Despite a large incoming class, UMD’s enrollment numbers are down for the second consecutive year. At about 2,070 students, the incoming class is nine percent bigger than in 2012; however, the total undergraduate population of UMD is down three percent—roughly 9,160 students.
This is due to shorter graduation times. In 2010, 27.7 percent of students managed to graduate in four years, but 2012 saw 34.2 percent do so.
Dropping enrollment causes financial strain because UMD’s budget is financed with mostly tuition payments. Only about 20 percent of the budget is paid for by the state of Minnesota, a large drop from 2003, when state funding comprised 50 percent of UMD’s budget. Dr. Andrea Schokker, Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, said the decline in state dollars means that "more and more public schools are starting to follow the model of a private school."
This can be challenging since UMD is burdened by commitments that private schools do not have. For example, UMD’s status as a Land-Grant University means admissions are less selective when evaluating applicants. With just a fifth of the budget guaranteed, even slight fluctuations in enrollment can jeopardize faculty and ultimately hurt students.
The administration recognizes the concern and is addressing the enrollment issue. For the first time in its history, UMD officially let the world know that it exists. Schokker said that before 2013, UMD had never spent any money on advertising.
After a drop in freshmen enrollment in 2012, UMD sent out flyers to high-scoring ACT students and encouraged them to apply using a newer and simpler online application portal. UMD hired a specialist to redesign the website, and while this change may go unappreciated by the new freshmen, upperclassmen will notice it is much improved from years past. Schokker thinks these efforts were the reason for the nine percent year-over-year increase in the incoming class.
Even with the increase in freshmen, total undergraduate enrollment fell three percent. Declining enrollment isn't just a UMD problem though.
According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, total enrollment in U.S. degree-granting institutions for spring 2013 was down two percent compared with the same period in 2012. The Midwest region fared slightly worse, recording a three percent decline over the same timeframe.
Schokker said that recent declines can be attributed to an improving economy.
"We usually see it with graduate student enrollments,” Schokker said. “If the economy is good, fewer people apply. And if it's bad, enrollment really goes up.”
To see this same effect with undergraduates is surprising. Schokker said that burdensome debt can mean that students are more likely to jump at the first job offer they get, even if that means leaving early.
BY JOHN FAHNENSTIEL