As Fort Lewis College anticipates an enrollment decrease again next year, staff and faculty are intensifying recruiting efforts to turn the slide around.
“A large part is our gradual move to 2019 admission standards,” FLC President Dene Thomas told the Board of Trustees last week at a committee meeting about a possible 3.4 percent decrease in enrollment. “But the quality and preparedness of students to do college work is also increasing.”
The state will require all four-year public institutions to have the higher standards in place for students entering college in 2019, but Fort Lewis elected to phase them in over several years to avoid a dramatic increase in one year. Forty-eight students who would have been accepted under last year’s admission standard were not admitted this year.
As of April 4, 438 students had confirmed plans to attend the college as freshmen, she said, compared to 477 last year on that date and 389 in 2015. The number of transfer students is close to last year’s, with 94 confirmed by April 4 this year compared to 96 on that date last year and 61 in 2015.
In terms of readiness to do college-level work, the average GPA of this year’s accepted students is 3.33, compared to 3.22 last year. Average composite ACT scores have risen from 22 to 22.7. Thomas said an additional 12 students qualify as applicants for the Presidential Scholars Program, which requires a 3.5 GPA and ACT scores of 25 for English and math.
The key date for college decisions is May 1, Admissions Director Andy Burns said.
“In recent years, 92 percent exactly of students confirmed by that date have enrolled,” he said. “It’s pretty accurate, and we will have a better sense of enrollment by the end-of-May meeting (May 26).”
The college has changed the materials it sends to students inquiring about FLC, and offers two webinars a week for prospective students to ask questions of staff and faculty, Burns said.
“We’re pretty remote and isolated,” Burns said. “But we attract students from all 50 states, and those from Florida and other far-flung states may not be able to visit the campus.”
The college is expecting 164 students and their families to come for the VIP Preview Weekend this weekend, up from about 150 last year.
“For the first time, these freshmen will be able to register for classes during the weekend,” Thomas said. “That’s a month ahead of last year. Research shows that if they register, there’s a much more likely chance they will enroll.”
The college couldn’t begin registration during preview weekend last year because it was changing the curriculum to all three-credit courses, said Michele Peterson, assistant vice president of finance and administration.
The addition of a new major in computer engineering also is proving attractive to prospective students, with 36 freshmen to date indicating an interest in the field.
“We’re working on a high-touch persistent effort connecting with students,” Burns said. “We’re connecting students with experts, including faculty doing outreach to students interested in their disciplines who do meet our standards. And once they confirm enrollment, we’ll be doing a monthly webinar helping them feel more connected with campus, connected with Durango, keeping their eyes focused on Fort Lewis College.”
One other positive sign for enrollment is this year’s retention of freshmen, up 3.1 percent from last year from 64 to 66 percent. The college’s efforts to keep students – organized under the banner “Finish in Four” – are paying off.
While most students and their parents don’t inquire about graduation rates, Fort Lewis is showing significant improvement in that regard.
The four-year graduation rate has improved 19 percent over 2015-2016 actual numbers, from 21 percent to 25 percent. The six-year graduation rate has increased this year by 12.8 percent, from 40 to 45 percent. And the six-year rate for under-represented, or minority, students has shown a greater increase, up 27.6 percent, from 29 to 37 percent in that time period.
“We almost have too many graduates at the end of the month (April 29),” Provost Barbara Morris said with a laugh. “We’re processing 550 applications, and we should have a robust, crowded gym at both ceremonies.”