LaGrange College president Dan McAlexander on Thursday said enrollment has continued to grow steadily, bucking the national trend of dwindling enrollment, and the college is defying odds to achieve such an “audacious” goal.
“Now that is not easy to do in the economy we’ve experienced from 2009 to present,” McAlexander said during the annual President’s Breakfast. “We are still in area of the country that we know suffers high unemployment, and the economy is sluggish in recovery, and that’s where most of our students come from. And yet, in that kind of environment, over the last five years we’ve managed to grow our enrollment by about 14 percent.”
McAlexander said this year’s record freshman class of 270 was set without adding a new program like football to draw students. He also noted that over the last five years, the college has had at least 200 freshman coming to campus each year.
“That’s a really big deal,” McAlexander said.
He said the “peaks and valleys” of enrollment are leveling off and he doesn’t expect it to come down any time soon.
“We are experiencing this at a time when other colleges are not experiencing it,” McAlexander said. “As a matter of fact, just on Monday in the Wall Street Journal and all across the popular press were articles driven by a Moody’s finding that college enrollments could be down about 500,000 this year, nationwide.”
He said the finding also noted that many colleges are unable to hold a steady freshman class.
“We are hearing that from our consultants … and they are telling us they are still wondering how it is we are achieving such audacious goals,” McAlexander said. “What I would say is that it’s because our people are making sure from the very first contact with a student, that student experiences what every other student experiences when they are on campus for a four-year period: wonderful relationships. At the core of everybody’s concern is student success – that individual student’s capacity and dreams that they may have – what they may actually end up amounting to.”
The president also credited “the incredible efforts of our new enrollment team” lead by Will Jones, vice president of external relations, and Joseph Miller, dean of enrollment. He said they have helped grow the college’s reputation in surrounding areas by showing “that the heart of LaGrange College experience (is) the deep relationships that develop between students and faculty and staff.”
The college also has seen success in its nursing program, with 100-percent first-time passing scores for its class on the nursing NCLEX exam, McAlexander said. Expansion of athletic offerings, like the exercise science programs for the college’s growing athletic students, also have been successful.
The college also is looking at increasing its graduate programs, which currently only offers teaching. The college intends to start a new philanthropy and development graduate program next year, which McAlexander said will be the first in the Southeast.
“No one is offering that down here,” McAlexander said. “We know how many non-profits there are, how many colleges there with young advancement professionals who would like to get the credentials to move on.”
In 2015, the college is looking to roll out a master of arts course in counseling. The program, under the college’s psychology department, will require new staff.
The college also has continued a push for study-abroad and international experiences, allowing all new students a $2,500 endowment to study away.
The college this year also is launching a five-year initiative called Global Engagement, McAlexander said. Part of the college’s intent to encourage study-abroad opportunities for students, the program would focus on “internationalizing the campus,” making studying abroad a focus and emphasizing to students on campus how they interact with the rest of the world.
McAlexander said despite popular reports criticizing or questioning the value of higher education, the college is holding itself to standard to give students an understanding and education that will impact them the rest of their lives.