A picture may be worth 1000 words, but Union College has found a visit may be worth 10,000 or more. Although all indicators pointed to a third straight year of declining enrollment, Union saw an expanded campus visit program play a significant role in increasing the fall 2010 enrollment head count to 901 with a full-time equivalency of 818—up two percent over the previous year.
“This increase points to a bright future for Union College,” said David Smith, college president. “God has blessed and we praise Him for what He has done. We look forward to a great school year and many good school years to follow.”
After peaking at 1,015 (909 FTE) in the fall of 2007, Union’s enrollment had been on a steady decline, dropping to 883 (802 FTE) last fall. “Five year predictions indicated a continued decrease in enrollment based on economic factors, population shifts and shifts in high school population,” explained Nadine Nelson, Union’s vice president for Enrollment and Student Financial Services. “College leadership and the board felt it was prudent to build a budget based on an enrollment of 750 FTE, down more than 50 from last year.”
While Nelson believes the enrollment staff’s renewed focus on customer service and relationship building influenced the trend-bucking numbers, she also credits the increase to a campus-wide effort. “When we expanded the visit program, everyone on campus got involved in creating a visit experience that is authentic to Union College,” she explained.
Union’s campus visit program provides an opportunity for prospective college students to get a taste of college life through a free, three-day stay. “Students can come to one of our special preview weekends or they can schedule an individual visit,” said Becky Dewey, guest experience coordinator. “If they apply and send in their transcripts, they are also eligible for up to $250 reimbursement for gas or a plane ticket.”
Dewey transitioned to her newly created position in January of 2010 and welcomed more than 450 prospective students last school year. “Our main goal is to introduce them to the culture of Union College so they can find a place to belong,” said Dewey. “Visitors are immersed in the life of a college student, experiencing the residence halls, classes, worship services and social activities. Many students that didn’t know about Union find that they fit in and belong right here.”
But more than overall headcounts and numbers, the fall enrollment showed a significant increase in students taking full-time loads and living in residence halls, both of which translate into a stronger financial position for the college. “These numbers indicate a strong enrollment for the near future,” said Smith of the 168 first-time freshmen, 20 more than the five-year average. “I believe these signs all indicate that we will continue to grow and offer the strong academic programs and vibrant campus life that Union is know for.”