Enrollment numbers decline

North Central enrollment dips for fifth consecutive year

By Kristin Wileman and Josiah Mayo

Enrollment Graphic

Undergraduate enrollment data at North Central since 2008 shows a downward trend in student population. Graphic by Kristin Wileman.

North Central’s fall enrollment dropped for the fifth consecutive year despite a projection for an upward trend by administration, a decline that could mean an even larger budget drop than the $1.2 million deficit from last year.

This number dropped despite immense marketing measures taken by the school, including new programs and increased scholarships. The marketing push involved adding five new majors and the Magnum Opus program, which brought new students who would not have come otherwise.

During the 2015 spring semester, administration established an enrollment goal of 1,055 undergraduate students. The final fall enrollment registered 1,009 undergraduate attendees – 46 students lower than was anticipated.

The lack of enrollment is evident throughout the residence halls. The Zimmerman House, formerly utilized for student housing, now rests vacant of permanent residents. Empty rooms are commonplace in Miller, Phillipps and Carlson Halls.

The Board of Regents approved North Central’s deficit spending for two years, although they will soon be looking for a positive turnaround. The recent budget shortfalls have also been cushioned by the 2014 sale of the Praise FM radio station, which brought in a one-time cash flow of $5 million. Some of the money brought in was invested into new marketing strategies and promotional plans that will expectantly bring in new students in the years to come.

Despite low enrollment, North Central’s retention rate rose from 69 percent in 2014 to 74 percent in 2015.  Also, the 174 PSEO students are not included in the official enrollment number, nor are the 29 graduate students.

Those new on campus this year include 220 true freshman and 114 students who either transferred in or attended previously, left, and then reapplied last summer. The Magnum Opus program, a new cohort style fast-track degree program drew in 21 new students.

New majors did catch the attention of many new freshmen.

•Computer Science – 7 new students

•Computer Info Systems – 4 new students

•Marketing – 17 new students

•Entrepreneurship – 8 new students

•Accounting & Finance – 4 new students

Erin White, Dean of Student Advocacy, is key in working with student retention. She also focuses on enrollment data from informational research. She views the new majors as a way of increasing current student retention and future enrollment.

“Some of our current students may have changed [majors]. For computer science and computer information, we previously had an arrangement with Minnesota Community and Technical College (MCTC) for applied studies, so some of them may be continuing at the program through North Central instead,” White said.

Declining enrollment is not unique to North Central. Across the country, colleges and universities have seen a decline in enrollment the past four years.

In the years preceding 2011, college enrollment grew due to the declining economy. Many adults past the traditional college age returned to school to develop new skills, which led to a boom in college enrollment. North Central saw enrollment grow more than 100 students between 2008 and 2010, when it reached 1,206 enrollments.

But after the boom came the bust. In the last five years, colleges have seen a decline in numbers as the economy has steadily improved, according to a CBS news report.

In a May 2015 CBS News article, Jason DeWitt, a research manager at a higher education research center, said the smaller colleges have been hurt more in the downturn.

“Smaller private institutions, generally rural liberal arts institutions, are not able to offer the same type of financial aid packages that very large institutions with very large endowments can offer,” DeWitt said.

Northerner staff attempted to reach Michael White, Executive Director of Enrollment and Marketing, but he was unable to respond for comment in time.

About the author: Kristin Wileman