According to information shared with the DU Faculty Senate, undergraduate enrollment appears solid for the summer and fall. Compared to last year’s enrollment, spring is holding at 94% and fall is 102% of the prior year. If this holds, the University of Denver would appear to be on relatively solid footing given the uncertainty surrounding the future thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. If this holds, it would stand in stark contrast to many published reports by other colleges and universities across the country.
Admissions offices have had to get creative to keep their media presence high for prospective students. Ramped up engagement efforts include virtual student-to-student chats, virtual student-to-staff chats, live online events, and other virtual campus tours and engagements to reach high school students – all without having to set foot on campus.
Denver’s Todd Reinhart told Bloomberg, “I don’t see anyone being immune this fall, or even a year from now, from some of the effects we’re experiencing right now,” said Reinhart, president-elect of the National Association for College Admission Counseling and vice chancellor for enrollment at the University of Denver. “We’d be naive to think that it’s suddenly going to be back to normal.”
Forbes cited five reasons why recruiting will be particularly challenging this year. First, foreign students flowing to the US for higher education may turn to a trickle. Denver, with 768 international students, many full-pay students, is certain to be hit.
Second, early surveys are showing students do not plan to exit higher education in big numbers. According to survey results, 17% of college students are ‘considering making a change’ this fall. These results are probably not much different than any other year as many students contemplate making different college or life choices.
In the third point cited by Forbes, schools are likely to ‘over admit’ students this fall, to mitigate possible drops in enrollment. An unexpected yield means it will be almost impossible to calculate what percentage of students actually show up in the fall. Forbes posits that less prestigious schools will take the biggest hit.
The competition for good college student candidates will also become more aggressive as colleges compete for students – and even more so with the reducing demographic pool of 18-year-olds. This was happening already but will accelerate.
Finally, education will become more ‘local’ as parents, more so than students, look for education options in close proximity to home. This may actually benefit Denver as DU is the largest private school located in a rapidly growing Rocky Mountain region. DU has a larger student pool to draw from than they did just 20-30 years ago.
An unspoken option for colleges and universities is lowering admission standards or reducing student aid. According to The News & Observer, schools in the University of North Carolina system can now choose to admit students with a minimum 2.5 weighted high school GPA or a combined SAT score of 880 (was 1010) or an ACT score of 17 (was 19). By exception, admissions offices can make admission decisions based on GPA alone. This decision was driven by the cancellation of the SATs and ACTs due to the COVID-19 pandemic and underlying university studies which conclude that GPA is the best indicator of academic performance. This approach was seen as a way to increase the system’s candidate pool by 20,000 candidates.
The good news, based on these early indicators, is the University of Denver may be uniquely positioned to ride out the COVID-19 storm. There is still a large hump to get over with this first wave of the pandemic and all of the financial consequences that come with it but it at least appears that DU is prepared and fully equipped to successfully navigate through this difficult time.