Decreasing enrollment prompts new initiatives to combat falling student numbers

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Student enrollment at UAA has decreased 13 percent since its peak in 2011, according to Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Services, Lora Volden. Student tuition accounts for 33 percent of unrestricted revenue to the University and 25 percent of the overall budget according to Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Bruce Schultz.

“A dip in enrollment is impactful,” Schultz said. “From my perspective, the mission of this institution is to educate the citizens of Alaska, and when we see a decline in enrollment that means that we are missing on the opportunity to fully fulfill our mission… From a fiscal perspective it does absolutely impact the cost of education.”

The University of Alaska Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Request states, under a section on increasing University revenues, that the University is implementing ‘aggressive enrollment, retention and graduation strategies,’ as well as using a 10 year framework that raises UA tuition and fees an average of 4 percent annually.

As Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Schultz is overseeing efforts to increase enrollment and retention, and he said multiple new initiatives are being launched to increase enrollment from different markets.

“We have two new initiatives that are launching next year. One is the Student Success Collaborative. This is a national student success program,” Schultz said.

Along with the Collaborative, Schultz said another new initiative is working to bolster academic advising.

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“The number one factor for whether a student persists at an institution is the relationship the student has with their academic adviser. So we’ve been putting a significant amount of resources into our academic advising.”

At Enrollment Services, Volden said one of her goals is to streamline and simplify the admissions process.

“The biggest focus for our office in the next 18 months is really focusing on recruitment and admissions,” Volden said. “We have a lot of things we need to be doing with recruitment and a lot of things we need to be doing with admissions.”

For the fall of fiscal year 2012, after the add-drop period had closed, 16,205 students were enrolled in classes. For the fall of fiscal year of 2017, after the add-drop, 14,308 students were enrolled in classes. Schultz says falling enrollment is caused by high school graduation rates, how the economy is doing, the Alaskan population and the median Alaska family income.

“As the recession happened nationally, enrollment boomed, because as people lost jobs they went back to school, so it will be interesting to see what happens now in Alaska with the recession here if people will actually then enroll in Alaska or what that will mean,” Volden said.

Student Affairs’ budget overall has decreased from fiscal year 2016 to 2017, but funds have been reallocated specifically to increase enrollment efforts.

“We were fortunate that this past year we received additional reallocation funds specifically for enrollment management,” Schultz said. “University Advancement, who takes care of our new student recruitment marketing, received some additional funding, but then we also received some additional funds to do the enrollment and admission recruitment analytics. We received funding from the President of the University system to hire a community outreach coordinator. That was a new initiative this year.”

Marnie Kaler is interim director at New Student Recruitment, and she said new technology and a focus on advertising to metropolitan areas in the Lower 48 are ways Recruitment is trying to increase enrollment.

“There is a lot of pressure from the University right now to make sure we have a sustainable student body, and we are starting to shape that, but typically recruitment is a two year process,” Kaler said. “We have partnered with Ruffalo Noel Levitz, and it’s a well known well established leader in enrollment management. They are doing a couple of things for us; they are looking at our publications to make sure that we are hitting the marks on national standards.”

New Student Recruitment is hosting its first ever summer preview day for juniors outside of Alaska in June. The fall preview day had record attendance with 900 students at the event, and Kaler said new technology is helping recruitment track potential students. On top of these initiatives, Kaler said Recruitment is purchasing names of students who took the SAT and ACT.

With all of these initiatives together, Schultz said the University is projecting higher enrollment for the future.

“We have projected the enrollment for UAA out to 2020, and it includes enrollment growth based on some strategies we are employing to increase the retention rate, the persistence rate, recruitment and we believe there are some untapped markets in Alaska,” Schultz said. “One of those markets is looking at the 115,000 Alaskan citizens that have some college and no degree. That is an audience were we can invite them into the institution.”

The retention rate for first year fall students who re-enroll their second fall was 66.15 percent for fiscal year 2016, according to Student Affairs Key Performance Indicators. This is a small drop from fiscal year 2015, which had a retention rate of 68.64 percent for full-time, first year students.