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Drop in Enrollment

declineBy Andrea Starr

The problem

With the spring semester in full swing, it is apparent that some of our peers from the fall semester are no longer students at Finlandia.  And the word on campus seems to be that enrollment rates are down.  Is this true?  Does this worry anyone?  I’ve encountered many students who worry that a downward trend in the enrollment rate could mean loss of faculty and class offerings here on campus, increased fees for students, or a whole host of changes for FinlandiaUniversity.  But do we have reason to fear?  Julie Jennerjohn, Vice President of Enrollment, said that as of now, nothing of that nature has been discussed.  So how many students were actually lost at semester? And why did they leave?

Leann Fogle, Coordinator of Residential Life, said that Finlandia lost a few students from the dorms, but that there were also new students and even some interns who moved in this spring, so it evened out. “We may have lost more students this year than in past years,” Fogle said, “but typically the spring semester is always less than the fall semester.”

According to FinlandiaUniversity’s Fall 2013 Final Headcount-FTE Report, there were 525 students, both part- and full-time, enrolled at Finlandia last semester.  In the spring 2014 semester, there are currently only 477 students reportedly enrolled.  Since Finlandia is a small university as it is, the loss of forty-eight students seems like a large deficit; that’s about nine percent of Finlandia’s total enrollment for the fall 2013 semester.

The reason

However, there are many possible reasons for this loss.  The economy ultimately has an impact on paying for college, and unfortunately for some students, the financial obligations of a higher education are sometimes enough of a stumbling block to end one’s college experience.  Another factor to consider is that some students graduated upon completion of the fall semester.  For others, students might have decided that Finlandia isn’t the right fit for them, or maybe college isn’t the right path for their lives.  Jennerjohn said, “When it comes to the incoming class for the fall of 2013, universities are going to track the fall to fall. There are lots of things that can happen in the spring.”

Factors like distance and adjusting to a new environment also play into whether or not students decide to stay at their college or university long-term.  A former Finlandia student who would rather not be identified said, “I just never felt like I fit in, and I really missed my family!”

Jennerjohn said that Finlandia’s enrollment was in a decline up until the fall of 2012, but overall, however, Finlandia’s retention rate has improved in the past year.  “For the fall enrollment in general, and for private universities, the fall of ’13 was a downward trend,” said Jennerjohn. “We’re not unique to what’s happened industrywide to private universities.”

The solution

Jennerjohn said that Finlandia is working in many ways to improve students’ overall experience, such as providing support for faculty advisors, working with students individually to help them succeed, and requiring UNS classes to acclimate students to Finlandia’s environment and the expectations of a higher education.

Michael Baily, Dean of Student Affairs, said that each year there are two workshops provided for faculty advisors to further promote professional development and people-oriented skills.

Jennerjohn added that these workshops ensure that advisors are effectively and efficiently balancing their duties, not only as faculty members, but as faculty advisors.  She said that because faculty advisors play an important role in student experience on campus, Finlandia has made support for advisors a first priority when considering how to improve student experience.

There has also been more emphasis put on providing support for students who might not be achieving as well as they could be.  While Finlandia is a private university, the requirements for admission are not very demanding.  High school students with a cumulative GPA of 2.0 on a scale of 4.0 who have simply taken the ACT are eligible to attend Finlandia.  But even students who have not met these requirements are sometimes admitted on academic probation, allowing them to start fresh at the college level.  However, these students may often struggle to achieve at the level expected of them.

That is why, for all students, there is an emphasis put on first alert, so if their grades start to drop, the students can meet with someone individually to determine why and further discuss how to improve.  Students also have access to TRiO and tutoring at the TLC if they are in need of additional support.  Finlandia does not want to be seen as a university that doesn’t care about its students, but rather a university that readily works with its students in every aspect of their education, Jennerjohn said.

Jennerjohn also said that Finlandia has conducted student surveys and held focus groups to get an idea of where our students feel Finlandia is doing well, but also where there may be room for improvement concerning our college experience.  President Johnson held the last focus group on January 23 in the form of a Q&A session.  According to Baily, students expressed desires for more updated facilities and more printing locations on campus.

Additionally, the UNS classes that all freshmen are required to complete may also play a role in improving Finlandia’s retention rate.  According to Jennerjohn, “Mike Baily continually works with the academic leadership to find ways to provide better information or information we feel students might need in order to be prepared for the college experience, introducing them to those kinds of study skills and time management.”

Baily said that he hopes the UNS 115 class will eventually be required for all students, even transfers.  Its purpose is not only to instill good study habits in students, but also to get students out into the community to experience what is available to them, and to acquaint them with the history and culture of Finlandia’s environment.

“Even our freshmen, we don’t take them around.  We don’t take them to show them McLainPark or even up to EagleHarbor,” said Baily, “We’d like to take some of these trips just to say here’s what this beautiful land up here is all about.”

He expressed his desire to make sure students feel engaged at Finlandia.  Although Baily has administered surveys of the student body in order to gain a better sense of what we’d like to see on campus, the responses were too few to draw a consensus.

What frustrates faculty is that many students are quick to criticize the university and the surrounding area due to boredom, but fewer students are willing to offer up suggestions as to how this problem could be quelled.  Baily stressed that he wants and needs to know what we the students want to do in order to make anything happen.  “Tell us what you want,” he said, “and if we can do it, we’ll do it.”

Enrollment may be down currently, but other private universities are feeling the same pressures of this reality.  The fact that Finlandia is such a small university seems to emphasize our losses more, however.  With the new strategic plan for the next few years finally in action, there are many initiatives at work in the background to improve campus life and to recruit more students to Finlandia.  Finlandia officials understand that the university must change with the times in order to survive and thrive.

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