The school year is winding down for high schoolers, and many colleges have already graduated their seniors. But that doesn’t mean there’s a lull in the work for school administrators.
Most prospective college students committed to their school by May 1, so both Augustana College and St. Ambrose University are preparing for an incoming wave of freshmen.
Both schools have seen an increase in applications. Augustana had its biggest pool of applicants ever this year, and St. Ambrose has seen an increase of 5,000 applicants since 2013. With the Common App streamlining the application process and the sheer amount of information available to help students pick a school, Tracy Schuster-Matlock, associate vice president of assessment and institutional research at SAU, said the increase wasn’t surprising.
“Your funnel gets bigger,” she said. “We have a lot more students looking and inquiring for information, but that doesn’t mean they’re seriously considering St. Ambrose.”
While enrollment numbers can shift over the summer, the general trends should remain true for the next three months.
“I don’t anticipate dramatic changes, but it’s always sort of preliminary until our final enrollment reports,” said Karen Dahlstrom, executive director of admissions.
At Augie, the most dramatic demographic shift in the last few years has been its growth in international students. Originally, the goal was to bring the share of international students up to 10% by 2020, but they’ve already surpassed it: Almost 15% of the incoming freshmen are international students from 22 countries, mostly from Vietnam, Ethiopia and Ghana.
“We’ve had consistent growth over the last five years,” said Liz Nino, director of international recruitment. “... One of the biggest things is the buy-in from the community partners to internationalize Augustana. There’s a lot of resources being put into active recruitment.”
Nino said 100% of the international students graduating in 2019 had committed to graduate school or had a job lined up; a “large majority” stay in the United States immediately after graduation, but plan to eventually return home.
While the incoming class has some of the highest averages for standardized tests that they’ve seen in more than a decade, there are also more students opting to take advantage of the “test-optional” application process. The option has been available for more than a decade and, in recent history, the percentage of applicants applying without a standardized test score has been below 10%, but this year it was 15%.
“I think a lot of students don’t want to be defined by a test score,” Dahlstrom said.
Students must have a grade point average above a 3.0 to be able to omit their test scores; Dahlstrom said the college knew that classroom performance was the “single greatest indicator of success” at Augustana, rather than test scores.
“I do think the increased visibility of the test-optional process within the market, to tell students this has been an option and a priority at Augustana for a number of years,” she said.
St. Ambrose University
Over the past several years, SAU’s population of enrolled freshmen identified as minority students has climbed 10 percentage points, from 13% in 2012 to 23% in 2018.
“We’re definitely seeing that growth,” Schuster-Matlock said. “It’s been a strategic initiative for the university, not only to increase the freshmen in the door but the number of students earning a degree.”
The benchmark SAU is striving for is to be “representative of the region.” Looking at Davenport, in particular, Schuster-Matlock said they were aiming for between 20% and 25% of students identifying as minority students, which they’re meeting.
Historically, the largest ethnic or racial minority has been Hispanic students, followed by black or African American students.
SAU is consistently a regional school, and the administration defines students from within a two- to three-hour radius as “local.” Even with the regional numbers staying steady, the number of “local” students is dipping slightly: The incoming class is 30% local, which is the lowest in several years. In 2015, 36% of the freshmen were considered local.
More than 90% of students are from Iowa or Illinois, but there are also 16 countries represented.
Generally, Schuster-Matlock said freshmen are becoming “more academic”: The average grade point average has remained fairly flat, but more students are coming from the top quarter of their class, standardized test scores are rising, and approximately one-third of incoming freshmen are transferring in college credit.
“We’re seeing an uptick in the academic profile of our students,” she said. “This may be in relationship to the number of students who are interested in health science fields, but it’s not limited to that. We’re really excited about that.”
Having an academically stronger freshmen class is better for the school years down the road too: SAU’s graduation rates are creeping up as well.