This month, Northwestern College was ranked seventh in the list of baccalaureate colleges by Washington Monthly. Northwestern has secured a spot on this list every year since 2010, yet enrollment this year is the lowest it’s been since the turn of the century.
If NW is as great of a school as the polls say, why is enrollment on the decline?
NW reached a new record in 2006 with enrollment at 1,342. By 2008, however, enrollment had fallen to 1,225, and by 2009, only 1,206 students were enrolled. Numbers rose in 2010 but fell again shortly after. This year, only 1,205 students are enrolled in the undergraduate program at NW.
The drop in enrollment can be attributed to several factors. In 2009, President Christy wrote an article in the Northwestern alumni magazine, The Classic.
“A year ago, the stock-market took the largest one-week dive since the Great Depression and a major financial crisis began rocking the country,” Christy said. “Colleges and universities were affected too and wondered what impact the economic downturn would have on efforts to recruit and retain students.”
In order to alleviate financial burden from potential students, NW began offering several new scholarships and grants in 2009. Financial aid is readily available for NW students. According to the college’s website, the average NW student pays only a third of tuition out-of-pocket.
“Liberal arts education itself is on the decline,” Christy said at a recent faculty and staff meeting. “High school students are feeling pressure to pursue vocational education rather than liberal arts education. Despite the push for vocational education, NW remains committed to the liberal arts. NW believes that liberal arts education prepares a well-rounded student with more flexible future prospects.”
In addition to the recession and the decline of the liberal arts, some blame NW’s chapel requirement for the drop in enrollment. Some prospective students may not like that NW students are forced to attend worship. Many would argue that college students, as adults, should have the right to choose whether or not to attend chapel.
With the recent resignation of Harlan Van Oort, NW’s chaplain for twelve years, the chapel program is being reevaluated. An open forum was held Tuesday night in which students were able to express their thoughts, opinions and desires for what chapel should look like in the future. The opinions expressed in the forum will be considered as leadership searches for a new chaplain.
Even though NW’s enrollment is low this year, the college isn’t going away any time soon.