Incoming freshman deposits increase, but university officials remain “cautiously optimistic” about numbers

This time of year, it is common for Augustana students to encounter flocks of high school seniors milling around the commons at the Distinguished Scholars Celebration, where potential students interview for scholarships and tour campus. Though events like this are just not possible this year in the midst of a global pandemic, Augustana has seen a rise in the number of enrollment deposits submitted by incoming freshmen.

Students wishing to confirm their intent to attend Augustana can submit an enrollment deposit, and in the years 2018 to 2020, the number of deposits submitted by Feb. 19 totaled 183, 175 and 131 respectively. As of Feb. 19, 2021, this number increased to 223 deposits. 

Adam Heinitz, director of transfer and graduate enrollment, explains possible factors that may have contributed to this increase.

“We made some decisions that allowed us to get financial aid awards out to students earlier, as well as more upfront, transparent scholarship awards early on in the process,” Heinitz said. “Students were able make some decisions earlier as to whether or not Augustana was affordable and if they could attend. We think that probably provided a little bit of an earlier bump in enrollment deposits.” 

When predicting the size of an incoming freshman class, the Office of Admission considers other indicators in addition to the number of enrollment deposits, such as the number of campus visits and the number of students who have filed a FAFSA. According to Heinitz, while the number of campus visits are down from previous years (due to the 3 months last spring when campus tours were not offered), the number of FAFSA filings have increased from last year. 

The Office of Admission has employed new techniques to reach out to potential Vikings in a year when recruiting in-person has been a difficult task, such as organizing events smaller than the Distinguished Scholars Celebration. Heinitz described these as more “boutique” events that “highlight some unique programs, majors and differentiating factors that make [Augustana] stand out.”

Although Heinitz expressed excitement about the increased number of deposits, he said he maintains a sense of “cautious optimism.” He described this part of the admissions process as “halftime.”

“We are sensing that it is going to be extremely competitive this spring,” Heinitz said, “so we know we’re going to have to scratch and claw to work really hard this entire spring, and maybe into the summer, to really reach the goals that we have.”

In a presentation to faculty, staff and students on Wednesday, President Stephanie Herseth Sandlin also emphasized that while the increase in deposits was heartening, there was still work to be done.

“We’re cautiously optimistic given the ongoing uncertainty with the pandemic [and] the financial impact that that’s had on families,” Herseth Sandlin said. “We’re going to be more cautious than optimistic as we develop budget scenarios.”

Looking forward, Heinitz described how this is the time that the admissions team gets other members of campus involved, pulling from staff, the arts and athletics alike. 

“This is the time of year where we really lean heavily on other areas of campus to help with the recruiting process,” Heinitz said.

Heinitz said that, while it is exciting to see so many enrollment deposits, the Office of Admission will need to continue to build on the momentum.

“While we feel good about it, we’re far from celebrating, because — we know having been through what we went through last year — we know that there’s a long way to go,” he said.

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