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Student enrollment balanced across Colleges

Sarah Mervosh | Thursday, October 15, 2009

The College of Arts and Letters noticed a drop in enrollment this year, but this decrease actually marks a success for the University as it creates more balanced numbers among the various colleges – a priority outlined in the University’s 2003 strategic plan.

Less students enrolled in the College of Arts and Letters because more chose the College of Engineering and the College of Science, two programs that the University sought to expand.

“There are more undergraduate students enrolled in the Mendoza College of Business than the College itself thinks desirable, while the College of Engineering suffers to a degree from under-enrollment that is part of a national pattern,” the plan said.

Six years later, the College of Engineering increased its enrollment by about 15 percent. It noticed an 18 percent increase this year alone, Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs in Engineering Catherine Pieronek said.

Pieronek attributed Engineering’s smaller size to the rigidity of schedules and because it is regarded on campus as one of the most difficult areas of study.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that Engineering is very challenging and is in some ways a rather rigid curriculum, where other majors are less challenging, have a more flexible curriculum and still provide a Notre Dame degree,” she said.

Although there was a national trend away from engineering, Pieronek said Notre Dame faired better than most schools.

“Overall trends in Engineering enrollment have been declining for more than two decades,” she said. “Our enrollment has increased by about 130 students over the past two years, which is terrific, but we’d still like more.”

The College of Science also increased its enrollment this year, Assistant Dean for the College Steven Buechler said.

“Our enrollment numbers have been going up and there was a sharp increase in the first year class this year,” he said.

He also said the College plans to continue to expand.

“I think we can easily accommodate more students and there will be more students interested when the college grows a little more,” Buechler said. “We will be adding faculty over the next five years or so, and expanding programs and opportunities for students.”

As enrollment growth in Engineering and Science created more desirable balance, the number of students enrolling in the Mendoza College of Business continued to expand, which could potentially be detrimental to the University, Assistant Dean to the Mendoza College of Business Samuel Gaglio said.

“The fact is that we’re continuing to grow. We hope to stabilize and that’s not what’s happening,” he said. “It’s important for Notre Dame to have the appropriate mix. Any one program that would get out of balance is not necessarily a good thing for the university.”

Gaglio attributed the popularity of the business school to many possible factors, including the economy, the No. 2 ranking of the business school, satisfaction with the courses offered and an increased interest in business.

The Mendoza College of Business is the second most popular college on campus, Gaglio said. Arts and Letters holds the majority of students, but it is equipped to handle the high numbers, Associate Director of Arts and Letters Ava Preacher said.

Business, however, will not be able to accommodate its high volume of students if it continues to grow, Gaglio said.

Gaglio said the growth does not pose an immediate problem, but if enrollment does not stabilize, it could become a problem in two or three years.

“We would have to have more faculty, more sections and more classrooms,” he said.

Gaglio said he discussed possibilities for the school if it continues to grow, but did not decide on a course of action yet.

“I think the solution lies in what all four colleges do. Engineering and Science are trying to maintain their share. Arts and Letters are trying to maintain their share,” he said. “With a fixed pool that students can choose from, any one program that gets too large is going to cause problems for other programs.”

The College of Arts and Letters felt the effects this year of the growth in popularity of the Business, Engineering and Science.

“It’s been a slight drop in enrollment,” Preacher said. “Actually it’s one of the our lower numbers in some time.”

But Preacher said she wasn’t worried. Arts and letters still enrolls the highest number of students at the University.

“The College is fairing extremely well. We serve a ton of students,” she said.

Buechler said the shift in enrollment numbers among colleges could be due to a natural rebalancing over time.

“The College of Arts and Letters saw a lot of growth in the late 90s,” he said. “In some sense, it’s our turn to grow.”