Enrollment projection drops

Enrollment projection drops
The number of applications, admissions and deposits as of the 25th week of the last three academic years. Graphic by Olivia Bertino.

As of March 3, 2023, only 261 students were enrolled to attend Augustana University next fall as incoming freshmen, down from the same time last year when over 300 students were enrolled.

While final enrollment numbers for the 2023-2024 academic year are still months away, 553 students was this year’s total, registrar Joni Krueger said — a record-breaking size that was last reported in the 1970s.

Adam Heinitz, assistant vice president for enrollment management, and others on the enrollment team remain optimistic that the number of incoming freshmen could break 500 students, even if it doesn’t break any enrollment records.

“While we would prefer to be running ahead of last year’s record-breaking pace, we also understand that each class of students operates on a unique timeline,” Heintiz said. “We still have a large number of admitted students in our pool, so the potential remains for a great incoming class.”

Heinitz said that although 261 enrolled incoming freshmen does not exceed last year’s record, it does exceed that of fall 2021, which had 251 students.

According to Heinitz, the price of admission might be a reason why this year’s statistics are lower than last year’s, as it was the top deciding factor among students who turned away from Augustana. Despite the increase in tuition, Heinitz said that there isn’t a single, clear answer to why the number might be down this year.

“I don’t know that we can ever point to any one factor as leading to enrollment increases or decreases,” Heinitz said. “Price sensitivity is high, and perhaps the duration of high inflation, higher interest rates and fears [or] signs of a recession have started to impact families.”

President Stephanie Herseth Sandlin said she was pleasantly surprised with the total number of students admitted in fall 2022, but she doesn’t want others to think that total is abnormal because of this year’s low commitment rate, which mirrors fall 2021.

“I don’t want people to think it was an aberration,” Herseth Sandlin said. “I think that we are applying lessons learned as we mature our sophistication around enrollment.”

Herseth Sandlin said she believes the extension of application deadlines since the COVID-19 pandemic has made  students more relaxed about commitment deadlines.

“During COVID, we extended a lot of things to June 1,” Herseth Sandlin said. “I think students are getting more comfortable waiting.”

Herseth Sandlin also said changing financial aid awards and the current economic environment could affect deposit commitments.

“There are a lot of counselors that are advising students and their families to negotiate to get a financial aid award,” Herseth Sandlin said. “We don’t have a lot more money, so it’s a challenge [and] a really complicated situation. The more we can get funded scholarships, the better we are to compete in this environment.”

The enrollment team strives to remain on track with estimated enrollment goals through enhancing campus and creating new programs. According to Heinitz, The Doctorate of Physical Therapy program, a new men’s hockey program and new undergraduate majors, such as financial technology, are a few of these enhancements.

Heinitz also said making Augustana more affordable by raising money for student scholarships is another way the enrollment team is trying to remain on track for enrollment numbers next year.

“In short, we continue to follow the core elements of our strategic plan to grow enrollment,” Heinitz said.

For some current first-year students, like Sydney Rogers, a tuition increase would not have affected their decision to attend Augustana.

“Statistically, it was likely that I was going to see some form of tuition increase in my four years,” Rogers said. “Cost and financial aid offers definitely played a factor in my decision, but it was more about the fact that during the application process of Augustana, I felt like a person and not just a statistic.”

More students will enroll as the admission process continues and as students make final decisions in late spring and summer. The final total of enrolled first-year students won’t be known until August 2023.