Spring numbers show promise, hope

by Kate Hayden April Sigmund

Spring enrollment at Simpson rose from 12 new students in spring 2011 to 32 in spring 2012. This year the school welcomes 28 transfer students and four new freshmen.

“Last year we had 11 transfers and one new freshman for a total of 12,” said Jill Johnson, executive director of marketing and public relations. “I think that shows that the admissions department is working really hard to keep track of these students and keep in touch with them.”

The news brings much relief, as last semester’s student enrollment ended up a great deal lower than predicted according to Ken Birkenholtz, vice president for business and finance. Actual numbers were down on freshmen, transfers and returning students, resulting in a $1.4 million deficit.

Various budget cuts had to be made to account for the loss.

The Evening, Weekend, and Graduate Program (EWG), at 476 students, is just five people larger than last year’s program, but this year more EWG students graduated in December, as well as 27 undergraduate students.

“Over the course of this year we will serve over 530 students and our recruitment is not yet complete,” said Rosemary Link, associate vice president for academic affairs.

Retention rates are also up to 97 percent this year. The rates are measured by the number of freshmen and sophomore students who start school in the fall and continue through the end of spring. According to Johnson, Simpson’s five year historical retention average is 92 to 93 percent.

“That’s good news too because once students get here, it’s important that they have a good experience, so that retention rate is a signal or indicator that we think that they’re getting that,” Johnson said.

Despite the higher numbers, the marketing department has decided to begin work on a new market research project, hoping to learn more about what prospective students expect from their future college. Simpson is talking to high school seniors in Iowa and their parents to find what stands out and impacts final decisions.

“I think, for a while now, we haven’t really understood or taken the opportunity to understand our customers, which would be prospective students,” Johnson said. “That’s why I felt it was really important to undertake this project, so we could have a better feel for what they’re looking for.”

Comfort was what junior transfer Sammy Nelson was looking for, and she found it at Simpson.

“I felt very welcomed here,” Nelson said. A transfer from North Iowa Area Community College, Nelson looked at six different schools before making her decision. “I chose Simpson because it felt the most comfortable,” Nelson said.

Although Johnson didn’t know specifically what drew the transfer students to Simpson, she said that biology and exercise science are the two majors with the highest freshman enrollment.

For freshman Dan Swenson, a transfer from the University of Iowa, the small campus feel of Simpson proved to be the major draw.

“I chose Simpson because of the small class sizes and campus,” Swenson said. “Here I feel like a student instead of a number.”

Connections with professors is just one of the benefits Swenson has found since the downsize.

“I have had a lot of help from the advising staff that I simply was not able to receive at the University of Iowa,” Swenson said. “I have found that professors are willing to go out of their way to help students and really care about making the students succeed.”

Johnson believes that the growth trend will continue to the 2012-2013 school year.

“Often times, it’s kind of seen as admission’s job to bring in the freshman class,” Johnson said. “Everybody else services them, teaches them what they do when they’re here. But I think that has shifted because now everyone is feeling like we all have a role to play. I think that students will see the energy on campus and I think that that will be a good thing.”