The California State University system has seen a decline in enrollment rates since fall of 2022, due to the long-term effects of COVID-19 and the rise in the cost of living, but according to administration officials, the issue hasn’t affected campus.
“Every campus is different, but some have had challenges due to economics and cost of living, especially some of our schools in the Bay Area,” said Director for the Office of Admissions, Brandon Tuck. “They are also impacted by COVID-19 because some of them were epicenters, so people wanted to stay close to home.”
Tuck shared similar sentiments, stating that if enrollment went down, it could be seen as a positive. If enrollment rates were to go down incrementally, students could find more course offerings and the parking situation on campus as well as basic resources would improve.
Although this is a systemwide issue, Provost Jennifer Lynn Brown said the issue is not impacting Cal Poly Pomona. The campus reached its target number of applications last year, and according to Brown, the campus has had record numbers of applications.
There is record of a drop in enrollment at CPP specifically, but according to Senior Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management and Services, Jessica Wagoner, it was on purpose.
“You may see our numbers have declined over the past couple years, but that was actually an intentional effort by our campus because we were larger than we were funded for. We are now maintaining a flat enrollment,” said Wagoner.
Brown claims that this was not likely due to a record number of applications, as well as constant monitoring of enrollment.
“Yes, we have a plan. We monitor this very closely, we’re always looking with the deans, the associate deans and the chairs to understand what their concerns are, and we spend a lot of time thinking about what are the next appropriate steps given the data that we see before us,” said Brown.
In addition to collecting data, another aspect of maintaining enrollment is transparency.
“Part of my strategy is to be as transparent as I can be with the campus community leaders, so they understand that one thing affects the other. We have to make sure that we’re all working together to achieve our enrollment goals,” said Brown. “At the same time, we all need to be working together to make sure that we are helping students and that they can be successful.”
Applications and retention are at pre-pandemic levels, with a record high of 64,000 undergraduate applications last year and the numbers projected to stay the same this year, according to Wagoner.
Wagoner went on to say that there is more to enrollment than bringing new students on campus. She stated that retention is the biggest piece of enrollment. According to Wagoner, retention records at CPP are close to pre-pandemic numbers, which has allowed graduation rates, another key piece of enrollment, to be at another record high.
Associate Provost for Students Success, Equity and Innovation, Terri Gomez, spoke about specific retention efforts and their benefits.
An early alert system, which started at the beginning of the pandemic, allows faculty to respond to alerts throughout the semester. These alerts lead faculty to identify students that are having potential issues. From there, intervention is taken to outreach to students.
“If you can deliver support to students in real time, it could help them make adjustments before things get real out of hand, so that’s been really important,” said Gomez.
Gomez also elaborated on the intentional tracking of enrollment.
“We’re watching it on a daily basis now, and this started it a couple years ago. We’re watching it and comparing it to the previous year,” said Gomez
With the combined use of technology and data, the admissions office ensures student enrollment. Through utilizing Billy Chat, the admissions office was able to increase enrollment rates and figure out what was preventing students from enrolling. Usually, it was because students left classes in their shopping cart.
“That allowed us to immediately reach out to those students and say, ‘we noticed you tried to register but didn’t complete the process’ and very quickly the enrollments started to change,” said Gomez.
Monitoring retention rates and graduation rates is beneficial in keeping enrollment steady, but it is just as important to make sure students have the resources to navigate higher education.
“I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that our students have really been impacted by the pandemic in disproportionate numbers and we do see it as an institutional responsibility to continue to find ways to better support our students,” said Gomez. “So, it’s wonderful that our students are resilient but our institution has an obligation to our students to continue to find ways to better support them.”