Freshman class smaller than Butler expected

A freshman class size of 927 students might seem like a high number, but that figure didn’t quite hit Butler University’s mark this year. In fact, this year’s class was the smallest since 2005.

Despite a second consecutive trip to the Final Four, a 35 percent increase in campus visits by prospective students and 3,000 more applications than in 2010, the university failed to meet its expected enrollment for the freshman class.

Tom Weede, vice president of enrollment, said the enrollment yield, or the percentage of students admitted that end up enrolling, fell by more than 5 percentage points, from 21.2 percent in 2010 to 16 percent this year.

“It was just a really interesting year, because it seems difficult to understand how you could have 41 percent more applications and have a smaller class than you did the year before,” he said.

Weede said the university targeted a freshman class size between 960 to 1,000 freshmen—a decrease from the 1,050 from the previous year—because officials knew the university would be unable to comfortably serve students at that capacity.

In attempting to accommodate the university’s size capacity and anticipating the yield would fall slightly, Weede said the enrollment office made the decision to admit about 5,200 students before the wait list.

Weede said the university did not accept as many students in the lower reaches of what has been its traditional acceptance pool. If it had accepted the same number of students as last year, the class would have about 70 more students.
Because of this, the yield went down 5 percent instead of .5 percent.

Weede said though the university was able to make up for the 30-plusfreshmen deficit through transfer students, it is important to look for ways to ensure that Butler isn’t just another school on a list.

“We are trying to make sure that we get back to that sweet spot, which would be between 960 and 1,000,” Weede said. “We were just caught in a bind this year where we didn’t want to come in too high.”

Because student tuition and fees account for 87 percent of the university’s annual budget, not meeting the enrollment expectation also places some financial burden on the school, Weede said. Although the budget difference was recovered through transfer students, there could still be some ramifications.

When it became clear Butler wasn’t going to receive 960 new freshmen this year, the Board of Trustees considered trimming the budget, provost and vice president for academic affairs Jamie Comstock said at the Sept. 6 Faculty Senate meeting.
The Board of Trustees could decide to vote against a 1 percent salary equity raise for some qualified faculty and staff at its Oct. 1 meeting, but Comstock said regular raises will not be affected.

“We’re concerned about all aspects of the budget,” Weede said. “We are always cognizant  of having the right number of students.”

The board is expected to make a final decision about the equity raise at its Oct. 1 full meeting, Marcia Dowell, executive director of university relations, said.

“I predict that the board will not go forward with equity raises,” Comstock said at the meeting. “I’m grateful that the board went ahead with the 3 percent raises, but we need to expect that as they deliberate about it that they may fall a different way.”

The university expects to make an announcement soon regarding the status of the equity raise, assistant to the provost Monica Strigari told The Butler Collegian in an email. Strigari wrote that it would not be appropriate for
the provost to comment further until a decision is announced.

Jay Howard, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said LAS is working more closely with admissions and enrollment on a project that could help raise the enrollment yield. He said he wants to ensure that prospective students interested in the liberal arts programs gain a personal connection with Butler faculty.

“The way we increase our yield is by getting that face-to-face contact between the faculty and potential students,” he said. “We’re changing what we’re doing on campus to increase face time with the faculty, which we think will result in a higher yield.”

Howard said he believes that over the past couple of years, some of the faculty involvement has declined for a variety of reasons and is a contributor to a lowering yield.

“I think [we] recognize that the decrease in face time with faculty has lowered the yield in LAS, so we’re trying to create an organizational structure that gives potential students and the parents the opportunity to interact with the faculty much more directly,” Howard said.

Vivian Deno, assistant professor of history, said it would be helpful to communicate with students who were interested in Butler before they send in their college
applications.

“We don’t have access to students to sell our programs,” Deno said at Faculty Senate Sept 6. “If we are going to sell the liberal arts, we’d actually like to have an audience to do it with.”

Howard said one of the ideas is to have an hour-long “college fair” at the potential student open houses, giving the students an opportunity to meet with representatives from different majors and establish a personal relationship with the faculty before coming to school in the fall.

“Having the opportunity to talk with those departments and develop those relationships early on is very often part of what hooks a student into a program,” Howard said. “It’s that kind of one-on-one conversation that we think is going to make a difference.”

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