollment rates declined by 5 percent.
“It has to do with the labor market,” said Craig Swan, vice provost for undergraduate education. “When it is easy to find jobs, people might think to put school off.” When unemployment rates are low, enrollment seems to be down as well.
Recruitment efforts at the University might also play into why its rates have not fallen as dramatically as other colleges. Efforts such as offering special campus events, extensive campus visits, publications, telemarketing and mailings might have helped to keep enrollment steady.
“The foundation of all of our recruitment and administrative efforts is customer service,” said Wayne Sigler, director of the Office of Admissions. “At the macro level, we work to help students discover the opportunities that await them at the University.”
Sigler said the University has one of the best enrollment programs in the country, hosting close to 25,000 high school seniors every year. Weekday and Saturday visits, the three campus previews and other special campus visitation events consistently bring newcomers to view the University.
“I think we consider our administration and recruitment programs a work in progress,” Sigler said. “We do think we’ve made major strides at building a good admissions program, but we want to be the best in the country.”