Wilkes’ enrollment increase defies national trend

Shawn Carey, Correspondent

A new study released last year shows college enrollment is slowly declining for many schools, specifically in the last two years.

The study was conducted by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center in 2013. The study looked at college enrollment for different schools in different states. The study found an overall decrease in enrollment for 2013. Citing this is the second year in row this has happened.

However, for private schools, they are seeing an increase in enrollment. Wilkes University, according to enrollment officials, has seen an increase in enrollment over the last two years.

“I think there are a lot of things going on in terms of demographics,” Melanie Wade, vice-president of enrollment, said, “We anticipated we were going to see a demographic change in our area, so we expanded our outreach.”

Wade said they are expanding the area in which they recruit students. Wilkes has now expanded more into New York and New Jersey, more so than previous years.

There is now a huge increase in interests of fields such as healthcare and science and technology for students applying to college.

“Another factor that has played in Wilkes’ favor is we have a lot of academic interests that match student interests,” Wade said, “We were very fortunate to be able to respond to those interests.”

Over the past couple years, Wade said, they have been actively expanding the recruitment phase in order to bring as many students to Wilkes as possible.

“There is a conscious decision to bring the Wilkes education to as many people as we can,” Wade said.

Alex Sperrazza, director of admissions for Wilkes, also notes the strength of the university has a lot to do with the increased enrollment the past couple of years.

“We believe that it is the Wilkes model, the personalization, the strength of our faculty and the program mix at the university,” Sperrazza said.

Beyond just recruiting into neighboring states, the university has also expanded to global recruitment. The university brought onto its admissions staff an international admissions counselor.

The decision to expand to international recruitment is the changing demographics in their primary markets of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The changing demographics come as high school student graduates decline or college-ready students are declining.

“We are experiencing some very stiff competition with shrinking markets, and increased competition,” Sperrazza said.

Sperrazza said the university was not expecting the increased enrollment because of the changes in markets and demographics, but welcomes the surprise.

The university has also taken different ways to increase recruitment strategies, specifically, using the Naviance search system that is place in many schools in New Jersey.

Naviance is a college search engine that allows students to type in keywords and certain schools will pop up. Wilkes took advantage of the programs they have on campus to get attention from students and their parents to notice.

Also, with the change of administration in President Patrick Leahy, there has been a “laser focus” on increasing enrollment at the university. Achieving this will come with the addition of new programs and extra-curricular activities on campus according to Sperrazza.

According to the study released by the Clearinghouse, Pennsylvania has seen a decrease in the number of students not attending college over the past two years. The state has seen a decrease of roughly 20,000 students since the fall of 2011. The other main markets of New York and New Jersey have also seen a small decline in the number of students that attend college.

The northeast has also seen a decrease of enrollment since the fall of 2011.

The decrease in student enrollment can be blamed on a number of issues. The changes in demographics for the university, the number of students graduating, and even public safety have always been concerns for parents.

For Wilkes and the recent events, public safety has become a big question for enrollment advisers. Wade said the question of public safety has been posed a lot to them from prospective students.

“Public safety is no doubt a concern,” Wade said, “It has always been a concern and it honestly should be a concern.”

Wade said the addition of extra-curricular activities at the university helps draw in a lot of prospective students that may not have given Wilkes a chance.

“I think it is very important for us to focus on the extra-curricular activities that we offer at Wilkes.” Wade said, “With the new addition of our marching band and new athletic teams, it is something that I know is important to prospective students.