Westminster Experiences 96 Percent Applications Increase Despite National Trends

Westminster College continues to witness a dramatic increase in enrollment despite frequent headlines that colleges nationwide are suffering. Applications and student admissions at Westminster are up an astounding 96 percent since this time last year.

Not surprisingly, Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) submissions are also up 96 percent, and tuition deposits have increased 80 percent compared to February 2020.

Jesse Taylor, Director of Recruitment, has an interesting take on one possible reason numbers have increased at the small liberal arts college: The personalized environment is particularly appealing to Generation Z. Taylor speculates that while they may be digitally plugged in and seemingly disconnected from others, prospective students today are completely engaged when it comes to college choice.

“They want to connect, and that really means something right now, in particular, with COVID,” Taylor reflects. “We sit down with them and really listen. They desire that Old School connection, and because of the typical isolation everyone feels because of the pandemic, a big university might be scarier for them.”

Interestingly, Westminster’s in-person (masked, socially distanced) Welcome to Westminster prospective student events in the fall of 2020 saw the largest attendance in four years despite the pandemic.

Dr. Paul Orscheln, Vice President of Enrollment Services, Marketing, and Strategic Communications, adds that Welcome to Westminster is just one facet of the College’s overall approach for reaching out to prospective students. Recruitment efforts have recently evolved and modernized, offering not only in-person tours but comprehensive virtual YouVisit tours, targeted letters/postcards, and various outreach efforts involving digital media.

“We are focusing on reaching students who are a good fit for Westminster at the right times in a very personalized way,” Orscheln says, explaining that focused outreach takes place on multiple platforms in an organized fashion so that students are contacted more than once.

In addition to personalized recruitment, Taylor emphasizes that students he encounters want in-person classes, which Westminster continues to offer while being prepared to flip immediately to a virtual or hybrid environment as it did during stay-at-home orders last spring. Digital innovations on campus have continued to develop since spring 2020, allowing Westminster to offer hybrid, virtual, and in-person classes through its Digital Blue program.

But classes aren’t the entire college experience. Westminster recognizes the importance of social activities, clubs, Greek life, Independent life, and sports, handling the full student experience carefully during the pandemic.

Last fall, like many institutions nationwide, all games and conferences were canceled, and a majority of fall sports were bumped to Spring Semester 2021. With 50 percent of the campus participating in sports, students this semester are either on the court, in the field, or anxiously anticipating stretching their legs and dashing away from the confines of their rooms and the dining hall.

Students Gretchen Durbala, ’21, and Ian Smith, ’21, are two student-athletes who are enjoying classes and sports at Westminster. Both transferred from MacMurray College in Jacksonville, IL, last semester after MacMurray closed in May 2020.

Ian Smith in a white Blue Jays basketball jerseySmith, a Business Administration major from Griggsville, IL, is on the Blue Jays men’s basketball team. He says that he enjoyed campus life last semester despite COVID-caused campus irregularities.

“I think every student-athlete was struggling not being able to play,” Smith reflects. “I still liked my time here, considering the school had to follow guidelines to keep the students safe, but I’m glad we are getting to have a season this spring, since I am a senior.”

Gretchen Durballa in white Blue Jays volleyball hoodie.Durbala echoes Smith’s feelings. A Biochemistry major on the pre-medicine track, the native of Burlington, IA, says she came to Westminster to play volleyball and be academically challenged. She also wanted to have fun.

“I had a great first semester. With on-campus and off-campus activities, it was easy to stay busy,” she says during a discussion about her transfer experience.

Durbala, who will graduate in December 2021, is finally playing the sport she loves. Her first volleyball game as a Blue Jay was a 3-1 victory over Fontbonne University.

Taylor says Durbala and others exemplify what’s going right at Westminster right now.

He adds, “From a recruitment perspective, Westminster is in a fortunate position to offer a personalized, connective experience both inside and outside the classroom that contradicts happenings in the country and the world this past year as a result of COVID-19.”

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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is a Media and Content Strategist at Westminster College in Fulton, MO. A 1992 graduate of the College, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communication in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.