Westminster College’s first-year student enrollment declined significantly for the 2020-21 academic year, after several classes moved online to adhere to community health guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Erica Johnson, vice president of enrollment, said that first-year student enrollment experienced the biggest drop in recent years for the Fall semester.
“Where we saw a decrease was in first-year first-time enrollment,” Johnson said.
The typical first-year class size in the past few years sits around 290. Although the official census for Westminster’s student count won’t be finalized until Oct. 15, Johnson said the school expects the numbers to be well below that.
“While I don’t have the official census count yet, I expect that we’re about 100 off of that number from last year,” Johnson said.
The drop in enrollment is representative of a larger movement seen nationwide. Several Utah public colleges and universities also saw a drop in enrollment numbers, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
There are several reasons causing this decreased enrollment in first-year students. For example, hundreds of high schools have postponed standardized testing protocols to prevent the spread of the coronavirus — making it more difficult for colleges to recruit students.
“That’s how most colleges find out who in high school is college-bound,” said President Beth Dobkin in an interview with The Forum Sept. 28. “Since those tests aren’t being administered, it’s much harder to get information about who might be looking.”
Additionally, events like college fairs are not taking place in person, creating another barrier for reaching new prospective students.
“Recruitment looks different,” Johnson said. “We’re not out visiting high schools and we’re not holding large events here on campus. But we are holding virtual sessions, attending virtual college fairs, virtual high school visits, so we’re trying to replace those in-person meetings whenever we can.”
Although most events have shifted to the virtual setting, Westminster still offers in-person campus tours. Cody Martino, an admissions fellow, said students can make a reservation to tour campus on the college website.
However, there are some restrictions on tour group sizes.
“We accept just one family,” Martino said. “So, the prospective student and up to three guests.”
This decrease in first-year student enrollment has created changes on campus. While first-year residential students are typically placed throughout the five dorm buildings on campus, only four are being occupied.
“There are students living in Hogle, Olwell, Behnken and Stock — but not Carleson,” said Kylie Palmer, an employee in residence life.
In addition to Carleson’s vacancy, Hogle Hall is only filled to about half its capacity.
“It’s one person per room,” Palmer said. “So there’s only one person living in each two-person room.”
While the first-year student enrollment is significantly down, Westminster did not experience a large decrease among other student populations — which the administration considers a win.
“Eighty-eight percent of eligible returning students came back, which is really cool,” President Dobkin said. “Because it’s usually between 88-90% returners. So, we didn’t take any drop in returning students.”
Additionally, the number of transfer students did not waver much.
“Our transfer numbers this year are slightly lower,” said Erica Johnson, vice president of enrollment. “But not considerably lower than previous years.”