This decrease is indicative of a nationwide trend – a decline in college enrollment in the midst of economic instability.
A recent Bloomberg article titled “Small U.S. Colleges Battle Death Spiral as Enrollment Drops” states that the number of private four-year colleges closed or acquired doubled from five to 10 in three years, according to federal data and a study done by researchers at Vanderbilt University.
While Knox is nowhere near the verge of collapse, it hasn’t been exempt from an economically unstable environment many institutions are faced with.
“It’s not a lot of consolation to be in good company, but it’s a highly competitive admission environment,” Vice President for Finance Tom Axtell said.
While some institutions can withstand fewer enrollment numbers, Knox is both under-endowed and tuition-dependent, which places an emphasis on enrollment. Despite hopes to garner additional enrollment deposits before fall term begins, the current numbers still fall short.
“I think we would have liked to make a little more progress this year,” Dean of Admissions Paul Steenis said. “At the same time when you consider all of the circumstances of the marketplace and all of the challenges we and other colleges are facing and you add some of the peculiarities of our own situation, it’s not surprising that we’re down a little bit.”
Most of the growth, he said, will be in the next three years, totaling an estimated 1,600 total enrollment in the next five years.
What makes Amott’s growth initiative especially important is its relevancy to the college’s financial status.
According to Axtell, growing the college is key to balancing the school’s budget.
“When we’re trying to take a number of steps to increase enrollments, we have aspirations to grow, because that’s the nicest way to solve the budget disparity, is growing revenues from our primary source rather than cutting expenses,” he said.
In place to attract more students are several new initiatives and developments, including surveys and a new website. Alumni Hall and a new art building will also attract more students.
“I think the pieces are in place that really bode well for success for retaining and attracting students,” Axtell said.
According to Steenis, the values of the institution are equally important to recruitment.
“I’m optimistic and confident that we’re in a better position than other institutions because we’ve embraced diversity as one of our strengths. We want to learn and grow and create an educational experience that thrives and feeds on that diversity,” he said.
He emphasized the “real challenges and real opportunities” on campus.
“We’ve all got a lot to learn, but I’m optimistic that we can learn as a community, and it will be one of our enduring strengths, not just in terms of the actual experience that exists here, in terms of distinguishing who we are and what we offer to students in the marketplace,” he said. Beyond the marketplace, the values will simply attract students, faculty and alumni and strengthen the Knox community and experience.
Despite these assets, the economy has still provided an exceptional challenge for Knox and several other institutions.
“It’s not that we have a shortage of families and a shortage of students that would love to come to Knox. With financial realities for a lot of these families it makes it difficult for people to come to Knox. There’s not a shortage of talented, interested students. É but the challenges that you see colleges facing … it’s a financial challenge with declining support from the federal government, from state governments … then you add the economic challenges families have been struggling with for years,” Steenis said. These, he said, are the realities faced in higher education.
While Knox has growth aspirations, some investments and additional expenses are necessary, which will either be reallocated from resources or from additional revenue that cover costs of investment and support growth, Axtell said.
Still, Axtell sees Knox’s financial standing in a positive light.
“I’m inherently optimistic. I’ve been here for over 15 years and to see Alumni Hall open in October, to actually have a new art facility, not only built but paid for, there are a whole number of things which I think will be incredibly significant for the educational program, for current students [and] for prospective students.”