By Keelan Tollinger
As York College enters the spring recruitment season, administrators are watching the number of incoming applications carefully, hoping that a recurring downward trend in enrollment can reverse itself.
The school has begun a search for a new Dean of Enrollment Management this February to succeed Janine Becker.
According to public reports of the Academic Senate, York College has seen full time enrollment drop from 4,669 to 4,072 over the past five years — an almost 13 percent decline. The fall 2015 semester added 898 students, which came up short off the school’s goal of 1,100.
“The primary reason is a shift in national demographics,” said President Pamela Gunter-Smith, pointing to an ongoing trend across the region. “There are fewer high school graduates, and that means fewer high school graduates searching for colleges,” said Gunter-Smith.
The state of Maryland also increased financial aid to students who attend schools inside its borders. The result is a highly competitive recruiting field over smaller populations of potential students.
“We didn’t have to recruit many students in the past,” said Gunter-Smith. “People in the area would hear of us, and usually they came.”
The enrollment method was restructured in the past two years and brought the admittance rate from about 30 to 54 percent. “We narrowed the funnel of who we were searching for,” said Gunter-Smith. Although more students that were interested have been eligible, the shortfall might be in convincing students to declare.
Dean of Academic Affairs and interim head of enrollment Debbie Ricker says this time of year is crucial. “Once [students are] admitted, then the focus becomes getting them to commit.”
One area that an enrollment decline affects is housing, which Ricker notes had become a new challenge. “Fewer students were given releases to live off-campus this past year,” she said.
“We’re primarily a residential college,” Gunter-Smith said. “We aim to fully accommodate students on-campus before we can permit them to live elsewhere.”
Gunter-Smith said there are no current plans to increase York College’s relatively low tuition rates. “We look every year about what we’re doing with tuition,” she said. “But overall, we want to keep our commitment to financial accessibility.”
Gunter-Smith hopes to continue targeting students that are interested in the personalized connection York has to offer. “The admissions process is part data, but it’s also part magic.”
“There’s a dashboard of variables to keep our eyes on,” Ricker said.