Westminster Witnesses a 25 Percent Increase in Freshman Enrollment

The Class of 2024, above, at New Student Convocation in August, is the largest class at Westminster in four years.

Westminster College in Fulton, MO, is pleased to announce a 25 percent increase in freshman enrollment this fall. At exactly 177 students, the Class of 2024 is the largest freshman class the College has welcomed in four years despite challenges to institutions nationwide as a result of COVID-19.

Dr. Paul Orscheln, Vice President of Enrollment Services, Marketing, and Strategic Communications, says the increase is not surprising to many at Westminster, where a number of crucial strategic changes and financial invements relating to enrollment were implemented within the last year.

“We devised a careful plan to ensure those numbers increased,” Orscheln says. “Basically, we overhauled the engine of an already functional machine to make it run even more smoothly.”

One part of Orscheln’s plan was to resurrect a recruitment strategy that on the surface might seem outdated but that works surprisingly well: traditional direct-mail pieces sent to prospective students’ homes. The mailings were dropped a few years ago as a cost-saving measure but have been found to be vital because parents see this material, whereas digital marketing often goes directly to prospective students only and may not be discussed with family members.

Orscheln explains, “Our goal is to reach students and parents where they are, and we must make sure we are communicating through every channel possible.”

Adding the direct-mail pieces back to the overall recruitment strategy was part of Orscheln’s additional role as Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Communications — a title he acquired in March.

Orscheln’s new responsibilities included merging the Marketing and Strategic Communications Department with Enrollment Services in the basement of Champ Auditorium so that the two teams could work closely together on a daily basis.

“The integration of both departments has made both units stronger,” Orscheln says simply.

In addition to changes in marketing technique, Orscheln says freshman enrollment is up because of a strong team of admissions counselors who are skilled in listening to prospective students. The team of six admissions counselors with dedicated territories throughout Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas are seasoned professionals who truly understand and enjoy high school students.

“They really are an enthusiastic, great group of people with a lot of energy,” Orscheln emphasizes.

Oddly enough, the COVID-19 pandemic did not negatively affect enrollment numbers, as a few had feared and which happened at some institutions nationwide.

“We were trying to continue to build enrollment through the pandemic and were pleasantly surprised with the numbers we ended up with,” Orscheln says.

One contributing factor to the numbers increase, Orscheln says, was temporarily waiving the ACT and SAT requirement when schools could not administer the tests during the spring and summer. The test-optional practice remains in effect this year. Additionally, when prospective students could not visit campus this spring, Enrollment Services made sure to continue reaching out through chatbots and other texting and video platforms. The College also launched a virtual tour feature on its website.

Orscheln also explains that after the spring quarantine, many prospective students and parents sought out Westminster’s in-person classes, with the understanding that the format could pivot to virtual delivery, as it did in Spring 2019.

Orscheln adds that all departments implemented social distancing and sanitization efforts in order to make college life work during this unprecedented time in history. As a result, the overall environment feels even more family-like, which prospective students pick up on the minute they set foot on campus.

“Everyone at Westminster is working together as a team. We all feel good about what we’re doing, and that can be felt by others who come in from the outside,” Orscheln reflects, adding, “That’s not something we can fake, and our numbers show it.”

Founded in 1851 and home of Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech, Westminster College in Fulton, MO, is ranked prestigiously by U.S. News & World Report as a National Liberal Arts College. The institution is in the top 15 percent for graduate earnings and boasts a 98 percent placement rate. Westminster also is a Forbes Best Value College. Westminster focuses on educating and inspiring students to find the power in their purpose in order to become the world leaders of tomorrow.

To find out more about Westminster, please visit our website.



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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is the Director of Media Relations and Senior Writer at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. A proud Westminster graduate, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communications in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.