How one college grew enrollment 19% in one year

President: It was clear we had to turn the trend around

Facing a decline in student body size, Newberry College in South Carolina brought recruitment in-house and boosted its targeting efforts, growing new student enrollment by 19% in one year.

Newberry had seen total enrollment steadily grow; the college's fall enrollment go from 778 students in 2004 to more than 1,150 students in 2010, according to IPEDS data. But then a worrying new trend took hold. The college lost more than 100 students over the next two to three years, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

Even before that, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) had issued a warning to Newberry regarding its accreditation. In 2014, SACS placed the institution on probation because of questions surrounding its financial stability. Many schools face similar issues. Up to 250 institutions may be at risk of closing, according to Kent Chabotar, a college finance expert and Guilford College president emeritus.

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But amid a general downward trend, Newberry was able to reverse the flow of students. In 2012, Maurice Scherrens started at the institution as president and began focusing on the issue.

"It was clear that we had to turn that around," he says.

Telling the 'Newberry story'

The school had a difficult time distinguishing itself from other liberal arts colleges in the area in the eyes of both first-time and transfer students, say Newberry officials.

Not enough people knew the "Newberry story," they explain.

"We had just become invisible to too many people," says Scherrens, adding that Newberry's relationships with high schools, technical schools, and two-year colleges were not strong enough.

So the institution brought enrollment management back in-house and concentrated its efforts on fewer geographic areas. It also focused on bringing more potential students to school grounds, because "people who visit campus are much more likely to enroll," says Delsie Phillips, who oversees enrollment management, monitors data, and ensures academic standards are not compromised.

Insight center: Academic and enrollment planning

Additionally, Newberry reorganized its financial aid process to offer merit aid to potential students earlier in the admissions process and enacted the Newberry College Tuition Promise, which holds the price of tuition steady for four years from the time a student enrolls.

To build better relationships with community colleges, officials created credit transfer agreements with local two-year schools.

As a result, total enrollment is up 4.2% to 1,084 students. In fall 2014, 379 new students joined the school—that's 19% higher than the incoming class was last year. Of the new students, 86 are transfers, compared with 73 from fall 2013.

The institution no longer struggles with accreditation, either, as of December.

Next year, Scherrens says they hope to reach 400 new students to "give us the critical mass we're looking for" (Carlson, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 3/5; June, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 3/23).

The takeaway: To combat a decline in enrollments, Newberry College revamped its student recruitment efforts, growing new student enrollment by 19% from 2013-2014. For more on enrollment management, visit our dedicated forum.

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