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FSU’s total undergraduate enrollment down 8% since last year

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

By Leighah Beausoleil


Leighah Beausoleil / THE GATEPOST

Total full-time undergraduate enrollment for the Fall 2022 Semester was 2,970, down approximately 8% since fall 2021, when 3,213 students were enrolled, according to the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (MDHE).

Total graduate enrollment has seen an approximate 11% decline since fall 2021, with 1,141 graduates enrolled in fall 2022, down from 1,282, according to MDHE.

The decline in enrollment has been a consistent trend since the Fall 2015 Semester. FSU’s total undergraduate enrollment was at its highest in the last 10 years during the Fall 2014 Semester, with 4,609 students enrolled, according to MDHE.

Framingham State’s total undergraduate enrollment is down approximately 36% since fall 2014, according to MDHE.

According to Jessica Mireles, president of JM Partner Solutions and interim chief of enrollment management, 4,526 first-year students applied to Framingham State for the Fall 2022 Semester. Of those students, 3,960 were admitted and 490, or 12.4%, enrolled.

In addition, 583 transfer students applied to Framingham State for fall 2022. Of those students, 380 were admitted and 199, or 52.4%, enrolled, according to Mireles.

In spring 2019, Framingham State enrolled 72 international students, according to Mireles. This past fall, that number was 42, down 58.3%.

“The decline in international students began with COVID shutdowns, when many students left the U.S. to study from their home country and then didn’t return to campus,” Mireles said. “Additionally, newly admitted international students have been challenged to get the necessary student visas due to Consulate and Embassy backlogs.”

She said when it comes to the admissions process, students whose high school GPAs fall below a 2.0 are “disqualified” from acceptance to state universities.

In addition to this criteria, FSU follows the “Undergraduate Admissions Standards for the Massachusetts State University System and the University of Massachusetts” reference guide.

The differences between fall 2021 and fall 2022 total undergraduate enrollment for FSU’s sister institutions include a 3% decline at Bridgewater State University, a 5% decline at Fitchburg State University, a 3% increase at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and a 4% decrease at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, according to the MDHE.

Leighah Beausoleil / THE GATEPOST

For Massachusetts Maritime Academy, total undergraduate enrollment declined 7%. Salem State University is down 9% and Worcester State University is down 3%, according to MDHE.

No fall 2022 enrollment data is currently available from Westfield State University.

In summary, excluding Westfield State University, this is a 5% decline in total undergraduate enrollment at Massachusetts state universities, according to MDHE.

Mireles said, “This is an extremely challenging time for most colleges and universities across the country.”

She added, “The public four-year sector decreased across the board by 1.6% for fall 2022.”

Mireles named the COVID-19 pandemic and fewer high school graduates as reasons why enrollment continues to decline.

“The Northeast, in particular, has a declining population of high school graduates and layered on top of that, the college-going rate has been declining,” she said.

When it comes to the Common App, which is an application that allows prospective undergraduate students to apply to multiple schools at once, Mireles said it has not had a “significant” effect in FSU enrollment decline.

However, Mireles said, “It has caused ‘noise’ in our system with students applying who really don't intend to enroll at FSU.

“When a student applies, the admissions team doesn’t know their intent, so [they] can spend a lot of time trying to contact the student to request documents to complete files for review rather than having more time to nurture those who are truly interested in FSU,” she added. “While the Common Application does create some distraction, we need it to be competitive with our peer institutions.”

Mireles said the Board of Trustees and President Nancy Niemi are developing “a new strategic enrollment plan” throughout the spring semester that will allow for “growth” as the University rebrands and reasserts its “founding purpose as a public institution meeting public need and servicing the public good. We see this as a very exciting time for FSU!”

Averil Capers, director of the Marketing Department, said although the University’s marketing changes every year, given the undergraduate enrollment challenges, her department is working more “closely” with the enrollment and admissions departments.

“It's just so important that we're all on the same page working together,” she said. “We want to increase recognition of Framingham State. We want campus visits, applications, and that's where we come in.”

Capers said every spring, the Marketing Department will meet with stakeholders, communications, enrollment, and the agency that places the University’s advertising. During these meetings, the group will reflect on how effective advertisements were that year, look into new trends, examine data, and discuss which direction they should go for the upcoming academic year.

She said it is important for the department to have an understanding of how best to reach its target audience. For example, when she first became director, Facebook was popular among prospective students, and now this focus has shifted to other social media platforms such as Snapchat and TikTok.

With the University’s rebranding, the Marketing Department is taking “the day-to-day lead on the project,” she said.

Capers said this year, the department is able to receive “oversight” and “support” from the two consultants, Mireles and Mike Marston, executive consultant for JM Partner Solutions.

She added the department and enrollment consultants meet weekly with Primacy, an independent marketing agency, as well as hold standard meetings with the rebranding team itself.

“From the study, we're going to develop a new brand messaging platform, basically to capture who we are and articulate that in a way so it will resonate with all of our core audiences,” she said.

Capers said this includes not only undergraduates, but also graduate students and alumni.

“We envision that this branding initiative will bring life to our unique strength,” she said, adding Primacy will assist in developing the University’s “new vision and mission statement that defines who we are.”

In addition, Capers said the University will be obtaining a new “visual identity,” which will include a new logo, colors, typography - all of which will be tied together with a new tagline.

When these changes are established, Capers said her department will have a new brand and style guideline that will inform the way promotional materials are created.

“It's very exciting,” she said. “I just can't wait, and we're getting there.”

Capers said this work all truly started last year when the department initiated the Request for Proposal (RFP) process - this is what led the University into its partnership with Primacy.

Members of Primacy came to campus, took a tour and interviewed different groups, including faculty, staff, and students, in order to “find out more about us, our priorities, or challenges - really get that good background.

“Primacy took that information and also went through a comprehensive discovery process, which included secondary research, qualitative/quantitative research, and the brand creative concepts were developed from that,” she said.

These “brand creative concepts” included two different proposed marketing campaigns. The concepts were shared in a survey to the campus community and prospective students as well as to focus groups in order to collect feedback.

The two concepts presented were “Proudly Public, Personally Transformative,” and “We, the Future.”

“Right now, we're very excited to find out the results from that,” she said.

“I think both concepts were very interesting. I liked elements in both, but with a caveat,” she added.

Capers said the “most important” opinion will be that of the individuals who filled out the survey and participated in the focus groups. “We really need to see how it resonates with everyone.”

She clarified that neither of the proposed concepts are exactly what the marketing campaign will look like and these are serving as a “foundation” to learn from. However, she said some elements from one or both may be incorporated - or none of them.

“I really feel that this rebranding project with the website redesign - that's going to be fantastic - really looking forward to it,” she said. “I really feel it can be transformational. I mean, as far as getting out there and having it in our marketing efforts, I really think it can make a difference.”

“With President Niemi’s leadership and the changes that are going on on campus, I just think this is going to be a home run,” Capers said.

She said the last rebranding took place in 2016, and the website was redesigned in 2014 and launched in 2015.

Two of the students who participated in one of the focus groups said they had mixed responses to the branding concepts.

Sam Houle, a senior history major and SATF Treasurer for SGA, said he liked the message of the second campaign, “We, the Future,” more than the first, “Proudly Public, Personally Transformative,” but believes the first campaign was better executed.

“I think a lot of what our generation struggles with is maintaining our individuality while being part of a community,” Houle said. “The first campaign came off as very ‘boot strappy.’”

He said he finds there is a significant difference between individualism and individuality, with the first meaning aspects of people’s identity and the latter being the attitude of doing something alone.

“The University is proud of being public and seems to be trying to identify with the working class, which is great, but it seems to be promoting a level of individualism that we simply do not have or really even want on campus,” he added.

“The second campaign focuses on ‘we’ and forming a community where people's individuality can flourish, rather than everyone just doing their own thing,” Houle said. “I think using this messaging, but still using pictures of individuals, will help show the balance between the two extremes that our school offers.”

Houle concluded, “I don’t think either does a bad job of showing an aspect of FSU, but I do not think either paints a complete picture of our school or even just our academics.”

In terms of the marketing itself, Houle said he finds that FSU is more focused on “traditional” forms of advertisement, when the world seems to be moving in a different direction, with most people getting exposure to brands and marketing through social media, with fast-paced content that caters to short attention spans.

He said it would be “impossible” to address all of the University’s academics, extracurriculars, and values in such short time frames. “I do not think the future of advertising in general looks promising for university recruiting in general. These campaigns seem like they are pretty consistent with industry trends - speaking as a consumer.”

Hannah Devlin, a senior child and family studies major, said she preferred the first campaign, as it was different from the marketing other universities had when she was looking at higher education options in high school.

“Campaign one was inspirational and I felt it was targeting me specifically,” Devlin said. “The black and white photos feel bold and stand out and I love the slogan, ‘Proudly Public, Personally Transformative’ as it assures that FSU isn’t just another public school.

“Campaign one felt empowering and I love the cover title, ‘We’ve been waiting for you almost 200 years,’” she added.

Devlin said the second campaign looked similar to other advertisements she has seen, adding the campaign focused on community and “provided a sense of togetherness.”

She said, “These campaigns do represent FSU well. They accurately represent the community during campaign two and the effects on students personally during campaign one.

“I think they are well designed and that regardless of which campaign they choose, it will benefit enrollment and attract more students to FSU,” Devlin added. “They’re relevant and visually appealing, which will help FSU greatly.”

Leighah Beausoleil / THE GATEPOST

President Niemi said the administration has been working on these concepts for a “long time,” adding, “We were not willing to put something back out to our public to ask for your opinion until we were satisfied that we had something that we were ready to let out and have people really take a look at.

“I'm happy that those two represent choices that we could really take out and be proud of,” she said.

Niemi said the “Proudly Public, Personally Transformative” campaign stood out to her.

“I want to make sure that everybody knows that we are second to no one - that we were born a public institution, that we serve our region, our community, our New England, and that is what our mission is and it is in contrast to many people's belief that a private institution is better, and that somehow Framingham or any other public institution, but specifically Framingham, is somehow somebody's second choice,” she said. “That's not who we are. We are proudly public.”

Niemi said although Framingham State’s sister institutions are also public, to her knowledge, none is as proudly public as she would like FSU to be - “to the full extent as I would like us to be.”

Niemi said the first set of new marketing campaign materials is projected to be ready to be sent out to prospective students by the end of the summer, which is when recruitment begins to ramp up.

Therefore, a decision on what the new marketing campaign will be should be made sometime early-to-mid summer, she said. Changes will begin to be made on campus, such as the signage, and will continue throughout the next academic year.

Last semester, Niemi said the University would be looking into hiring an interim chief enrollment officer from the Registry, which is an organization that serves to provide temporary higher education administrators to universities. However, a “good candidate for us” was not found, and so Mireles is currently filling the position.

While Mireles fills this role looking at the “overall operations,” Marston is working with the Admissions Department on a day-to-day basis to “help redefine, improve, and make decisions about how our admissions processes and procedures can work better and all the ways in which our enrollment work can be improved.”

Niemi said given that Marston and Mireles are from out of state, she was initially “worried” it would pose a problem. However, she said even if someone were successfully found from the Registry, that would not guarantee they would be at Framingham “all day every day.”

She said the cost of having Marston and Mireles is less than what was originally projected for the consultants and interim chief of enrollment management positions.

Dale Hamel, executive vice president, said the University is paying $59,000 for the interim enrollment management support.

Niemi said she is “thrilled” with the work they have done so far.

“We have some incredible people who have been working hard, and there are new and refined ways to do the work of enrollment management,” she said. “It's a different business than it was even a decade ago, 15 years ago, and so having people who are experts - and Jess [Mireles] in particular was a chief enrollment officer in higher education and now is being a consultant for it - they know the processes and the procedures that are now very much more business oriented and much more digitally based.”

Niemi said, “We have lots of people who work on this campus on admissions, and it's a really hard job. When everything's going well, people say, ‘Great, thanks.’ When it’s not going well, they get all the blame - and that is not right.”

Last semester, John Chenier, assistant dean of admissions, left the University. Niemi said the University will not be refilling that position as it existed and the administration will be redistributing the work among other members of the department and has reorganized it.

She said the administration will be “having them do the work in ways that are even more effective than they were doing before.”

Regarding enrollment, she said it is “important” for everyone to understand that public institutions in the region are being affected in the same way Framingham State is.

“It was a long time coming,” she said. “The declines in our enrollment didn't happen overnight, and so the changes that we're making now are not instantaneous as much as any of us would like them to be. If I had the magic wand, I would have given it gladly to Framingham.”

Niemi added seeing a change in enrollment is going to take time, “but what I'm most excited about is that we are being strategic and thoughtful about what we want and how we want it and of the community that we serve.”

Hamel said the decline in enrollment has affected the University’s overall budget. However, funding has been redistributed in various departments in order to assist enrollment efforts.

The Board of Trustees has also designated $1.5 million in additional funding toward enrollment efforts, he said. This funding consists of money from the enrollment management investment reserve, a Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF3) allocation, as well as an American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) 1.0 allocation.

Hamel said the HEERF and ARPA funding have to be spent this fiscal year, but the University has more “flexibility” with the investment reserve.

He provided a breakdown of what this money is being put toward as well as what initiatives are also on the administration's radar with funding from outside sources that are not included in the $1.5 million.

For the Enrollment Management Department, $352,000 of the funding will be applied in addition to the $59,000 going toward the consultants.

For the Marketing Department, $782,500 is going toward branding and website development. In addition, $106,000 will be applied toward the website/sharepoint transfer initiative.

Beyond the rebranding, $68,000 will be applied to the Marketing Department for a customer relationship manager and writer until a full-time/part-time position is filled.

Under Academic Affairs and CASA, $50,000 will be applied toward Starfish Analytics and use training. In addition, $100,000 is going toward the Civic Engagement and Service Learning Program partnership consultant - MetroWest Nonprofit Network - and annual support.

The remaining funding of $15,000 will be applied to a contracted study for Career Services.

Also listed on the breakdown that is not funded by the $1.5 million are initiatives for departments, including Financial Aid, Facilities, Athletics, Student Activities/Residence Life, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement (DICE).

Hamel said there is “significant new additive funding in financial aid being provided by the state, actually the federal government as well, as the government has increased or will be increasing Pell Grant applicant awards. But in terms of the state, they've significantly increased financial aid funding.”

Through the Mass Pell Grant Plus Program, the state has provided additional aid for students in need, he said, adding the “neediest students” are at a point where their entire tuition and fees direct costs can be covered through funding from the Fair Share Act.

For Facilities, Hamel said SGA will be ranking the capital projects they feel are most important to address for this fiscal year and the same exercise will be applied for future years.

In the Athletics Department, efforts are being put toward reviving intramural sports that were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. In addition, the University is considering starting a women’s ice hockey team, but have been having difficulty finding a coach.

For Student Activities/Residence Life, the University would like to start using the Warren Conference Center more for the Hospitality Program and need to have faculty work more closely with the Student Transportation Center in order to make that happen, Hamel said.

Additionally, Hamel said the administration does not believe Linsley Hall will be open for the fall semester. Due to this residence hall serving as the building for year-round housing, this housing will have to be repositioned in Larned Hall. Therefore, the University is conducting a study to see if it is possible to install air conditioning in the top two floors of the building for summer housing.

Another idea the University has been considering is hosting 21+ events at which alcohol is served at Sandella’s, Hamel said. The administration was hoping to run some “test cases” this semester, but were unable to due to licensing difficulties.

“I think we're still going to consider it for next year on a pilot basis and decide whether it's worth doing or not,” he said.

Under the Student Activities category, the University is also working toward enhancing weekend programming for students, Hamel added.

The final category listed is for the DICE Department, which includes efforts toward making FSU a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and a Minority Serving Institution, which requires a designated percentage of students who are Hispanic and/or from an unrepresented group.

Leighah Beausoleil / THE GATEPOST

Hamel said what they “want to do is not just meet the percentages that trigger that designation. We want to be an HSI-ready institution.”

Niemi said a portion of the population of students whom the University normally depends on enrolling has declined, but “there are many kids - first-generation kids, racial and ethnic minorities, underrepresented minorities - who perhaps didn't see that they were welcomed in college.”

She said there are many students, including within the Framingham community, who are potential students that FSU wants to show “that they’re, in fact, absolutely college material.

“And so I'm excited about that because I think that in general, not just Framingham, but all of us - we have been looking at our enrollment in a way that hasn't really lifted up all the people who could and should be our target when we say, ‘We want you to come to Framingham,’” she added.

“So that's why I'm excited about that because it's deeply thoughtful and hopeful for public education and for our community,” Niemi said.



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