Admissions Director describes strategies to counter enrollment “depression”

By Nathan Ress

Managing Editor

In its 15 September publication, The Griffin looked into the effect lower enrollment numbers are having on Canisius professors and available funds. This week, this issue will be delved into further as The Griffin identifies underlying causes of declining enrollment and what is being done about them.

After an interview with Canisius College Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Justin Rogers, this week The Griffin is able to report preliminary numbers for the 2017-18 freshman class. According to Rogers, the total number of Undergraduates enrolled is 2,311 students (eight less than the number reported from USA Vice Speaker Dylan Huston in his “This Week in Senate: September 5, 2017” article).

Rogers also reported the number of enrolled freshmen for the 2017-18 school year at 553 students. This marks a dip of 47 students from the 2016-17 freshmen enrollment of 600 students. Again, this number is not final until the 1 October student census which will confirm student population details.

“We can directly attribute many different factors to the depression that we saw in our freshman class,” said Rogers, who continued, “There’s a lot that goes into an overall enrollment number.”

Some such factors that Rogers identifies are previously enrolled large classes which are now graduating and not being matched by current freshmen classes. For example, if a previous class of 700 students graduates and is replaced by a class of only 600, then this decline will show in overall undergraduate numbers. Similarly, Rogers cites retention rates, transfer enrollment, and readmitted students all as variables in the overall enrollment number.

Furthermore, Rogers cites the Excelsior Scholarship proposed by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, which took effect this school year, as a crucial factor in freshmen enrollment decline.

“You’ve heard President Hurley say in various places that it’s had an impact on the institution, and I would support that,” said Rogers. He cites the scholarship as having the largest impact on Canisius, and in the areas closest to home.

“In mid-April,” said Rogers, “before the governor made his announcement about the Excelsior scholarship program, our deposit trends were actually beating the year prior. We were seeing a higher number of deposits.” However, Rogers continued to report that after the Excelsior announcement, “the deposit trends began to behave abnormally compared to how they have historically.”

In Erie County, Canisius’ home county, enrollment deposits were up; however, this trend was not so for the rest of New York State. Rogers relayed that, excepting Erie County, Canisius saw 83 fewer New York State deposits in 2017. Rogers noted this number as having a serious impact on freshman enrollment, one which could have had serious consequences had gains not been made in other areas – a point to be developed shortly.

Furthermore, in families making less than $125,000 a year (the income cap for Excelsior scholarship eligibility), Rogers said, “We saw a difference of 48 fewer freshman deposits from students below that income level.”

Finally, Rogers pointed out that compared to 2016, “The number of students who were choosing SUNY/CUNY schools was up 22.8 percent.”

In an attempt to inform New York students about the details of the Excelsior program, Canisius has outlined some limitations of the scholarship on its website under the “Tuition and Aid” heading, followed by “Undergraduate Tuition and Fees.”

“We’re trying to be more up front about the conditions and the limitations of the program,” said Rogers. Some of these limitations as listed on the website include the scholarship covering tuition only, not room/board, the scholarship requiring students to take 30 credits per year, the scholarship’s stipulation that students must graduate on time as well as maintain a GPA of 2.0, and the scholarship’s requiring recipients to live and work in New York State for an amount of time equivalent to the time they received the scholarship.

As far as its impact on Canisius enrollment, Rogers called the Excelsior Scholarship “the curveball of all curveballs.” Despite this, he confidently points out that Canisius admissions is still swinging for the fences. “We already have an active enrollment strategy in place,” Rogers said. “This is something that, as soon as it [the Excelsior scholarship] was announced, we began making adjustments.”

“We are continuing to develop new initiatives to attract and enroll new students,” said Rogers. Among these are a new digital version of the Canisius viewbook which can be accessed online at www.canisius.edu/canisius-undergraduate-viewbook. Rogers was excited about this new feature, describing it as more interactive, dynamic, and sustainable than previous print viewbooks which were mailed to prospective students’ homes.

Rogers also cited a new Client Relationship Module (CRM) which allows Canisius admissions to “communicate with our potential students in a manner that we’ve never been able to before.” The mobile friendly module allows admissions counselors to check students’ application status, track students’ visits, and read applications electronically; while students could sign up for visits and connect with alumni in their area. With this CRM, Rogers hopes students will be able to begin building ties with the school well before they are through high school.

Rogers also identified Canisius’ efforts to recruit more heavily from areas outside its usual markets such as Western New York and Eastern/Central Pennsylvania. “We have to work even harder, and push Canisius even further, to showcase to other students what the advantages of a Canisius education are,” Rogers said. In line with these efforts, Rogers cited a more active international recruitment program for both undergraduate and graduate programs. He also cited part time recruiters in areas such as Ohio and Long Island which will help draw potential students from a larger radius around Canisius.

“There’s great work to be done,” said Rogers. “It’s challenging, it’s exciting. It’s taking Canisius to places we’ve never been before.”

With that in mind, Rogers sees this year’s freshmen enrollment depression as a surprise hurdle which can be overcome. “A recruitment strategy is very complicated,” Rogers said, and admitted it will take time to stabilize these numbers. This stabilization was something that was nearly attained, as can be seen in the numbers reported on in The Griffin’s 15 September issue, with freshmen numbers falling from 613 to 600 students over a three-year period (2014-16).

Going forward, Rogers agrees with President Hurley on the need to rightsize the College, though in Rogers’ case this term is a bit more literal. He is tasked with bringing in a literally correct number of students to fit the school, a number which may well hover around 600 if he and his team can overcome this most recent hurdle.

“Know that we’re working hard. Know that we’re passionate about this place,” said Rogers.

He is adamant that in the face of this enrollment challenge, he is working on an active strategy with committed people. In the meantime, as the admissions teams works to recover its numbers, Rogers encourages all members of the Canisius community – new or old students, high level administrators, and tenured professors alike – to “band together in a way that is productive and positive.”

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