Enrollment at Humboldt State is down by over 1,000 students this year, and internal predictions project declining enrollment over the next five years.
By the 2023-24 school year, the projected enrollment is 5,779 students. The current number of students is 6,763, while last year’s enrollment totaled 7,774.
The university received $36.4 million of in-state tuition revenue for the current school year, which is a loss of $5.8 million when compared to last year and nearly $9 million short of the recent high in the 2015-16 school year, when HSU received $45.3 in-state tuition revenue.
Humboldt State officials hope to combat this downward trend by focusing on recruiting more local students to complement the majority of students from out of the area. Peter Martinez is the director of admissions at HSU and was brought on three months ago to fill the position previously held by Stephanie Lane, who served as the interim director of admissions since September 2017. Martinez said HSU currently gets only about 32 students per year from Humboldt County, but there is a potential to recruit around 1,100.
“There is an economy here and we want to make sure we are putting people in [those jobs],” Martinez told the Outpost while on a recruiting trip in Anaheim. “There are perceptions that we haven’t paid attention to our local area and we want to address those concerns moving forward.”
[CLARIFICATION FROM HSU: “It’s accurate that HSU gets approximately 32 local freshmen per year — but there are far more local new students each year total. The Office of Institutional Effectiveness shows 384 new local students — that includes freshmen transfers. That also doesn’t include continuing students — the estimated total population of local students (continuing and new) at the university is 1,073.”]
Martinez said there are six admissions counselors at HSU and the office recently received $1 million in one-time funds from the CSU Chancellor’s Office to help grow enrollment at the university. HSU wants to “be smarter” when it comes to spending money to recruit students and they are investing in technology to reach students where they are, Martinez said.
A big part of the recruiting efforts will focus on selling HSU and the region by highlighting the ocean, redwoods and the “hometown feel” of the area. It also includes being honest with potential students about recent events in Humboldt County.
Martinez said during his recruiting efforts questions about the “Murder Mountain” documentary and the death of Josiah Lawson have come up, but not very often. He said these are new topics for him to deal with given his short tenure with the university, and he is learning how they impact HSU and potential students.
“I inform people that our environment is unique and we all have our own kind of unique concerns or activities. So we try to do our best to address those and normalize them to other things that are around us, but the thing is knowing that there are some conversations that need to be had around areas like that,” Martinez said in reference to “Murder Mountain” and the death of Josiah Lawson.
Martinez went on to say efforts from the admission’s office have already helped to slow the decrease in enrollment. He said the university is starting to see a stabilization in the number of applications coming in.
Yadira Cruz is the president of the Associated Students at HSU and moved here from East Los Angeles in 2016. Cruz has sat in on discussions about enrollment and recruiting efforts at the university and has differing opinions from HSU officials when it comes to the university’s recruiting practices.
Cruz wants the university to focus more on retention efforts, such as providing more services to current students, particularly students of color. The main issues affecting students of color, Cruz said, are housing and a disconnect between campus and community relations.
“Recruiting doesn’t ensure student success; it only ensures institutional success,” Cruz told the Outpost.
Cruz said she wants to make sure the funding for enrollment is backed up by data that supports the university’s efforts. She also wants the university to focus on ensuring that current students have the resources they need to graduate.
HSU issued the following press release this afternoon:
Humboldt State is rolling out a number of new ideas and programs to increase enrollment at the University.
These efforts—which utilize data, new technology, trainings, investments, and more—are intended to boost recruitment and retention by identifying and removing barriers that prospective students face.
Over the last several years, the University has seen enrollment decline due to a number of factors, including successful efforts to help students graduate more quickly that led to the University’s highest ever four- and six-year graduation rates. This decline has led to budget shortfalls and other impacts for campus and the local community.
Under new leadership by Jason Meriwether, Interim VP for Enrollment Management, and Peter Martinez, Director of Admissions, a number of changes have taken place. The efforts have already paid off, with spring semester applications slightly higher than they were this time last year. Martinez hopes the trend continues.
Those efforts include:
• Renewing attention to local recruitment. Meriwether, Martinez, and regional Admissions Counselor Leo Canez have been visiting extensively with local high school students and administrators, and have launched a pilot dual enrollment program, where local students can take classes at their high school and HSU. “It expands their minds and lets them understand what life on campus is like,” Martinez says.
• Using data wisely. Utilizing the information that HSU’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness collects is an important existing resource to identify the types of students who come to HSU.
• Utilizing technology. New recruitment tools allow the University to digitally target prospective students on the online platforms they use and where they research and express interest in colleges.
• Chatting with the bot. Humbot, an AI text-messaging software that directs students to resources, answers their questions, and helps them connect to the campus, was launched this year. Read more about Humbot.
• Hitting the road. Regional admissions counselors have returned to the Fresno and Los Angeles areas. “It’s a big deal to be where students are at, all over California,” Martinez says. “Recruiters build a rapport with students and influencers like high school counselors.”
• Hitting the books. More training and experience for counselors means they better understand the University. For example, a recent training had counselors attend place-based learning community activities, so they can describe what first-year students experience in those programs.
• Getting ready for college. Counselors have the ability to look at the transcripts of students midway through their senior year of high school, and advise them how to adjust their habits to pass with the grades and requirements they need to be eligible for HSU and certain academic programs.
• The Lumberjack experience. Admissions is dedicating funds to redesign the visit experience and space on the first floor of the Student Business Services Building, where many prospective students and their families first set foot on campus. “We want them to feel like Lumberjacks from day one,” Martinez says.
• Making it more affordable. Many fees—including for Preview Day registration—have been removed to make it more affordable for prospective students and their families to visit HSU. They hope to increase the number of spring visits and bus tours each year. Read about the elimination of Preview Day fees.
• Connecting with community colleges. Martinez is reaching out to community colleges across the state and partnering with their faculty to help students learn about HSU and prepare them to transfer successfully.
• Financial aid. New students will have earlier access to apply for scholarships, and will be notified of their financial aid eligibility earlier. Additional money is being invested in academic scholarships.