Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Xavier University on pace to meet enrollment goals despite pandemic

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Xavier University is a private Jesuit Catholic university in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Xavier University, defying a national trend, is on pace to meet its enrollment projections for the next academic year, according to school officials.

Other institutions, like Miami University, are preparing to compensate for fewer than expected students, and thus less revenue, in the fall. The American Council on Education, a trade group, estimates a 15% drop in enrollment across the country.

But Xavier’s Aaron Meis, the vice president for enrollment management and student success, said the Jesuit university is on pace to meet its goal of enrolling 1,180 first-year students in the fall, and re-enrolling continuing students is on track with the rate from last year, when a global pandemic hadn’t upended higher education.

“I think Xavier … was ready for a crisis such as this,” Meis said.

He credited recruitment efforts, such as emphasizing digital content after the university was forced to close, affecting not just current students but also prospective ones hoping to take tours.

Xavier University is a private Jesuit university in Cincinnati. (Photo: Provided/Xavier University – GREGORY RUST)

Xavier has streamed classes and religious events.

But another recruitment strategy, originally pursued in response to a national change to recruiting rules, may also be a factor in Xavier’s success, Meis said.

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Last year, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, in response to antitrust accusations, agreed to relax rules to allow universities to recruit early-decision applicants who had already committed to other schools, according to The New York Times.

That change was part of the motivation behind Xavier earmarking “hundreds of thousands” of additional dollars toward financial aid, Meis said. He declined to give an exact figure of the increase. The money was originally meant in part to attract students during the expanded recruitment period. 

The increase in financial aid, though it would detract from tuition revenue, served as an investment, with the hope that it would allow the university to retain more students and thus more revenue in the future.

When the pandemic hit and the economy faltered, student requests for more aid flooded.

Hundreds of prospective and continuing Xavier students have submitted formal requests for additional funding via scholarships or need-based aid, according to officials. Meis said the requests may be due to the pandemic, as job and investment losses have led to financial uncertainty.

But the additional hundreds of thousands in financial aid “served us well,” Meis said, in fulfilling some of those requests.

Financial questions remain

The enrollment numbers remain preliminary, and COVID-19 could still hamper the school.

Meis said that if Xavier must shift to remote learning in the fall, enrollment numbers could be adversely affected.

And COVID-19 has already impacted Xavier financially. The university expects to refund $6.4 million to students in room and board costs after the campus closed. About $2 million more was lost due to canceled events and programs, according to Doug Ruschman, a Xavier spokesperson.

As of March 31, the university’s endowment value, $179.5 million, had declined about 10% since June.

Endowment appropriations account for about 3% of Xavier’s annual operating budget, Ruschman said.

“While this decline will impact the amount we appropriate for next year’s budget,” Ruschman said, “we do not expect this decline to have a significant impact on our operating budget next year.”

Xavier will receive about $3 million from the first federal stimulus bill.

Like other university administrations, Xavier has already made some decisions to counter possible budget issues from the pandemic.

Rev. Michael J. Graham, Xavier’s president, will take a 5% pay cut, Meis said, as will about 10 others on the senior leadership team.

About 40 open positions have been frozen through June, Meis added.

But the enrollment numbers are welcome signs for the university.

“At the end of the day,” Ruschman said, “students enrolling, studying at Xavier, growing in their commitment of the Jesuit tradition of becoming men and women for and with others is far more important to us than simply a bottom line financial calculation.”

Read or Share this story: https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2020/04/26/xavier-university-pace-meet-enrollment-goals-despite-pandemic/3010696001/

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