Record low new student enrollment

Visual by Charles Wilson
Admissions data from 2015 to 2020 with estimates from 2021 provided by Office of Institutional Research. Incoming class does not include transfer students or first-time students enrolled only part time in fall term.

By Connor Torpey

Staff Writer

St. Michael’s College enrollment has consistently declined over the past five academic years. According to institutional research data provided by Mary Jane Russel, associate CIO at the College, the total number of enrolled students from 2015 to 2021 decreased from 2367 to 1724 students. The decline in enrollment has also impacted the total class sections offered at the College, dropping from 434 total classes to 327 in 2020. The number of full-time instructors dropped from 147 in 2015 to 113 in 2020 according to this same data provided.

The University of Vermont, however, has recently claimed that their first year class of 2025 is their largest in its history, publicly announcing that statement in their fall semester news release earlier this month and displaying their numbers on their institutional research page through their website. 

Kristin McAndrew, vice president of enrollment and marketing at Saint Michael’s College, explained recent enrollment trends in a recent interview.

Q: Why has student enrollment at the College recently declined?

COVID-19 had an enormous impact on our new student enrollment. For the first time in my career, admission professionals around the country canceled their recruitment travel last year. We did not visit high schools or attend in-person college fairs, and we transitioned from on-campus open houses to virtual events. We are grateful to the State and to the leaders on campus who guided us through the past year. As a result of the policies and restrictions that were imposed on all of us, Vermont has fared relatively well in terms of the virus, but those same restrictions that kept us safe meant that we did not allow visitors on campus during most of the enrollment cycle. At St. Mike’s, where approximately 75% of our students come from out of state, that campus visit is critical. In a traditional year, approximately 50% of our accepted students would have visited campus, and this year, less than 20% were able to visit.

Q: Has increased class sizes at UVM impacted student enrollment at St. Michael’s College?

Not in a significant way. Many students apply both to Saint Michael’s College and UVM, and later in the school year we will have the opportunity to analyze where our admitted students enrolled using data from the National Clearinghouse. This year we did see an increase in the percentage of Vermonters in the incoming class.

Q: What is UVM doing differently from St. Michael’s that led to a larger class size?

I can’t comment directly on UVM’s strategies, but many colleges and universities around the country saw a sizable application increase this year because they went “test score optional” for the first time. In fact, the same thing happened here at Saint Michael’s College ten years ago, when we made the decision to stop requiring SATs and ACTs. That year, we saw an increase of more than a thousand applications over the prior year.

Q: Has in-person only class offerings impacted our enrollment?

That is difficult to measure, as it impacts enrollment in both directions. Online and hybrid course offerings are certainly desirable for some students. For others, online learning in high school was a negative experience, and a return to in-person learning was an important factor in their decision-making.

Q: Did we lose any students who were already enrolled? If so, how many and why?

Every year, some students will make the decision to pause their education or to transfer to another college, for a wide variety of reasons. This past year was particularly difficult for some students and the reasons were just as varied, but we saw no significant increase in the number of students who did not return this fall when compared to previous years.

Q: How has this impacted average financial aid offerings to students?

The College’s financial aid model changed very little from the prior year – our focus is always to direct our resources to attract outstanding students and to help make St. Mike’s affordable for families across a broad spectrum of financial need. In addition to institutional financial aid, the Student Financial Services team has spent countless hours working to distribute additional federal assistance to our students with the most need in the form of Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds provided through the CARES Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

Q: What are the College’s plans, if any, to raise enrollment in the future?

Our goal is to enroll 420 new first year students in the year ahead. It is an ambitious goal, but our Admission team is now able to travel to visit high schools in our primary recruitment areas. We are also now able to host in-person visitors and hold in-person events. We have also redoubled our advertising and communications efforts to try to reach more students who would flourish here.

Q: What other comments or information would you like to provide?

Our current students are our best ambassadors, and we are grateful to all the tour guides, Founders Society members, and every individual who welcomes our visitors and shares the Saint Michael’s College story.