Administrators confident new initiatives will boost enrollment numbers

At Westminster College, the number of full-time undergraduate students enrolled dropped 85 students this fall compared to last, from 1,979 students in fall 2016 to 1,894. To combat that trend, administrators said they are prepared with at least 51 initiatives to boost enrollment. (Photo by Christian Anderson)

At Westminster College, the number of full-time undergraduate students enrolled dropped 85 students this fall compared to last, from 1,979 students in fall 2016 to 1,894. To combat that trend, administrators said they are prepared with at least 51 initiatives to boost enrollment. (Photo by Christian Anderson)

Amid concerns about declining enrollment at Westminster College, administrators said they are prepared with at least 51 initiatives — including the Griffin Grant, high school outreach and rebrand — to boost those numbers.

Some students said that decline could be attributed to rising tuition rates, a perception that the college is too expensive or desires for alternative postsecondary options. But Ron Headings, the associate vice president of enrollment and management, said the new strategies and a strong culture will help the college address those national trends moving forward.

“Our current Strategic Enrollment Plan addresses a number of challenges we faced last year, and adds many new initiatives, based on our learning and insights from last year,” Headings said in an email. “We have also designed an organization and culture that is able to respond and address change much more quickly, which is important moving forward.”

It’s not just Westminster; it’s everyone. And I am not sure if there’s a specific way to stop enrollment going down because it’s a society problem.
— Mia Moore, an aviation management major

Westminster had a total enrollment of 2,692 and a price tag of $16,052 per semester in 2016, according to the college’s website — making it the most expensive institution of higher education in Utah.

“The most common statement I get from parents is: ‘We love Westminster; now help us figure out how to pay for it,’” said Headings in a September interview with The Forum.

As college costs increase across the country, Headings said students want to know a degree from Westminster is a good value and will help them find future employment.

But Madison Ostergren, a sophomore communication major, said prospective students may not realize Westminster awards most students scholarships.

“People see the cost and they’re immediately turned off,” she said. “What they don’t know is you can get so much academic and financial aid.”

The college offered 98 percent of incoming students some form of merit-based and/or need-based financial aid for the 2015-2016 school year, according to its website.

Westminster has already started to see results from some of its initiatives, such as its new brand identity, Headings said, and time will tell how successful other avenues will be.

Elaine Sheehan, a senior English major who worked at Westminster’s Admissions Office for about three years, also said the new brand was an important step.

Maybe it’s just our generation, [but college] is more about the skills you have and the life you live. I think if people saw the experiences of college as what they were paying for, we would probably have higher enrollment across the country.
— Elaine Sheehan, a senior English major and ASW Clubs President

“The rebranding came out of needing to revamp who we are and be able to communicate who we are,” Sheehan said. “Rather than having admissions have one story and financial aid have another story about who we are and what we do, everyone is now on the same page.”

However, she said the drop in enrollment may include factors Westminster can’t address — such as a feeling among young people that traditional higher education may not be as valuable as life experience.

“Maybe it’s just our generation, [but college] is more about the skills you have and the life you live,” Sheehan said. “I think if people saw the experiences of college as what they were paying for, we would probably have higher enrollment across the country.”

Nationwide, postsecondary enrollments dropped 1.4 percent in 2016, including four-year for-profit schools, two-year public and four-year nonprofit institutions, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The center also found that colleges like Westminster — four-year, private and nonprofit institutions with less than 3,000 students — saw a 1.1 percent decrease from Fall 2016.

Mia Moore, an aviation management major, said that national decline could be because some people are choosing alternative postsecondary options, such as a gap year or a two-year institution.

“It’s not just Westminster; it’s everyone,” she said. “And I am not sure if there’s a specific way to stop enrollment going down because it’s a society problem.”

Editor’s note: Reporter Saige Salazar contributed to this story