Freshman enrollment up 15 percent following AU rebrand, FSC addition
With the start of the 2016-2017 academic year, new Vikings once again made their way into the classrooms, sports arenas and organizations of Augustana. But besides an influx of new faces, the class of 2020 brought something else to campus: a lot of friends.
According to Vice President for Enrollment Nancy Davidson, freshman enrollment increased by 54 students from last year, bringing the class of 2020’s total to 421, plus 3 part-time students. It’s a 15 percent jump Davidson attributed to a number of factors, first among them last year’s transition from college to university.
“There’s not one thing that we think caused this increase,” Davidson said, “but the most visible is definitely becoming AU.”
Though Davidson said the switch didn’t change what Augustana stands for, one of the goals of the rebrand was to alter potential students’ perceptions of the school by bringing what she calls “Augie stories” front and center. This meant putting more effort into marketing, along with highlighting the other changes that have taken place on campus in the past year.
“We’ve had many positive changes, including the new science center, an increase in grad programs and the addition of a women’s swim team,” Davidson said. “Having the physical presence of the FSC has been huge. Now potential students don’t have to imagine—it’s real.”
For freshman Aaron Jones, the newest building on campus is one reason why he thinks his class is one of the largest in recent years.
“I think it’s the strong image that AU is projecting towards the health sciences,” Jones said. “When you combine a state-of-the-art complex with caring teachers and put them in a tightly knit community, you get a big draw from kids looking for a top-notch education focused on relationships.”
Building those relationships was a key concern for fellow freshman Shauna Pauli, but coming from a graduating class of 72, getting to know her new classmates presented a challenge.
“At Augustana, my entire class is the size of my school, and we aren’t together for seven hours a day,” Pauli said. “Because of that it’s harder to get to know people, so I’m sure I’m missing out on becoming friends with some great people. But I like that since we are a larger class, there’s a higher level of diversity.”
Getting those great people to campus is one thing, but continuing the positive enrollment trend into the future is another matter entirely. President Rob Oliver said he thinks building on that momentum is all about being aware of the changing outside factors, including the economy, while staying true to Augustana’s values.
“We have to continue to make higher education affordable through scholarships and funding, while also listening to what’s going on out there in the world and being responsive,” Oliver said. “We want to do high quality education at a reasonable cost, because not having a high quality experience would be even more expensive for students in the long run.”
With that said, Augustana will continue to push for growth into the future. A tentative budget of 430 freshmen, nine more than this year, is set for next fall, while the addition of a student activities center and the construction of new student housing will only add to the university’s revamped image. It’s a plan of action Oliver, for one, thinks will work out in Augustana’s favor.
“If we continue growing and expanding and do that right, we’ll be just fine in the long run,” he said.