The number of students enrolled at Lincoln has increased this year, marking a turning point in a decade-long decline.
The capital’s historically Black University enrollment reached 1,833 students this fall, a 2 percent increase from last year’s 1,794 students.
It’s the first overall increase in college enrollment since 2011 and the first increase in new students since 2017. There are 349 first-time freshmen, up from 297 last fall, and 117 first-time transfers, up from 102 last fall. There are 632 students living on campus this fall and 16 new grad students enrolled, down from 19 last year.
The university previously said enrollment of new students rose by 22 percent, but that number has since stabilized to about 17.5 percent after the campus census revealed that a number of students had paid enrollment fees but had not finished enrolling for fall classes.
The overall increase in enrollment is notable due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Director of Admissions Danisha Williams said.
“It’s a good foundation for us to build on,” she said.
Lincoln has retained less than half of its collection for Fall 2021, according to Census figures. The 49 percent of students who stayed this year are consistent with the university’s average over the past decade.
“We know that universities struggle to attract new students, but also to retain them,” Williams said. “And this is also the pilot year for the first year initiative where we have those students who are going to get additional academic support across the board, tutoring services, and dedicated staff, to really make sure that we don’t see that regression a lot from universities that you see between first and second year.”
Williams said Lincoln is using this year’s enrollment numbers to set strong goals for next year.
The university wants to bring in 600 new students for the first time next year, with specific targets set for each area of employment. That would bring total enrollment to about 2,000 next year, she said.
“Every year we will work aggressively to continue to increase that,” she said. “We have several initiatives on the table:[MOUs]with community colleges, one state fair, bringing back the summer bridge program. It’s happening a lot in Lincoln so we want to translate that into more student enrollments.”
The university has placed a greater emphasis on data-driven recruitment strategies over the past year, adding five new regional recruiters to target traditionally high-return areas such as St. Louis, Kansas City, Missouri, Boothill and Chicago.
This more than doubled the number of admissions office staff, which grew from three to eight.
Another effort underway is to review the internal acceptance processes to ensure they are working well.
Much of the process is automated, Williams said. Once a student has applied to the Open University, automated messages remind the prospective student to enroll in orientation or submit their enrollment deposit.
But the university is looking inward to determine if it is providing students with financial aid or housing information in a timely manner so that students do not drop out between the time they apply and when it is actually time for class.
Williams said the new application deadline, set for June 15, will prompt students to complete admission requirements and submit materials sooner, and allow the university to identify candidates for the summer bridge program sooner.
She added that regional recruiters will help Lincoln appear larger, too.
Williams said Lincoln has been absent from hiring events for the past two or three years because he has been understaffing, and hiring efforts have lagged during management transitions.
“Personally, I was looking for Lincoln because I had been working at other universities for about eight years, and I noticed there weren’t Lincolns there,” Williams said. “They have a huge presence and have huge support from alumni who will meet us on the road at various events.”
Regional recruiters will work to increase Lincoln’s visibility with high school counselors, nonprofits and “wherever high school students are,” she said.
Includes social media.
“Social media is something we really want to promote,” Williams said. “We have a large university-wide social media presence, but we have some admissions pages where we can be more specific.”
Williams said in her letter that Lincoln is focused on affordability, small class sizes, a family atmosphere and employment.
She said it was one of her goals to show potential students what Lincoln was producing.
It’s a comprehensive approach going forward, Williams explained. You have been involved in discussions about the University’s Summer Bridge Program and the First Year Initiative so that you can better distribute this information to prospective students.
“I don’t think it makes sense for Lincoln to have a strategy and not take into account our number of mobile students, not take into account our high school students, not take into account the changing environment as it relates to managing enrollment,” she said. “So I’m very optimistic about all the things that are happening at Lincoln and our ability to attract new students because of that.”