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Saint Mary’s maintains enrollment numbers during COVID-19, adapts to new circumstances

| Monday, March 22, 2021

In a recent article by the South Bend Tribune, admissions and enrollment trends of smaller St. Joseph County colleges were analyzed in the face of the pandemic, revealing no significant decreases in class size for Saint Mary’s College.

For the fall 2020 semester, Saint Mary’s only enrolled 20 fewer students than in the fall 2019 semester.

In an interview with The Observer, director of admission Sarah Gallagher Dvorak spoke on her experience working with the classes of 2024 and 2025 during such unusual times.

“The students entering into the class of 2024 and 2025 have had their lives upended over this last year at such a pivotal time, which has certainly had an impact on their college decision process,” Dvorak said. “Many are facing the unknown, financial uncertainties, family illness and other factors which have influenced these decisions.”

Dvorak also addressed admissions trends she is seeing in the class of 2025 as the class makes college decisions.

“Last fall at Saint Mary’s, we enrolled a new class that was even bigger than the year before, but we went well into the summer before many of those final decisions were made,” she said. “One trend we’re seeing nationally is that the class of 2025 is delaying each step of the college search and decision process. Many students are applying for admission and financial aid, visiting colleges and making their final decisions much later than normal.”

Genevieve Coleman | The Observer
Despite COVID-19 admission limitations, Saint Mary’s class of 2024 maintained its normal size.

While there are no immediate trends the office is seeing in regard to transfer students, Dvorak believes more students are changing schools for pandemic-related reasons.

“When it comes to transfer students, we haven’t seen any clear trends yet, but nationally, there is an expectation that we may see more students transferring to schools that may be less expensive or are closer to home and family,” Dvorak said.

According to Dvorak, the office of admission had to change how they reached out to prospective students at the beginning of the pandemic when travel was restricted.

“When COVID hit, we had to completely overhaul our recruitment efforts,” she said. “We travel all over the world in the spring and fall, we host visitors on campus six days a week and we hold multiple events on campus throughout the year. We pride ourselves on the personal nature of our work and the one-on-one, in-person meetings we provide to families both on campus and near their homes around the country. We could no longer do any of those things.”

To continue promoting their recruitment efforts, the Office adopted many virtual events, Dvorak said.

“As a result, we developed a robust virtual program that included on-demand and live student-led campus tours, admission presentations, one-on-one meetings with counselors, academic and co-curricular webinars and video chats, game nights for prospective students and large virtual admission events,” Dvorak said. “When we couldn’t travel in the fall and spring, we participated in virtual high school visits, college fairs, panels and events.”

While Dvorak knows these events are not as comparable to in-person gatherings, she does see their benefits when it comes to enrolling students for the upcoming year.

“While these virtual options may not fully replace the benefits of being able to host students and families on campus, it really helped us continue to cultivate those relationships and help them learn more about the benefits of a Saint Mary’s education,” she said. “I believe all of these efforts positively impacted our enrollment for last fall and have helped us to remain steady when it comes to applications and enrollments for the coming year.”

Dvorak noted that virtual events continue to be held for admitted students, so they can get to know other members of their incoming class.

“We are currently hosting virtual events for admitted students in regions all over the country so we can celebrate them, let them meet each other and provide an opportunity to hear from alumnae and current students who come from their areas.”

In addition, Dvorak explained virtual events will continue to be implemented in the future because they are helpful to students who cannot easily attend in-person events.

“The pandemic forced us to think outside the box and develop new ways in which students could connect with us from all over the world,” Dvorak said. “Now, we realize the benefit of providing these opportunities — particularly to students who can’t easily get to campus — either because they live too far away or it’s not financially feasible. Once we can return to some sort of normalcy, I fully plan to continue use of these virtual opportunities combined with the more traditional recruitment efforts.”

Dvorak concluded by emphasizing the College is always looking into new admissions practices and will reconsider their work at the end of this admissions cycle.

“The admission process is always evolving and I’m sure there will be new initiatives in the coming year,” she said. “After we get through this cycle, we plan to evaluate the year and make decisions regarding a plan for next year.”

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About Genevieve Coleman

Genevieve Coleman is a sophomore at Saint Mary's majoring in English literature and secondary education with minors in theatre and English writing. She currently serves as Saint Mary's News Editor.

Contact Genevieve