While the number of people enrolling in postsecondary education continues to decline, Oklahoma Christian University is working to increase their number of undergraduate students by forming relationships with prospective students.
National enrollment statistics show an overall decrease in postsecondary enrollments for 2017. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollments decreased 1.5 percent in spring 2017 from the previous spring, and in fall 2017 overall enrollments decreased 1.0 percent.
Risa Forrester, vice president for admissions and marketing, said Oklahoma Christian saw an 0.65 percent increase in undergraduate enrollment from spring 2016 to spring 2017, and a 9.08 percent decrease in graduate enrollment. The total enrollment changed from 2,455 in spring 2016 to 2,413 in spring 2017 for a total percent decrease of 1.71 percent.
According to the NSC research, four-year private nonprofit universities with under 3,000 students experienced a 1.5 percent decrease in total enrollment from spring 2016 to spring 2017. The total undergraduate enrollment, however, decreased 0.7 percent nationally in four-year private nonprofit universities, where Oklahoma Christian saw a 0.65 percent increase.
Forrester said although numbers are not final for this spring, she suspects 2018 enrollment numbers will follow a similar pattern.
Admissions Counselor Lauren Bridgforth, who has worked at Oklahoma Christian for almost five years, said she works with students from parts of Oklahoma, West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Montana, Idaho and the Dakotas. She said she travels to about 20 to 30 high schools in her recruiting territory every year to set up a table and visit with students.
According to Bridgforth, the admissions office sends prospective Oklahoma Christian students postcards, t-shirts and hand-written letters, and gets to know them at their high schools, churches, church camps and youth rallies.
“We text and call our students regularly, but make special efforts twice a month on ‘Call Nights,’ where we stay at work until 8 p.m. to specifically call them and their parents,” Bridgforth said. “We also invite them to visit campus and guide them through the days when they are here. I know that many Admissions Counselors get to know students so well, we will often be invited to their football games and high school musicals, awards assemblies and receive their graduation announcements. We basically befriend them to try to make them feel as welcome as possible. It’s my favorite part of this job—getting to know my students so well.”
According to Bridgforth, many factors such as cost, location and available majors are big factors for prospective students in choosing a college. She said she thinks the most important is whether they can see themselves fitting in on campus.
“Students—and all people really—want to feel like they belong wherever they choose to go,” Bridgforth said.
In addition to admissions counselors working with prospective students to make them feel welcome, current Oklahoma Christian students give campus tours to high schoolers and their parents. Nursing student McKenzi Maples has been giving tours since the start of the fall semester in 2017.
“I applied to be a tour guide because I wanted to be a resource for incoming college freshmen like my tour guides, hub leaders and RA’s were for me,” Maples said. “These people made choosing Oklahoma Christian easy, and I wanted to help others with that.”
Maples said while giving tours, she likes to highlight Oklahoma Christian’s study abroad and mission opportunities, because many high school students have not had the opportunity to travel.
According to Maples, the sense of community at Oklahoma Christian immediately attracts prospective students.
“When people step on campus, there’s just such as welcoming vibe,” Maples said. “Nearly all of my tours mention it. They say it feels different than other campuses they’ve visited, and I’ve found that it really makes OC stand out.”
The campus tour guides work to give potential students a positive visit by letting their needs guide the tour, Maples said.
“When we start the tour, we always try to get to know their story,” Maples said. “Where do they come from, what are they looking for in a college, and what are they looking for in a major? These questions get to the root of what direction they want to take their life. Then it’s our job to help them envision themselves taking those dreams and accomplishing them at OC.”