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Enrollment Numbers Early Sign of Success for Colleges

Early enrollment numbers emerging on college campuses around the nation suggest the 2016-17 school year is helping institutions make headway on achieving many new goals that are products of efforts to weather damages from the prolonged national economic slump that began in 2008 paralleled by public policymakers’ retreat on supporting public higher education.

From California to New Mexico, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey and points in between, institution officials are cautiously sounding upbeat. Still, they hasten to add, it’s too early in the school year to make official declarations about this fall’s higher education enrollment experiences or how they might be impacting the overall picture of the post-recession era.

“…We’re seeing a small uptick,” says Adam Castro, vice president for enrollment management at Bloomfield College, a small private college in New Jersey whose multicultural student body is about 70 percent Pell Grant eligible each year.

Castro, who says Bloomfield’s enrollment has been “very stable” the last three years, credits his enrollment enthusiasm today with a small “uptick ” in the small institution’s enrollment of its largest freshman class—490 and growing—in its 148 year history.

In California, where the half-million students, 23-campus California State University System (Cal State) is opening its doors for the new school year, the institutions are still operating on enrollment caps mandated by the state legislature to control costs, despite overwhelming applications for admission.

Several Cal State campuses—Long Beach and Dominguez Hills—are seeing good developments, despite continued budget pressures.

Transfers from the state’s community colleges to historically four-year institutions are increasing, says Brandy McLelland, associate vice president of enrollment management at Cal State Dominguez Hills, which enrolls about 15,00 students each year. “We feel like we have rebounded” from the depths of the economic and enrollment slides, says McLelland.

While working under an enrollment cap imposed by the state on all of the Cal State institutions, McLelland credits progress within the overall limits in admitting more Latino students likely to complete the college to a relatively new program called “STAR.” The “STAR” program targets community college students who aspire to complete a four-year institution in four years by streamlining the process that more clearly defines requirements to transfer.

The “STAR” program adds additional teaching and mentoring to these students and lets them earn up to 60 transferrable credits that will count toward graduation from a state four-year institution.

In New Mexico, where enrollment at New Mexico State University( NMSU) has fallen in each of the past five years, NMSU leaders hope the institution’s enrollment for the new year will be helped by a similar program aimed at community college students who are transfer potential.

The new “Aggie Pathway” to NMSU’s baccalaureate program, which began this school year with 270 transfers from the university’s four community colleges, is aimed at community college students who wanted to attend a four-year college but could not gain admission to NMSU under its new, higher admissions requirements that increased the high school Grade Point Average (GPA) for admission to 2.7 from 2.5, with some exceptions.

Those who got into what is the “Aggie Pathway” program get “personalized guidance and peer mentoring to help them every step of the way as they work toward a bachelor’s degree,” says Minerva Baumann, director of media relations at NMSU.

Baumann said the university is quite excited about this enrollment season’s 5.9 percent increase in incoming first-time students, boosting its freshman total to 2,114 students. The figure includes the 270 “Aggie Pathway” transfers, helping NMSU claim a total of 15,141 students for the 2016-17 school year.

Some institutions are reporting other headlines in unofficial enrollment experiences.

In Florida, where steady growth at its major institutions was considered a plus, the mood has changed significantly, with enrollment changes reflecting that.

At Florida A&M University (FAMU), for example, where enrollment has dived by almost 3,000 students from its high of 12,000 in the last decade, the once high profile Tallahassee-based university is “continuing to focus on right-sizing our enrollment …,” says Elise Durham, assistant vice president for communications at the university.

With a current enrollment number of 9,317 before the standard drop-and-add period for current registration, Durham notes the enrollment numbers reflect “policy changes,” including a change in admission standards. It also includes tuition increases and a steady downsizing in recent years of academic programs offered.

FAMU’s ability to help students financially has also been hit hard in recent years by federal cuts in Pell Grants and the federal PPL (Parent Plus Loan) program, state aid to the university and its Bright Futures Scholarship.

While placing a lot more focus on retention of students through academic and financial assistance in their years beyond freshman, FAMU’s alumni stepped in earlier this year with a first time fund-raising effort targeted at student retention. The alumni raised more than $600,000 to help existing students continue their studies toward graduation.

In Delaware, the enrollment story has a different flair.

At Delaware State University (DSU), which reported a final 2015 enrollment head count of 4,560 students, freshman enrollment so far this year has surged by nearly 1,000 people, says university spokesman Carlos Holmes. The demographics of the university also appear to be changing, Holmes said, again stressing that official counts are a few weeks away.

That said, enrollment experience so far suggests the historically Black institution may have a new minority, once enrollment season ends. Hispanics are passing Whites in becoming the largest group behind Blacks at DSU, which, in recent years, has seen its majority Black enrollment shrink to approximately 70 percent from nearly 100 percent.

Delaware State also includes among its new enrollees this year 34 d Opportunity Scholarship students sponsored by DREAM USA. The program helps get college educational opportunities for students who are undocumented residents of the United States and who have graduated from high school in the United States but are barred from attending college in their home state.

“They are Delaware State Hornets as far as we are concerned,” says Holmes.

Virginia State University (VSU), another state institution hard hit in recent years by the economy and cuts in financial aid for students, says its freshman enrollment for the new year is nearly 1,000 people, a 30 percent increase from the freshman class that entered this time a year ago.

The surge in freshman enrollment at VSU reflects more aggressive targeting by the university’s recruitment and enrollment team, said university spokesperson Pamela Tolson.

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