It's not often people in academia want to be proved wrong. However, last fall when two different models Union College uses to predict enrollment for the next school year projected a decrease in new students, college administrators, faculty and staff began preparing for the worst and praying for the best.
"We believe each of our students is a blessing, and we've been asking God for many blessings lately," said David Smith, college president. "When I speak to our students and hear their stories about how and why they chose Union, I know those prayers have been answered."
While enrollment for the fall 2009 semester is down compared to the last year, the college has exceeded its projections with a headcount of 883 and a full-time equivalency of 802. "The projected FTE of 780 we based this year's budget on made us tighten our belts and examine our priorities," said Rob Weaver, vice president for Enrollment and Student Financial Services. "I think part of what allowed us to exceed the prediction was a commitment to keep tuition steady and provide more financial assistance."
To get a sense of what recent high school graduates from Union's core demographic groups are doing this year, Weaver has been talking to high school administrators. What he's heard so far indicates financial limitations are playing an increasing role in students' after-graduation plans. "We're losing kids to an uncertain economy rather than other four-year institutions," said Weaver. "They're choosing community colleges or full-time jobs instead."
Because professionals with a bachelor's degree earn on average $10,000 more each year than someone with an associate's degree and $16,000 more than someone with only a high school diploma, Weaver believes postponing college for economic reasons may be a short term choice.* "One of our goals now is to stay in contact with those prospective students so that when they're ready to benefit from more education, they'll chose Union College," he said.
Even with fewer students, the college continues to offer the same mix of strong academic programs, vibrant spirituality, active social engagement, and meaningful on-campus work and leadership opportunities.
"The students who come to Union are the type of student any college would want: good grades, good test scores, motivated and highly-involved in campus life," said Malcolm Russell, vice president for academic administration. "Even this early in the semester, it is clear that the new students bring intellectual vitality, spiritual commitment and social involvement to our campus."
* Statistics from "The Condition of Education 2009," a report prepared by the National Center for Educational Statistics.