Enrollment drops from 13,250 to 11,165 in two years

Trends stay consistent, emphasized by COVID-19 pandemic

Ferris’ fall student enrollment has been steadily declining for the past few years, but COVID-19 had a major impact this fall semester. 

This year’s student enrollment had a 10.5% decline compared to fall 2019’s enrollment numbers. Ferris’ 2020 fall enrollment sits at just 11,165 students as opposed to 2019’s fall enrollment of 12,500 students. 

Many believe that COVID-19 was the cause for this significant drop in enrollment. However, the student enrollment decline, has been a university issue for the past five years. 

In 2018, 13,250 students were enrolled at Ferris. In 2015, over 14,700 students enrolled. In the last five years, the university has experienced a 25% decrease in the student population.

Kristen Salomonson Ferris’ dean of enrollment services, believes the student enrollment has declined because of a predicted high school graduation rate decrease.

“The most significant factor is the demographic landscape in our state and region,” Salomonson said. “Projections until 2032 indicate that Michigan will drop to 88,000 high school graduates. Between 2013 to 2025, we are predicted to have 14,000 fewer high school graduates. And from 2025 to 2032, we are predicted to lose 10,000 more. After 2032, there is projected to be a slight uptick in the numbers. To compare, in 2013 there were 111,000 high school graduates.”

This drop in high school graduates creates a negative feedback-loop on future college enrollments. Salomonson estimated this rate decrease will progress for the next 10 years and colleges will have a smaller range of possible applicants in the future.

The Ferris administration has made various plans to encourage more students to attend the university.

“Each year, we develop a recruitment plan with the university community,” Salomonson said. “The plan outlines strategies and tactics to reach our enrollment goals for in-state and out-of-state first year, transfer and readmit students. The plan contains information about our enrollment funnel, activities to grow the applicant pool, our financial aid leveraging philosophy and sharing details of our comprehensive yield strategies. Each year we critically examine the output and retool for the next cycle.”

COVID-19 forced many institutions to transition most of their in-person instruction to virtual platforms and other online content. Salomonson mentioned that Ferris adjusted admissions and student activities to be more suitable online.

“I have returned to the university due to my commitment to the cross country and track teams, as well as a number of other things,” nursing sophomore Ethan Hamilton said. “Including the smaller class sizes, which provides a more personal feeling and a better relationship with the professor, the many things to do on and around campus, especially downtown Big Rapids, and the overall fun atmosphere the university has.”

Hamilton suggested that Ferris needed to work on its advertising in order to display encouraging reasons why students should attend this university. 

Pre-optometry junior Nick Anderson says the reason he chose to attend Ferris was because it is the only college of optometry in the state of Michigan, so advertising was not necessary. 

Ferris offers many lesser-known programs for students, such as dentistry and event management. Anderson inferred that students may not be as interested in those programs, which may correlate to the enrollment decline. 

Ferris admissions is hopeful for future enrollment despite COVID-19’s massive effect this semester.