Inside the multi-pronged battle against declining enrollment
Enrollment numbers are down and Humboldt State University is looking for ways to keep them stable. With just 6,900 students enrolled in 2019, administration and faculty are exploring recruitment strategies and program changes to stimulate growth on campus.
Vice President of Enrollment Management Jason Meriwether is on the front lines of the enrollment situation.
“We’ve lost well over 2,000 students in the last four or five years,” Meriwether said. “It’s a symptom of a few things. We’re graduating larger classes and our graduation rate has gone up. So that does have an impact. Part two is from a recruitment standpoint. There have been a number of things in place that have changed this year to get us to be a viable recruiting option.”
Meriwether divided the recruitment efforts into three elements. First, the school got rid of barriers to campus visitors like fees for preview day, parking and lunch. Second, the Division of Enrollment Management is focusing its efforts to draw students from local communities to the campus. Third, the school is using data-driven strategies to make enrollment and engagement decisions.
“We’re using data analytics to mine our top feeders and where we’re getting most of our applications,” Meriwether said. “And we’re using that type of data to make decisions about where we put our time and our energy for the maximum benefit for HSU. We want the community to know HSU is a first-choice university.”
Historically, HSU regarded low enrollment in a more negative light. A decrease in student enrollment was correlated with a decrease in campus revenue, and campus policies reflected the budget deficit. Casey Park, former chair of the University Center Board of Directors, offered some insight.
“I think that budget component has overshadowed the fact that we still have students here to serve,” Park said. “And the narrative for the last two years was that we just didn’t have enough.”
To help staff make decisions based in reality rather than through hypothesis and conjecture, the Office of Institutional Effectiveness provides data and information to faculty and staff. Lisa Castellino, the associate vice president of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, acknowledged student resources being out-of-date with the current demographic.
“We have a student demographic that has changed over the last five to seven years,” Castellino said. “It has become more diverse. There are more first generation students. It’s more low income. It’s the institution’s responsibility and priority, and it has been the last five to seven years, to help students, because going to college is complicated.”
Thus, on-campus resources are evolving. With low enrollment, Molly Kresl and the Clubs and Activities office said they are being more deliberate and intentional with campus programming by engaging students in a way they prefer.
Meriwether and Enrollment Management said they are promoting HSU’s educational experience to potential students in Humboldt, Siskiyou and Trinity Counties as a first choice rather than a backup. Beyond administration, academic departments are attempting to provide quality education for their students, regardless of enrollment numbers.
“Often during times of change is also our greatest opportunity for growth,” Kresl said. “We stop doing things that really aren’t working that we’ve just done forever because we’ve always done it that way, and we start saying, ‘Okay, then why are we doing this?’”