In the face of a deadly pandemic and the worst economic crash since the Great Depression, many colleges and universities have suffered a series of unprecedented challenges in a range of matters, several of which hinge on student enrollment. While plenty of colleges are struggling with enrollment this fall, AU is expected to hold steady.
Calculating from limited estimates and hopeful projections, AU has experienced an approximate 3% to 4% drop in enrollment this fall, compared to fall 2019. Fitch Ratings, a research firm that analyzes market trends for promoting economic growth, predicted that private colleges will suffer the worst blow to revenue and enrollment due to the pandemic.
“Fitch anticipates annual enrollment declines could range from 5% to 20% for many colleges and universities in fall 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic,” said a June 8 online report from Fitch Ratings. But AU enrollment declines appear to be somewhere below the 5% prediction.
Last fall AU admitted an estimated 385 new students, according to Director of Admissions and Strategic Planning Sarah Rowe. For fall 2020, AU projects 370 to 375 new students, according to Rowe and additional sources.
Rowe said that AU’s 370 to 375 enrollees this fall is a “snapshot in time,” or a preliminary estimate, as some applications are still processing, and other prospective students are still weighing their decision. 369 total new students have fully committed as of Aug. 24.
“We’re in a unique situation with college-aged students where enrollment in college is kind of on a slight decline,” said Rowe.
Despite the slight decline, Rowe is optimistic that AU is “holding steady” and, compared to other independent Indiana colleges, remains a “distinctive and compelling” choice for prospective students. She added that AU still offers many areas of interest and unique curricula to make the university marketable to students, raising hopes that AU enrollment could rise in the future.
Cybersecurity, engineering and the Falls School of Business, according to Rowe, are examples of “great opportunities” for students “to go into majors and career fields that have high earnings potential. And we’ll have growing employment numbers in the coming years, too,” she added.
Rowe said that AU is not alone in its fight for enrollment, as other independent Indiana colleges face the same challenges.
“We’re pretty on par,” said Rowe, “especially with other schools that are among the independent colleges of Indiana, where we’re holding steady as far as trending goes with those other universities. We’re pretty pleased with where we’re ending up, especially facing coronavirus and all of the complications that has brought forward for students and their families.”
Dean of Students Chris Luekenga agreed that AU is close to its target with enrollment this fall.
“It’s my understanding that we’re close to hitting our target. I feel like it’s a blessing,” Luekenga added, feeling optimistic that AU enrollment is not dropping as severely as many colleges across the country expect to.
“That in-and-of-itself is encouraging,” he said of AU’s 3% to 4% decline, when considering the 5% to 20% drop that many colleges are expected to face.
To date, 57 prospective students have canceled after paying their fall 2020 enrollment deposit, while AU had similar numbers in 2019 and 2018. Considering the pandemic this year, Luekenga is not too disappointed with those 57 cancelations.
“I think we were about 57 last year and 57 the year before,” said Luekenga. “That’s without being in a worldwide pandemic. I think that being at 57—while we’d never want that—we would probably be half of that, if we weren’t in the midst of this pandemic.”
Vice President for Enrollment Heather Kim confirmed Luekega’s claims with the same optimism. “We had 57 people that had submitted an enrollment deposit and then canceled,” she said. “Ironically enough, that’s the exact same number as this time last year and the exact same number as the year before, but I actually think it’s a good number.”
Kim thinks that 57 canceled deposits is acceptable “because close to half of those students canceled their deposits saying that they’re not coming because of COVID.”