Strategic Enrollment Plan presented at All-University Meeting: Administrators expect continuing decrease in student population

Courtesy of FSU

By Donald Halsing

News Editor

Lorretta Holloway, vice president of enrollment and student development, presented the Strategic Enrollment Plan for 2018-23 at the All-University Meeting Oct. 21.

She was joined by sociology professor Vincent Ferraro and geography professor Dave Merwin, who presented trends and geographical factors impacting enrollment.

Holloway presented several fall 2019 enrollment figures. Her presentation is available to all members of the University, and she offered to email the slides to anyone who requested them.

A total of 5,960 undergraduate freshmen applications were submitted, and 4,425 were accepted – a 74.2% acceptance rate. 

Of 887 deposits, 776 matriculated at the University, or 87.5%. 

A total of 943 transfer applications were submitted, and 628 were accepted – a 66.6% acceptance rate. 

Of 454 deposits, 380 students matriculated at the University, or 60.5%.

Last fall, enrollment goals were set at 800 freshmen and 400 transfer students, Holloway said. However, these numbers were determined to be unrealistic targets, and were changed to 784 freshmen and 340 transfer students.

In terms of total enrollment, 5,456 students are enrolled at FSU, down 2% from 2018, when 5,565 students were enrolled. 

More importantly, 3,745 students are enrolled in undergraduate degree-seeking programs this semester, compared to 3,804 students in fall 2018. This correlates to a drop of approximately 1.6%.

Over the past three years, undergraduate degree-seeking enrollment has decreased by 8.7%.

Merwin presented several maps showing geographic trends of student enrollment in Massachusetts.

Roughly 70% of FSU students enrolled between 2013 and 2017 live within 30 miles’ driving distance of campus, he said. However, the number of prospective students within 10 miles’ driving distance is decreasing.

He showed a map of grade 12 enrollment by district over the next two years, and plotted the average change in graduating senior population within the same driving ranges. Prospective student levels within 10 miles of campus will decrease by 1.3%.

In an email statement, Merwin said, “FSU has traditionally been successful in attracting first-generation students, and in order to continue that success, we are going to need to attract students from outside the MetroWest region. The MetroWest region will have fewer high school graduates in the coming years, and there is also a steady increase in educational attainment of heads of households in the region. 

“This means that given our current trends, high school graduates in the region who will be first-generation college students will be lower,” he said.

Merwin said enrollment will be more “dire” within the next five to six years.

However, he pointed out clusters of students who live closer to other state schools, particularly Worcester State University, who enrolled at FSU. 

Something is pulling students to FSU who would otherwise attend Worcester State, Merwin said. However, he was unable to identify why students chose FSU over a geographically closer school.

FSU does not have the resources to match financial aid packages at other schools, Holloway said. When Mount Ida College closed, representatives at FSU admissions fairs were unable to match financial aid packages offered to those students.

Another major factor impacting enrollment is a decline in community college enrollment, said Holloway. Community colleges are major “feeder” schools to FSU, contributing to transfer enrollment numbers.

Ferraro showcased the enrollment projection model created by the Enrollment Data Team to predict what will happen in response to declining overall enrollment. “The model is a ‘tool to make informed, data-driven enrollment-related decisions.’”

The model is designed to incorporate new data, be manipulatable for relevant stakeholders, and be accessible to the FSU community, he said.

The model incorporates two groups: pre-matriculation and post-matriculation data, said Ferraro.

Pre-matriculation trends include applications, acceptance rates, and yield rates, Ferraro said. The data pool spans from 2008 to 2018.

Post-matriculation trends include retention, progression, graduation, and full-time equivalency rates, Ferraro added. The data pool spans from 2013 to 2018.

Future trends can be predicted by manipulating “dynamic enrollment targets,” Ferraro said. 

The core data used for predictions is from fall 2018, he said. These values assume 760 freshmen and 360 transfer students per year.

Ferraro said “relevant stakeholders” can input their own values to see how overall enrollment is impacted over the next few years.

In an email statement, Ferraro said, “We anticipate making the model and the underlying data that feed into it available to the University community in the future.”

Holloway said enrollment is not just about admissions, but also about increasing “other challenges.”

Last year, an increase in low-income students led to more students attempting to get out of housing because they cannot pay for it, Holloway said.

In terms of food and housing insecurity, Holloway said she was unsure if there was an actual increase in students with those insecurities, or if more students were “coming out” about those insecurities.

First-generation students and families need “other kinds of information,” Holloway said. She does a “mom test” to determine if information is understandable for all prospective families. 

“If I think my mother would call an office, and she couldn’t understand what you are saying, then you’ve failed the mom test,” Holloway said. It is important to focus on recruiting and retaining both students and their families.

Holloway said K-12 education is doing a “better job” getting students with learning and/or health challenges through education than it has in the past. In addition to thinking about if students are college-ready, she said FSU needs to ask “if we are ready for the students who are coming to our campus.”

Two new administrators spoke to the community: Angela Salas, provost and vice president for academic affairs, and Connie Cabello, vice president of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement.

Salas said she was “pleased and honored” to be able to speak at the meeting. 

She said the University’s charges to “Live to the Truth,” to be a “fRAMily,” and the emphasis placed on them, are “noble goals.”

Salas compared living to the truth to heading north on a hike or in a boat. “North tends to hold still as you walk,” she said, “but the winds and currents experienced in a boat can mean that we’re moving with great determination in a direction we do not intend.

“Being a fRAMily requires that we look out for each other,” she said. “We are on the boat together, the currents are shifting rapidly, and many of us feel that we cannot exert ourselves any more than we are now to stay the course. The Strategic Plan of this institution is an articulation of our True North.

“Your colleagues’ success supports your own, as your success supports your colleagues’.”

Cabello said she is “excited to be at FSU.” 

She said she found “islands of inclusive excellence work” on campus over the summer. These “islands” include, but are not limited to, the Bias Education Response Team, Alumni of Color Network, the Council on Diversity and Inclusion, the Hispanic-Serving Institution Taskforce, student and employee affinity groups, and the Center for Inclusive Excellence. 

Approximately 60 FSU staff, faculty, librarians, police, and other employees signed up for diversity and inclusion workshops, Cabello said. 

“My hope is that we can work together as a larger community to outline a broader strategic approach to inclusive excellence on campus.”

She added, “We have work to do.”