Enrollment numbers exceed expectations with help of Eligible to Enroll campaign

Spring enrollment dropped from spring 2020 to spring 2021, but still exceeded projections set in June. 

Spring enrollment dropped from spring 2020 to spring 2021, but still exceeded projections set in June. 

Kylee Haueter

Iowa State University’s spring enrollment numbers faced an expected drop but exceeded university administrator’s expectations for the semester.

Overall for the spring 2021 semester, 29,368 students enrolled for classes. This is a drop of 1,405 students from the spring 2020 semester, which saw 30,773 students enrolled, a 4.5 percent decrease.

The largest year-to-year drop was seen in international student enrollment, which dropped from 2,937 in 2020 to 2,471 in 2021, a 16 percent decrease. Nonresident students dropped from 10,930 to 10,390, a 5 percent decrease and resident students dropped from 16,906 to 16,507, a 2.4 percent decrease.

Some students had a higher level of hesitation reenrolling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Iowa State’s “Eligible to Enroll, Not Enrolled” campaign helped connect students with advisers who could answer questions and help quell doubts.

“In May, at the end of the spring semester, for a whole variety of reasons, we had a larger number than usual of students who had not registered for fall, and it didn’t surprise anybody, but we wanted to make sure that we connected with those students and helped them figure out a way forward,” said Jennifer Owens, director of student services for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The campaign was started in the fall of 2016. It has been conducted during the fall and spring semesters every year following, but really made an impact this year with so much uncertainty surrounding education and finances with COVID-19.

“You know for some students, I think they were afraid of what fall would look like, you know they didn’t know,” Owens said. “Would it be all online? What would the fall semester look like for some students?”

Mason Babcock, a student services specialist in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Student Academic Services, helped to coordinate the campaign.

“We really wanted to reach out to students that wanted to be registered for the spring but just hadn’t gotten around to it for whatever reason,” Babcock said.

“Partly with the shortened semester — registration came really close to the end of the semester, which I think it was just a bit of a challenge for some students, especially if you hadn’t been through the registration process before, focusing on papers and finals and all the fun stuff that happens at the end of the semester,” he said.

Babcock added that they found some students went home and registration slipped their minds.

“We really wanted to provide students the opportunity to get registered. You know, obviously the last few semesters, everywhere has been a little different. But as advisers, we also want to make sure that our students get in the classes they need when they need them,” he said.

Owens said the provost’s office and the registrar’s office asked colleges and departments to do outreach to determine who hadn’t enrolled for the semester.

Advisers reached out to the students that hadn’t enrolled through email campaigns as well as calling.

“We just did a variety of different kinds of outreach that included getting students linked to resources, like our scholarship coordinator in the college who has access to emergency scholarships that might help students pay down their U-Bill so they could get registered if they had a hold on there,” Owens said.

In the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Owens said they asked faculty members that interacted with students to reach out and do additional calling.

“That helped as well, you know, sometimes students really feel seen and heard if a faculty member or the department chair from their department calls them and says ‘hey we want to help you get registered for the next semester,’” she said.

Babcock said the campaign was particularly important going into the spring 2021 semester.

“I think with the longer break that we had between the fall and the spring semesters, you know, I think it’s important to keep our students academically engaged, which is one thing that our college has worked very hard with,” he said. “So obviously, part of that is, is registration but it’s also like what are the cool things happening in your department or in your major?”

Shawna Saad, senior associate registrar, said Iowa State exceeded their spring enrollment projection.

“Iowa State exceeded their spring enrollment projection that was set last June for this fiscal year by about 200 students so we were really pleased with that,” she said. “And I do think that really was due in part to the collaborative effort with accounts receivable, the Office of Student Financial Aid, the Registrar’s Office and the academic college advising staffs to really identify students and work with them, to encourage them to return and talk with them about resources and ways we can better support them as they’re making those decisions.”

Saad said at the start of the campaign in early December, over 5,000 eligible students were not enrolled for spring 2021, but that number decreased to just over 1,000 after two months.

“So ultimately, our message to students was, you know, we want you back and how can we support you,” she said. “What barriers are you experiencing, what can we do to assist and really just opening up that conversation, understanding the students needs and getting them to the right person that can help them work through that.”