The number of enrollment deposits—the deposit that ensures a student’s attendance next fall- that Albion has received is down 10 percent from this time last year, from 101 to 91, according to Kevin Kropf, director of admission. Applications as a whole fell 13 percent.
Coupled with the fact that the class of 2009 is one of the largest graduating classes in Albion’s history with 561 seniors, including December and September graduates, the school could be looking at an emptier campus next fall.
Both Kropf and Doug Kellar, vice president of enrollment management, point to the economy as the reason that applications and deposits are down.
“Having fewer applications at this time of year coupled with the poor state of the economy in general and how that may impact enrollment yield suggests that we may have a tough time reaching our new student enrollment target (of 500 students) this year,” Kellar said.
Albion is far from alone in dealing with this problem.
A recent study done by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) found that two-thirds of the 371 institutions they surveyed are “greatly concerned about preventing a decline in enrollment.”
Kropf noted that the office of admission has changed their tactics to fit prospective students’ concerns about the cost of an Albion education in an attempt to combat the negative effects of the economy.
“We’re more forward with value statements about the college, and we’re talking more about financial aid,” Kropf said.
“In terms of financial aid, we are communicating it to the parents and to the student in separate mailings,” Kropf said. “We are providing both with average award amounts, a typical make up of an award and providing them with a contact person for any questions they may have.”
Kropf said that the values that set Albion apart are the college’s commitment to small class sizes, guaranteed on-campus housing and unique programs such as FURSCA, FYE and the institutes.
“The reality of these economic times is that all colleges will be tightening the belt, but it’s going to play out differently at each school,” Kropf said. “Given the recent announcement from Governor Granholm in regards to university funding (no state money unless there is a tuition freeze), we know state schools are going to make large classes even larger, fewer courses will be offered, it will be even tougher for students to graduate in four years. On-campus housing will become even scarcer (at other schools), and we think the comparative advantage of Albion continues to grow.”
Kellar is realistic about the problems that lower enrollment may cause for the college.
“Albion is primarily a ‘tuition-revenue driven’ institution, meaning that most of the operational budget for the college is derived from tuition revenue,” Kellar said. “Lower overall enrollment can result in some budget adjustments necessary to maintain a balanced budget.”
Troy VanAken, executive vice president, elaborated on the budget problems fewer students cause.
“An enrollment drop of 50 full-time enrollment students translates into a bit more than $1 million less revenue for Albion,” VanAken said.
VanAken noted that each department is looking for ways to streamline in case of a budget shortfall. VanAken said that his department is looking to the Held Equestrian Center as an alternative revenue source, through horse shows and riding lessons. In addition, they are aggressively pursuing energy conservation as a means to reduce the operational budget of the college.
According to the NAICU report, the top three ways that colleges are dealing with budget shortfalls due to the economy are to institute a hiring freeze, to slow current construction/renovation projects and to restrict staff travel.
Albion has already announced that staff cuts are in the future as part of their budget reduction plan.
“We are seeking to identify positions and programs that are not central to the mission of Albion to minimize the impact of the reductions,” said Donna Randall, Albion College president. “We are also making significant reductions to other areas beyond staff and faculty reductions as we want to protect as much as possible the magic of the Albion experience.”
Despite the challenges Albion faces, Kropf remains hopeful that the college can meet the enrollment numbers that they had last year, at 486 incoming first-years.
“Some of our plans and our strategies for success are going to manifest later in the process,” Kropf said. “There’s a lot of game to be played yet. The worst thing that we can do is draw attention to the things we’re down on.”