Minor rise in Northern Enrollment provides hope for future

kyle.whitney

Contrary to administrative expectations, the early figures from NMU Institutional Research show a slight increase in Northern’s enrollment numbers from just one year ago.

The fall 2008 10th-day numbers, which are based on the enrollment after 10 days of class, were released on Tuesday and put the total university headcount at 9,123. The number is 12 students higher than the 10th-day numbers from fall 2007.

Paul Duby, associate vice president of institutional research, was pleased with the numbers.

“My overall take is the university is in very good position,” Duby said. “I am thrilled to be up 12, to be honest. It has taken a lot of hard work on a lot of people’s part.”

Duby said Northern had planned for a drop in enrollment for a couple of reasons, including the struggling economy and an imminent decline in U.P. high school graduates.

“The demographics for Northern are really easy,” he said. “We still recruit 60 percent of our students from the Upper Peninsula. If you look at the size of the high school graduating classes for the next 20 years, it is a 20 percent slope downward. The number of students that are in the pool from the Upper Peninsula is going down like a rock.”

The bulk of NMU’s student body has historically come from within the state of Michigan, but that will likely change in the near future, according to Duby.

While prestigious universities, such as the University of Michigan and Michigan State, have their pick of incoming students, the remainder of the Michigan schools must battle for enrollment.

He said that in response to this, NMU has concentrated on keeping tuition as low as possible and on providing helpful academic services to students with spotty educational histories.

“We compete very well because we essentially will take anyone who meets our minimum requirements, which are not that high,” he said. “But if we take you, we’re going to provide a lot of help to help you to be successful.”

Another way Northern is combating the Midwest demographic picture is by increasing the scope of their recruitment. After conducting market research, the university conducted market research and identified possible recruitment areas throughout the country. The three areas that NMU pursued were in Texas, California and Ohio.

Duby said Texas and California have populations that are quickly outgrowing their educational systems, while Ohio has one school that is at all similar to NMU.

“[Ohio has] great big institutions and lots of little small ones,” he said. “But in terms of a Northern-like institution, Cleveland State is the only one in the whole state.”

Hoping to capitalize on first-time college students, NMU purchased advertising campaigns in all three areas, buying space in college guides and planning staff visits.

“After a year, we’re going to eliminate the weakest of the three areas,” he added. “After another year we will decide whether we’re going to keep two or go to one area and put more resources into it.”

According to Bill Bernard, NMU’s associate provost for student services and enrollment, the hope is that such aggressive marketing techniques will allow NMU to stay in the hunt for ever-more savvy prospective students.

“We’re seeing students applying to many more institutions than they used to,” he said. “We find students visiting many more institutions and, as recently as this week, we’ve had a consultant on campus reviewing our campus visitation program just to find ways that we can enhance that program.”

Bernard said that the campus visit-especially the academic component of the visit-is one of the most important factors in the entire college selection process.

“This way, when a family does decide to make the trip to Marquette, Michigan to look at Northern, we have given them the most positive, most honest look at what this institution can provide.”