Inconsistent enrollment creates budget issues, cuts

Illustration by Sarah Bradbury

By Nick Sabatini

For the third year in a row, Lewis & Clark has missed its enrollment target, as LC’s enrollment was lower than expected. There are 525 first-year students, which is up from 508 students last year, but down from 654 students in 2015.

Stewart RA Seren Villwock ‘19 has seen the effects of the lower enrollment in the residence halls. She said that although there are not a significant number of empty rooms, Stewart does not feel as cramped as it normally does.

“There are more empty rooms this year,” said Villwock.“Last year, we had a lot of triples at the beginning of the year, which became de-tripled. We typically don’t have any empty rooms available, but this year is an exception where there are some empty rooms.”

Lisa Meyer, Dean for Enrollment and Communications, said the reason for low enrollment is demographics.

“It was a difficult year across the country,” Meyer said. “And that has to do with demographics. The number of students that are graduating from high school is declining at this point in time. There is a reality in just what the market looks like.”

According to a recent National Association of College and University Business Officers survey, 36 percent of liberal arts colleges have met their enrollment targets for the 2017-2018 school year.

Meyer also said that cost concerns have become increasingly important in the college-choosing process. Some families are looking for cheaper institutions as tuition rises across the US. For California residents, the cost of going to a University of California or a California State University is much less than it is to attend a private college like LC.

Rachel Cole, Admissions, Financial Aid Chair and Associate Professor of English and Department Chair, said the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) sometimes calculates an amount to pay that doesn’t always match the families ability to pay.

“There are some colleges where they say we will admit you, and then according to the FAFSA form, it calculates how much each family is able to contribute,” Cole said. “That may or may not square with the family’s understanding of their ability to contribute.”

On Aug. 7, an email regarding enrollment numbers was sent to the faculty. According to the email, fewer students means LC gains less money from tuition, which is the college’s main source of revenue. Last year, there were budget cuts across all departments due to low enrollment.

The email stated that even though enrollment is low, the college this year is closer to the enrollment target than last year. In addition, the latest class is academically stronger and, consisting of 27 percent students of color, more diverse. It is also more gender balanced than in previous years, with 44 percent of students identifying as male.

Cole decided to join the Strategic Enrollment Management Committee in response to this year’s enrollment because she believes it is important for faculty to be involved. Cole said the goal of this committee is to make sure there are representatives of the different groups on campus who can affect this issue.

Meyer said that enrollment is not all about numbers.

“My main point would be that Lewis & Clark is a healthy institution with a great reputation,” Meyer said. “We are not in a situation where we are willing to make choices that would dismantle our mission for the sake of having a larger class. We want to educate prepared students side by side with our excellent faculty. That’s the goal for all of us.”

Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Bruce Suttmeier and other budget managers have been working to close the budget gap created by the low enrollment. On Nov. 14, a meeting of the Strategic Enrollment Management Committee will be held. This meeting will discuss how enrollment management works and what the college will do to improve its enrollment practices.    

Villwock said she understands enrollment fluctuates, and it can be hard to predict how many students choose to enroll.

“It seems like a pretty difficult thing to do, to accurately predict that every time,” Villwock said. “It seems normal to expect some years to be lower and some years to be higher.”

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