Since the Fall of 2013, admissions rates at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) have been steadily dropping. On the College’s Office of Institutional Research (OIR) website, the reality is stark, with incoming classes dropping from 383 students in the Fall of 2013 to 342 in the Fall of 2017.
According to David Hautanen, Jr., Vice President of Enrollment Management, “It really does reflect the reduction in the number of students graduating from Maryland High Schools.” However, according to the Maryland State Government website, high school graduation rates have been steadily rising, from 81.97% in 2010, to 87.67% in 2017 (MSDE 2018).
Hautanen adds that “Ultimately, it’s a combination of things. As you think about the entire universe of students who are going to graduate from high school… then you have to think about what we call the recruitment funnel… So then you think about all of those students who are college bound, you think about all of those students who are interested in a college like St. Mary’s, and then you think about all those who do apply to St. Mary’s, those who are admitted to St. Mary’s, and those that will enroll at St. Mary’s.”
With that in mind, the scope of analyzing the admissions crisis must be focused on SMCM’s recruitment efforts. What efforts has our Admissions Office been making in order to make recruitment more successful? Michael Bruckler, Assistant Vice President of Integrated Marketing and Strategic Communications, says that “the Advancement Integrated Marketing team also attracts in-state, out-of-state and transfer students by using a variety of digital advertising,” in addition to traditional non-web forms of advertising.
This is echoed by Hautanen, who specifically mentions the recent use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram Live to connect with prospective students and give them a taste of what SMCM is really like.
As for the school website, Bruckler says “our Marketing team also redesigned the www.smcm.edu homepage with more vibrant content and more conversational tone, specifically aimed at prospective students and their parents. The page now focuses on a mixture of student activities, academic programs and admissions.” The redesign of the SMCM website took place over summer 2017, just in time for a revamped recruitment starting in fall 2017.
In addition to digital advertising, Hautanen also places great stock in campus events. “We put together a signature events recruitment committee… to help strengthen and improve our open houses, our admitted student days, all of those events… and a specific example… is the invitation of student groups to participate in the admitted student days,” he says. “My understanding is that’s a first. We wanna make sure that, not only is the college going to offer the academic program they’re looking for, but it’s also going to give them the personal social experience that they’re looking for as well.”
Hautanen says “We have a very special and compelling story about being the public honors college of Maryland… from which students who graduate from here do amazing things.” He expands that SMCM “is for students who really want that deep and rich, all-in college experience where they are maximizing their academics” and “their student life experiences,” “while taking advantage of the unique environment that we have here. There’s just a beauty here that doesn’t exist at other places… We just need to be telling the story in a more rich and robust way.”
Student retention has also been dropping alongside admissions rates, from 81% for the class of 2016 to 73% for the class of 2018 (SMCM OIR 2018). Future graduating classes also seem to be following the same trajectory. While the College has established the Office of Retention & Student Success in 2016 to combat this, there is still work to be done at the root in Admissions.
Hautanen says “We need to do a much stronger job of recruiting students who might be interested in St. Mary’s, and I think that’s a great area of improvement.” In addition, “The idea is to build the applicant pool. The more students that we have interested in St. Mary’s to begin with, will ultimately lead to lead to more students who are actually enrolling at the College.”
“Is St. Mary’s for everyone? No. No campus is for everyone. Each student comes at this process with different interests, different expectations for what their experience [will be], different goals and dreams,” Hautanen says.
While the admissions crisis will not be solved overnight, Hautanen is determined to look towards the future and harnessing the community of SMCM. But, if his past is any indication, Hautanen says “Places I’ve worked, we’ve always built and we’ve grown. So that’s what I like to do.” Hopefully, he will build and grow SMCM as well.