By Steve Holt, Copy Editor
While spring enrollment figures have been on a slight three-year skid, administrators are optimistic about enrollment for the fall semester.
Jack Rich, executive vice president of the university, said that while this spring’s enrollment of 4,291 is down from last spring’s 4,327, the enrollment in terms of hours taken hasn’t changed much at all.
“We talk about head count sometimes because it’s easier for people to understand,” Rich said, “but what’s more important to us financially is the number of hours we sell.”
Rich said the university was a little below budget for 2002-03, but “not enough to be a concern.”
Rich said college shoppers are applying to more universities today, but that all indicators point to a flat or slightly increased enrollment for the fall.
“It makes it harder and harder to tell what your enrollment will be,” Rich said. “We tend to look at deposits to get an indication of what our enrollment will be. Right now, our enrollment based on deposits looks like it will be flat to up a little bit.”
At least one of ACU’s sister universities has seen a significant increase in enrollment over the past five years.
Harding University in Searcy, Ark., had 5,276 students enrolled in the spring, according to news services director April Mouser. Harding has seen an 18.1 percent increase in enrollment from its 1998 enrollment total of 4,320.
Lipscomb University in Nashville has also experienced a slight increase in enrollment from spring 2002 to spring 2003, according to statistics from David England, assistant vice president of marketing and public relations. Lipscomb’s spring 2003 enrollment is 2,382, compared with a spring 2002 enrollment of 2,370.
But Rich said appearance is not always reality when it comes to university enrollment.
“I think when you look at sister schools, be it Harding or anyone else, you have to look at what’s involved in that,” Rich said. “I think if you went back and look, most of [Harding’s] growth has come in their adult programs in Little Rock. So they’ve opened up off-campus classes, and that has fueled much of their growth.”
Rich said ACU is not ready to think about opening an additional campus in Dallas, for example, because “spreading out would not serve our overall mission as a university.”
“I don’t know if it makes sense to compare [ACU to our sister schools] in that context,” Rich said. “I’m not sure if it gives an accurate portrayal of what’s really taking place.”
University officials are not ready to predict another drop in enrollment for this coming fall, however.
“At this time we have received over 3,200 applications for fall 2003,” said Robert Heil, director of admissions and enrollment management. “Our staff is working closely with students as many families make their final college decision during this time of year.”
ACU had been on a gradual upward slope in both fall and spring enrollment since the mid-’90s, capping off with a record high fall and spring enrollments of 4,761 and 4,415, respectively, in 2000-01. In the semesters since then, enrollment has decreased steadily.