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Largest class arrives at Saint Mary’s

Katie Kohler | Friday, August 24, 2007

The 481 students who will enroll at Saint Mary’s this week comprise the largest freshman class to enter the College in 17 years – an increase that officials say is critical to the College’s development.

The increase comes as the first goal in a five-year plan to stabilize enrollment at 1,600, said Dan Meyer, Vice President for Enrollment Management.

“At this size [1,600 to 1,700], Saint Mary’s will be a more robust institution, better able to absorb admission fluctuations,” he said. “Also, that size is closer to what we’re made for.”

At the start of the fall of 2004, the student body numbered 1,505 students. As of Thursday, total enrollment for this year was expected to be 1,597 students.

The freshman class which entered Saint Mary’s one year ago had 427 students. This year marked a 13 percent increase in enrollment. The freshman class of 2005 had only 350 students.

While the goal is to increase class size, Meyer stressed that the standards of the College will not be compromised to make numbers.

“It is important to maintain the quality of the students and Saint Mary’s admission standards,” Meyer said.

The administration has prepared for the growing enrollment by opening new housing and increasing staff.

“There is no tripling of students in any dorm,” Meyer said. “We opened up a wing in McCandless [Hall] that was previously closed and hired additional [resident assistants]. We have housing space that can accommodate. However, next year could be troublesome.”

Additional professors were also hired, including in the Department of Modern Languages, Meyer said.

The applicant pool increased this year to 1,281 – an 8.6 percent increase from the previous year’s pool. More than 60 percent of incoming students had an average high school GPA of 3.61 or higher.

Enrolling freshmen come from 32 states and include one international student from China and two U.S. students who were living abroad – one in Germany and one in Turkey.

College President Carol Ann Mooney’s initiative to increase enrollment is part of a larger goal to boost Saint Mary’s national recognition. Princeton Review recently named Saint Mary’s as the “Best Midwestern College for 2008” and US News & World Report ranked Saint Mary’s 91st among the top 100 liberal arts colleges in the nation.

Mooney first addressed this long-term plan in her inaugural address in January 2005. In that speech, she said stabilizing enrollment was her “top priority.” She took steps toward realizing the goal by creating the position of Vice President for Enrollment Management.

The College’s efforts to stabilize enrollment has financial relevance, as well. In 2005, Saint Mary’s faced a $1.5 million budget deficit due to small classes and fewer tuition dollars.

“By hitting the [enrollment] mark at 1,600 or 1,700,” Meyer said, “we are better equipped to deal with that problem.”

Meanwhile, Mooney has started an initiative to double the College endowment fund, which would reduce dependence on enrollment for financial stability.

While the number of minority students in the freshman class increased this year to 47 students from 43 in last year’s class, the percentages remain roughly the same, Meyer said.

“This was the largest class in sheer numbers, but in proportions, they stayed about the same,” he said.

The college recruited heavily in California, Florida and Texas. All three states experienced anywhere from a 25 to 75 percent increase in enrolled students.

Those three states contributed to the higher number of Hispanic students in the class of 2011. Last year there were 20 Hispanic freshmen; this year, there are 33. Other minority groups, however, such as African Americans, were less represented this year than last.

“We welcome diversity across the board,” Meyer said. “We don’t target any specific group.”