SNC enrollment makes small gains amid national dip

As tuition rates continue to grow at colleges across the nation, many smaller, private schools are feeling the pinch of declining enrollments, a trend that has also negatively impacted Sierra Nevada College.

Students enrolled during the 2017-2018 school year at SNC felt the repercussions of lower enrollment when six faculty were laid off and class offerings were reduced. For schools like SNC that are tuition-dependent, enrollment is the beating heart. SNC is fighting to increase the size of its student body to improve its financial health and solvency.

So, what’s behind the nationwide drops in enrollment?

Declines in enrollment can largely be attributed to the declining number of graduating high school students. There has been a lack of rebound in birth rates since the economy’s 2008 recession. Birth rates for 2017 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show new lows, making for almost a decade of reduced births.

In fact, a 2018 study from Carleton College predicts that college enrollment across the U.S. will drop by 15 percent by the year 2025.

According to an annual report from the U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, between 2015 and 2017, 33 private nonprofit colleges closed their doors. “Fewer students are seeking private liberal arts schools,” Shannon Beets, Executive Vice President of SNC said. “We’ve had three years of enrollment declines, I think less related to the desirability of this college, but the changing environment of private liberal arts colleges in general.”

The soaring cost of college and therefore the rise in student debt make a liberal arts education seem more like a luxury than a necessity. Beets explains that now more than ever, high school graduating classes are looking for job security. This can drive a potential student away from a liberal arts college degree to more technical and vocational programs which sometimes lead to better paying jobs after college.

“At SNC we’re definitely adding more emphasis on the professional preparedness theme which has been a part of our mission for a long time. That’s in response to what these high school graduates want,” Beets said.

Other focuses, like increased investment in marketing the college and recruiting transfer students has helped SNC’s enrollment this year. One-hundred forty-three newly enrolled and transfer students came to SNC this fall, close to the school’s goal of 148, which is a big increase over last year. According Stacie Lyans, director of undergraduate admissions, enrollment for fall 2018 increased 20 percent from fall 2017, while new student enrollment for spring 2018 increased by 31 percent from spring 2017.

“Last year we had good year,” Beets said. “We ended up with a financially healthy year at the fiscal close, meaning that we have finally gotten our expenses to match up with the revenue we are bringing in.”

While new enrollment has increased, student retention rates from last year to this year fell by 19 students. But Lyans is optimistic about the future of enrollment.

“Next year, our goal is over 160 new students, which will be one of our biggest incoming classes at SNC Tahoe,” Lyans said.

Lyans also sees the growth of athletics, with possible new sports on the horizon. While the specifics have not yet been released, the discussion for the addition of one or two sports being implemented as early as fall 2019, is a possibility.

“Athletics not only helps with enrollment, but also helps with branding and marketing for the college by improving community and regional recognition of SNC and its athletic and academic offerings,” director of assessment and institutional research Annamarie Jones said. She also manages the student store. “It gives our non-athletic students a more traditional experience by giving opportunities to attend games and events that encourage school spirit.”

The faculty are identifying new options to help SNC education become even more unique, Lyans says. Increased graduate program options and the creation of a junior year internship experience with local Tahoe Talent for students are also proposed plans that could be implemented as early as fall or spring of 2019.