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Westminster adapts to low enrollment

Lauren Jones, a campus visit specialist, stands in the Admissions office in Converse Hall, packing a bag for a campus tour Feb. 28. Admissions said they are focusing on improving the campus tour experience for prospective students. Image description: Lauren stands in the Westminster admissions office holding a purple bad with a black mask on. Photo courtesy of Q W.

“I would never want to see our population grow so much that we lost the sense of personal connection, opportunity for students, small class sizes, all those things that make Westminster [College] particularly compelling […],” said President Beth Dobkin in a December interview. “[…] We’re not looking for uncontrolled growth, we want to stay Westminster.”

In total, Westminster has 1,535 students enrolled for the 2021–22 academic school year, according to the admissions page.

First-year student enrollment decreased by 7.9% in Fall 2020 for private, non-profit four-year colleges across the country, according to the data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. In Fall 2021, first-year student enrollment increased by 2.5%, according to the data from the research center.

While attracting new students is a high priority, that’s not the only factor influencing the enrollment numbers, according to Dobkin. 

“Enrollment from last year to this year has been pretty stable for new students and the retention is higher […],” Dobkin said. “[…] If you compare to several years ago, we’ve had a couple of programs close and some decline in enrollment but [COVID-19] the last year has had some real pauses […].”

Dobkin said Westminster is seeing more inquiries and applications for the 2022-23 academic year than they have seen in the past.

Admissions Response to Enrollment Numbers

Westminster admissions said in January they are working to drive enrollment up by: 

  • Focusing on the campus visit experience for students considering attending Westminster
  • Providing opportunities for prospective students to visit classes to get a feel for the college environment
  • Improving the experience of transfer students, from the application process to orientation and enrollment
  • Continuing evaluation of financial aid programs and resources to meet students’ needs
  • Increasing marketing of graduate programs, both locally and regionally

Mekenzie Deneault, a Westminster communication alum and previous senior admissions student caller, said she had to adjust the way the call center handled student outreach for prospective students.

“Almost monthly I would put together a meeting for the call center about how to stay motivated and how to motivate the students we are reaching out to, to apply,” Deneault said in a text message. 

Deneault said she heard concern from parents about how lower enrollment would have a direct impact on their student’s education.

“As far as talking to the prospective students over the phone, we would talk about the individualized learning you get with smaller class sizes, our clubs and sports offered at Westminster as well as the different options for majoring and minoring,” Deneault said.

Denault said she managed other student callers and invited prospective students to events on campus. Denault said she also helped prospective students with the process of applying to Westminster and the Honors College.

Student Response to Enrollment Numbers

Morgan Withers, an admissions tour guide and sophomore biology major, said, “I think COVID obviously affected student enrollment across all college campuses.” 

Despite the impacts of COVID-19, Withers said she and her fellow tour guide give the normal amount of tours. 

“It is hard right now with just two tour guides, but as I understand we are adding to the college ambassadors program with more tour guides in training soon,” Withers said.

Prospective students from outside Utah make up the majority of tours, according to Withers.

“Lately I have been touring a large number of East Coast families,” Withers said. “The prospective students seem very happy when they tour campus — I would say we give more tours to out-of-state students, rather than in-state.”

Claire Mischel, ASW chief justice and junior biology major, said she was a former admissions tour guide fellow. Despite Westminster’s small size, Mischel said this feature doesn’t mean the student body misses out.

“[…] We’re unique in our size and it may seem like we’re small,” Mischel said. “But we’re small and engaged which is better than large and unengaged.”

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Madison Covington is a senior studying communication at Westminster College. She loves vacationing with her family in Las Vegas and watching true crime documentaries. Madison can always be seen rocking a pair of Birkenstocks on campus.

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