The three finalists for the top job at Fort Lewis College are well aware of the school’s declining enrollment and its budgetary pinch.
Dick Kaufman, a trustee who led the Presidential Search Committee, said notices for the job included information concerning the enrollment situation.
“One primary expectation every candidate knows is that they would come in and start reversing that trend,” he said.
Steve Short, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said while he was not on the Presidential Search Committee, enrollment was a prime issue examined in the search, and it was an issue pursued with each candidate.
“I do know the committee was concerned that candidates were aware of all the particular issues FLC faces, and they had leadership qualities to deal with them.”
Kaufman said FLC is not alone among small colleges facing declining student numbers, as the number of high school students nationwide peaked in 2013 and has been declining since.
The U.S. high school class of 2013, public and private, was about 3.47 million, according to a report from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. The nation’s graduating class is not expected to reach that level again until 2024.
Although Colorado is bucking the trend, Kaufman said other states have noticed the growth in high school graduates here and have focused recruitment efforts in Colorado.
In 2016, 56,238 students graduated from Colorado high schools. It marked the first major increase in high school students graduating from the state’s high schools in years.
A problem FLC faces, Kaufman said, is since the recession of 2008, Front Range parents, looking to economize, are encouraging students to enroll in colleges close to home to avoid paying for room and board.
“The recession changed attitudes. Hopefully, that may be alleviated with a recovering economy,” he said.
Kaufman said after reviewing all 120 applicants, he saw evidence that FLC’s enrollment pinch is not unique.
“I can say, colleges out there have faced the same problems and successfully reversed enrollment declines,” he said. “I know it can be done, and I know we can do it.”
At FLC, enrollment for the fall semester was 3,356 – 239 students shy of the previous year. During the recession in 2009, fall enrollment was 3,685.