Fort Lewis College has its best academically prepared incoming class of freshmen in history this year, but enrollment is down 3.3 percent.
Student enrollment for the fall semester is 3,595, about 500 students shy of the college’s 2013 enrollment of 4,065. It’s the lowest enrollment in more than a decade, dropping below the 3,685 in 2009, during the heart of the recession.
“Increasing our admission standards led us to deny many students who would have been admitted in the past,” FLC spokesman Mitch Davis said. “We’re looking ahead to state changes in admission standards in 2019, and we’re phasing in those changes over time. That might mean challenging enrollment for the next few years.”
The college had budgeted for a lower enrollment in 2016-17, but fewer students means a financial hit for the college.
“We will have to deal with one-time funds to cover this year,” said Michele Peterson, associate vice president for finance and administration. “We’ll have to strategize how we can rebound next year. Hopefully, we can rebound enrollment next year.”
The number of applicants who were not admitted has grown steadily in recent years. In 2014, FLC did not accept 220 applicants, in 2015, it was 428, and for this year, the number rose to 614.
As of 2019, Fort Lewis will be able to admit only a small number of students who require remedial classes to be able to do work at the college level. Completing remedial work adds to the cost and time students must expend to earn a degree. As many as one-third of FLC students have fallen into that category in recent years. Research shows on a national level that students who require remedial classes are less likely to graduate, leaving them with no degree and, often, significant student debt.
An important indicator FLC tracks is its retention rate from freshman to sophomore year. The retention rate for 2016-2017 is 66.3 percent, up 3.4 percent over 2015. The school spends a significant amount of money recruiting students, so keeping them provides a higher return on that investment.
The other reason admissions are down is the elimination of the athletic training major. The profession’s educational governing body will require as of 2020 that colleges offer a master’s degree in the discipline to offer an accredited undergraduate degree. Fort Lewis does not have the capability to add another master’s program in that discipline in terms of faculty, facilities and demand, Davis said. Athletic training was also not graduating enough students to meet Colorado Department of Higher Education standards, Provost Barbara Morris said.
The exercise science department will teach out the remaining students in the discipline over the next two years.
Meanwhile, the college has committed to its second full-year contract with Royall & Co. Enrollment Management, which brought in numerous additional applications this year, although not enough to make up for the denials because of the higher admission standards.
“If there’s a silver lining, we’re going to need students with higher academic readiness in the future to be able to succeed in programs like computer engineering, which begins next year,” Davis said.
The 2016 freshman class has the highest GPAs and ACT scores in the school’s history, with more than a third arriving at Fort Lewis with a GPA of 3.5 or higher.