As the 2016-2017 school year rolls to a slow close, the faculty and staff at Albion College begin to look forward to what next fall may bring, and with it, what the class of 2021 might look like. Over the past two years, Albion’s incoming class sizes have been steadily growing. These changes and improvements will hopefully continue over the next several years, and if the generous donation for an expanded admissions center tells us anything, people are starting to believe in Albion College once again as we enter into a new era of community engagement and commitment to diversity.
Steven Klein, vice president for enrollment for the past two years, is hopeful this upward trend in admissions will continue.
“Our goal is to have 450 first-year students and 40 transfer students,” said Klein. This is up from last year’s class of 2020 which came in at 404 first-year students and 36 transfer students.
Because of changes in the FAFSA deadlines making the student loans applications available Oct. 1 rather than the new year, deposits for incoming students have started to trickle in much earlier than normal.
“Is it earlier or more?” said Klein. “Or a combination of both? We have reason to believe it’s a combination of both, because it’s now April, and we’ve been able to maintain most of the increase that we had, say two months ago, a lot of other schools have leveled off somewhat. So we’re optimistic that we’ll reach our goal.”
But to what does admissions credit these steady increases in class size? What kinds of things has admissions been doing differently to stoke more interest in Albion College than in recent years? According to Klein, it’s not one simple answer but rather a series of circumstances that have lead to better enrollment numbers.
Firstly, the admissions staff has been expanded with additional employees. Part of the reason for this is to increase the out-of-state recruiting for the college. Traditionally, around 90 percent of Albion students have been from Michigan. But, since the economic crash in 2008, Michigan’s population has steadily declined over the years. And if the pool the college is drawing from for students is drying up, Admissions realized they had to look elsewhere.
Most of Albion’s out-of-state recruitment has focused on Chicago, where the college has seen the biggest jump in enrollment numbers. But the school has also been focusing and recruiting from other places like California, Texas, Ohio and Florida.
Secondly, Klein attributes an increase in enrollment to the college’s new stance on being aggressive with scholarships in order to win students over from other schools. This is especially important as a private school when, before scholarships, tuition can cause quite the sticker shock in potential students.
Finally Klein says the new leadership at the school, specifically the hiring of Mauri Ditzler as president, has been a huge factor to the growing enrollment.
“We’ve had more stable leadership at the college, which I think has led to better planning,” said Klein. “Also, better execution of those plans lead to better enrollment than they perhaps had prior to [Ditzler] coming up. The team that he’s put together, all of his vice presidents, we work well together, support one another. I think the faculty has responded very well to the new president. As people get more excited about Albion, they’ve been more eager to help in the recruitment effort.”
But increasing enrollment isn’t always a good thing. As Klein pointed out, there’s no point in just growth without preparing for the kinds of stress an increased student population can put on the infrastructure of the college.
“The college reached close to 2000 at its peak, and as it’s been reported to me, it did grow too fast. And, there were some consequences to that,” he said.
According to Klein, after the school population fell to around 1235 at its lowest, there were several cuts that had to be made to faculty and staff, and Seaton dorm was closed at that time. When cuts to faculty and staff were being made, the college made those cuts so the college could still hold a max of 1650 students. As of this year, the college sits somewhere around 1400 students. And if the school was to meet its enrollment goal next year, it would hold slightly over 1500 students.
This means that, even though the college has been growing steadily, we are nowhere near the capacity for students on campus. Even so, the college is being careful to make sure that Albion doesn’t experience the same kind of growing pains the last time it began to grow.
“If you plan ahead then it may not be ‘growing pains,’ it may be changes that accommodate more students,” said Klein. “When they grew last time, it doesn’t sound like they anticipated in terms of what all of the needs would be. Planned growth could be a very good thing. That’s the key. We’re not just growing and thinking after the fact, ‘Oh we don’t have room for everybody, we don’t have space for everybody in class, the dining hall can’t accommodate everyone.’ I think this leadership team – which includes the board of trustees – is already looking at that.”
As the college gets ready to say goodbye to the class of 2017 and looks forward to welcoming the class of 2021, they also look forward to continuing the new tradition of increasing diversity in the incoming class. According to Klein, however, it’s not really about specifically going out and looking for diversity for the sake of diversity.
“Basically, we’re looking for ready and prepared high school graduates, and they look much more diverse than they did 10 and 20 years ago. And so you can’t help but recruit a more diverse student body as you go to high schools,” he said.
He says now that Albion’s campus will try and reflect the true diversity of the country rather than just in Michigan. He says that not only will that create a better campus culture, but it will better prepare Albion graduates for the world beyond college.
Whatever the class of 2021 may bring to Albion, it’s going to be big.
Photo by Beau Brockett Jr.