Opinion: As enrollment at Jewell changes, thinking needs to as well

Spring on campus Wednesday, April 13, 2016 at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo.

The atmosphere of William Jewell College’s campus is changing. As Jewell has experienced a number of significant events in the past three years – for example, a change of College president and the HLC accreditation audit, it is easy to see that the on-campus atmosphere is different.  

These events have sparked noticable change externally to Jewell. Jewell’s mission statement, philosophy, strategic plan and slogan –The Critical Thinking College™  – have all been changed to reflect the new vision for Jewell.

Students have observed new marketing strategies started by Jewell which are aimed at gaining new students. Jewell has placed new billboards around the Kansas City area promoting Jewell’s cost effectiveness and short YouTube ads give viewers a snapshot of what the College has to offer.

I think these new marketing strategies coincide with the fact that Jewell’s enrollment has experienced a decline.

Most people estimate Jewell’s enrollment to be around 1000 students. The reason for this is that Jewell was and has been known as a school of around 1000 students, give or take, for most of its history.

If you google “william jewell college enrollment,” the first news article is a US News report which cites the schools total enrollment at 933 – almost every article following this one says Jewell’s enrollment is somewhere between 900 and 1000 students. These numbers fit into the framework of thinking of the school as a campus with around 1000 students.

The number that first pops up when searching “william jewell college enrollment” is 787 students. The sidebar paragraph says enrollment is 813 students while directly underneath it enrollment is cited as 1053 for the 2015-2016 school year.

A screenshot of googling “william jewell college enrollment.”

I think it is important to recognize these disparities and the lack of accessible, accurate public information about enrollment numbers. A current student who is trying to find accurate enrollment numbers through public means is going to have trouble doing so.

Through further searching, I found that the citation for the 787 enrollment number is from an article from the Kansas City Business Journal. However, one must have pay to subscribe to the journal to view this article. Unless one takes strenuous measures, paying to subscribe to the Kansas City Business Journal, one cannot view the article which places enrollment lower than all the other sources do.

I believe it is important that the College be open with students about what current enrollment numbers are. This will help create an atmosphere of transparency at the school and allow the school to make better decisions by taking accurate enrollment numbers into account.

Seven hundred and eighty seven students should no longer be talked about as “1000 students, give or take” – rhetoric the College still uses. The first step to improving the on-campus atmosphere at the College starts with admitting what the status of enrollment at school is.

Screenshot from William Jewell College website.

The current enrollment has obviously affected how the school operates externally. The College has gone to great lengths to recruit and market to increase enrollment for the coming years. I believe the school is trying, and succeeding, in starting to build an enrollment similar to past years at Jewell.

However, I think that while externally the College has taken steps to improve enrollment this does not reflect a change internally. The school has not recognized a need to change programs and activities to adapt to this decreased enrollment.

It is no secret that Jewell students do not attend most events held on-campus. Most College-sponsored activities and events that individual clubs put on have little attendance.

When discussing why there is such low attendance at events by Jewell students I think one must recognize that the decreased amount of students on-campus has contributed to this phenomenon.

If someone believes there are still 1000 to 1100 students on-campus, it seems impossible to have under 100 students attending an event. However, if we adjust our framework and recognize that there are about 787 students on-campus then it seems more probable as to why there are fewer students attending events.

While decreased enrollment is obviously not the only reason for low participation on-campus, I believe the decreased enrollment has affected campus in a negative way and contributed to an overall apathetic atmosphere on-campus. There is a stigma on campus that Jewell students do not attend events and do not care about what is going on at the College.

Ultimately, I believe solving the problem of low attendance at events and having an apathetic campus atmosphere begins with shifting our thinking about enrollment. When we begin to be honest with ourselves about the decreased amount of students on-campus we will better understand the atmosphere of the campus.

As long as we continue to think of Jewell’s enrollment as unchanging, we will not be able to understand why campus functions the way it does. We must recognize the problem of decreased enrollment in order to begin to fix it.

Instead of brushing the issue of enrollment under the rug and acting as if nothing has changed, we can make a choice to accept the facts and start to find solutions. Only when we accept that there is a problem will we be able to effectively fix it.

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