SPU struggles to keep enrollment up to pre-COVID-19 years

Many new factors affect which students will choose to come to SPU this fall

Mary Bruggeman, Staff Writer

Data Visualization by Gabrialla Cockerell

“Right now we’re ahead of last year with the number of deposits,” said Vice President of Enrollment Management and Marketing, Nate Mouttet. “But we are not as far along as 2019. That was the pre-COVID year.”

First-year enrollment is higher at this time than it was last year but still lower than it was before COVID-19.

Mouttet also said there is a change in where first-year students are coming from.

People are not sure how the pandemic will continue to play out so many students are choosing to stay in state and closer to their families. There are less students coming to SPU from out of state and more from Washington as a result.

“Students from other states who might have considered SPU in prior years; there’s just probably fewer of those,” Mouttet said. “But that means more students in the state of Washington are considering SPU than in prior years.”

Mouttet said that of the first-year students who have committed so far, 55% of them are from Washington. This number does not account for transfer students who are also mostly from Washington.

“Last year’s [ratio of in-state students] was higher too. It was over 50%,” Mouttet said.

According to Director of Public Information Tracy Norlen, the percentage of high school students from the state of Washington for the 2020-2021 school year was 63%.

According to the 2019-2020 Student Profile on SPU’s website, only 35% of first-year students were from in-state two years ago.

Mouttet also mentioned how the recent controversy over SPU’s statement on human sexuality may have affected potential students’ college decisions.

“If you are watching from remote and you are seeing the news on the campus being this turmoil, looking for clarity around our LGBTQ stance around hiring and the response from the board that the hiring policies are not changing, then you probably are a student trying to decide ‘do I want to be on a college campus that’s in this kind of turmoil’,” Mouttet said.

Watching this news, potential students may not be sure of what the environment is like on campus. Especially if they cannot visit, they may be left with many questions.
As the school searches for a new president, potential students are also left wondering what SPU’s leadership will be like in the fall.

“It’s not that a presidential transition inherently means that students will or won’t come, but it just adds another question mark for families who want to know as much as they can before they make that decision,” said Mouttet.

Many incoming students are also factoring vaccination policies into their decision.

“Lots of students are just trying to understand what will the fall look like and will vaccinations be a part of it and if they are, what’s going to be required,” Mouttet said.

With so many pieces of the university’s future in question, first year students are left with a difficult decision.

Mouttet explained that before COVID-19, private institutions were having difficulty keeping enrollment up because of the price of tuition.

“That’s why we had been working on a multi-year planning process of resetting our price and doing the Tuition Reimagined. We knew that was already an issue for families and students in particular prior to COVID,” Mouttet said.

According to Mouttet, Tuition Reimaged, which lowers tuition costs, has led to some positive results, but not to the extent that SPU was hoping for.

“There was an increase in application numbers and in the number of admitted students. But at this point, with the other challenges for incoming students, I don’t think it’s going to have the full effect that we would’ve hoped for,” Mouttet said. “I think we are going to struggle to hit our enrollment goals for this fall. I don’t think it’s a surprise but I think it’s really challenging because so many people have poured effort and energy into making this as good an opportunity for students to come to SPU as possible.”

With so many different factors playing into the incoming first years’ college decision, Mouttet says he just wants students to understand clearly what SPU stands for and what the community values.

“We really want SPU to be a place where they feel community and they feel welcomed and loved. And, if you don’t know that clearly at the front end, you may not join that community,” Mouttet said. “That would be the part that I would want to work hard on over the next couple of months to try to give as much clarity to our returning students and our incoming students as possible.”