Enrollment Up For Some Colleges

July 28, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Grand Valley State University’s enrollment has gone up more than 50 percent over the last 10 years, through both good economic times and bad. 

This fall, undergraduate admissions are up by more than 20 percent, which is a year-to-year record, said Matt McLogan, vice president for university relations.

“Denials are up significantly this year, and we have had a waiting list since March for housing and since May for undergraduate admissions.”

Fall enrollment is between 21,000 and 21,500 students. The extent to which enrollment varies from fall to fall is largely due to transfer students and the number of students in grad programs, he said.  

The majority of undergraduates are of traditional college age, 18 to 23, but the average student age is actually 28, which is weighted with older students because of GVSU’s graduate programs, McLogan noted. 

Enrollments have been steadily rising, he asserts, because the programs GVSU offers are in high demand, and students like the look and feel of the university’s campuses in both Allendale and downtown Grand Rapids.

The “word is out” about GVSU and that’s part of the reason it’s attracting more and more students, he said. 

“Another reason is that we teach classes with professors and instructors and not with graduate students. We have small classes, and we pride ourselves on personal attention to students and significant contact between faculty and students. Increasingly, those are commodities harder and harder to find on the larger campuses.

“We find that many students who are coming to Grand Valley, particularly from other parts of the state and elsewhere in the Midwest, are choosing us because of our size, the quality and reputation of our programs, our personal attention and the appearance of our campuses.

“That’s what they tell us.”

Fifteen to 20 years ago, two-thirds of GVSU students lived in and around West Michigan. Now half of them come from the east side of the state, the Upper Peninsula and other areas outside West Michigan. About 3 percent of students are out-of-state and international students, McLogan observed. About 12 states are represented among its student population.

Hope College in Holland is looking at a record fall enrollment of about 3,100, said James Bekkering, vice president for admissions. It has 110 students on a waiting list.

“We’re gratified that there is so much demand for the Hope experience, but at the same time we want to make sure that we continue to deliver what we’re known for,” Bekkering said.

Hope’s out-of state contingent is steadily growing. Two years ago 75 percent of Hope’s freshmen were from Michigan. Last year the percentage was 74 percent, and this year 71 percent of freshmen are from Michigan.

Hope’s student body is comprised of traditional college-aged students, and more than 80 percent of them live on campus. Hope is ramping up to meet their needs.

“We are looking at some options for constructing some additional student housing but it’s in the preliminary stage,” Bekkering said. “And it’s not with the idea of growing enrollment. It’s with the idea of more comfortably accommodating the students that we have.”

The college is just completing construction of a $26 million science facility that will be open by fall semester. The facility connects to the west side of the current Peale Science Center.

“It will be absolutely state-of-the-art, best in the country for undergraduate students,” Bekkering said.

As soon as the school year gets underway, the college will commit $10 million to refurbishing the Peale Science Center, which is slated for completion by the fall of 2004, Bekkering said.

Hope also hopes to break ground on the Martha Miller Center for Global Education this year. The center will house the departments of communication, modern and classical languages, the international education office and Hope’s multicultural education program. 

In addition, the college is finalizing funding for the $22 million, 3,500-seat DeVos Fieldhouse, another project that could get underway this year.

Calvin College is expecting around 1,040 incoming freshmen and about 4,300 students in all for fall semester, said Tom McWhertor, vice president of enrollment and external relations.

He said every indication is that Calvin will be fully enrolled for fall semester, as it has been for the past five to six years.

Calvin’s enrollment has been increasing since 1992, but enrollments were higher before that, he noted. Enrollment reached record levels in 1988, then dropped from 1988 to 1992.

“We don’t expect to be that high ever again,” McWhertor said. “We were too big and that’s why enrollment dropped, we think.

“This year we’ll probably just get to where we want to be, so we haven’t been turning away any students. It’s not our goal to become a highly selective institution where we have a long waiting list. That just wouldn’t serve our church constituency well.”

The vast number of Calvin students are 18 to 23, but the student body is changing. Thirty or 40 years ago, nine out of 10 Calvin students were members of the Christian Reformed Church. Now about half of students are Christian Reformed, McWhertor pointed out.

These days, nearly 45 percent of students are from out of state, and Calvin’s international enrollment is approaching 10 percent. About half of the international students are Christian Reformed students from Canada and the other half are from elsewhere around the world.

“For us to have that percentage of out-of-country students is surprising, but half of them are attributable to our church connection.”

The college also hopes to expand its fieldhouse to include indoor facilities for tennis, track and other activities within the next several years. Closer ahead is construction of Calvin’s $2 million nature preserve interpretive center that will house a classroom and interactive displays.

“That’s just an added thing for our program — it’s not to expand enrollment or anything,” McWhertor explained. “We are right where we want to be. We’re working hard to improve the quality and diversity of our student body and to continue to be fully enrolled,” he said.

Aquinas College’s Michael Keller, vice president for planning and enrollment management, said it’s a little early to tell how fall enrollment at Aquinas will pan out, because two more freshmen advising/registration sessions are scheduled for early August and the college admits and enrolls new students right up to the day classes start.

He anticipates enrollment will mirror the past two years.

Aquinas had 2,579 students enrolled for Fall 2002 and 2,571 the year before. Keller said the college is not at full capacity in any of its programs, so it has not had to resort to waiting lists. 

Last year, the student body represented 26 U.S. states, but the majority of students still come from Michigan and neighboring states.

The college’s Catholic church affiliation and its name — that of the most eminent of Catholicism’s classic theologians — attracts some students domestically, Keller said, but Aquinas’ student body now reflects a mix of religious backgrounds.

At the undergraduate level, the college has about 1,500 traditional college-aged students and about 500 adult degree completion students. Additionally, Aquinas has between 500 to 600 graduate students in management and education programs, both of which are experiencing slightly lower enrollments. Keller attributes that to school districts and companies cutting back on degree reimbursement programs as the economy turned down.

Aquinas’ three-year-old nursing program in collaboration with the University of Detroit Mercy is really growing in popularity, Keller noted. Last year 39 students were enrolled in the program, compared with 71 this year.

Aquinas hopes a new undergraduate program in sustainable business will draw students, as well. Another draw could be the college’s theater program, which will be rejuvenated this fall with the opening of the Aquinas College Performing Arts Center.           

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