DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Campus and Community > Fall 2020 Census: Achievements and areas for growth

Fall 2020 Census: Achievements and areas for growth

Lincoln Park Campus
(DePaul University/Randall Spriggs)
​​This year's fall census enrollment results demonstrate – more than anything else – the power of collective will and community action. In a year when many of our peer institutions saw significant losses, welcoming the most diverse and largest freshman class in the university's history is a proud achievement for all of us.  

Despite the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, overall university enrollment declined at about half the rate of the previous five fiscal years. Our enrollment position was buoyed by remarkable headcount growth in new freshman and graduate students. This growth was made possible because as a community, we thought creatively, acted quickly and with compassion, and followed through, with discipline, to implement new strategies.

“Our fall 2020 enrollment results are remarkable given that college enrollment is down 3% nationally--a decline that continues a multi-year trend exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic," explains Soumitra Ghosh, vice president of Enrollment Management.

As of census on Sept. 26, total university enrollment for fall 2020 is 21,922 students, which is 0.6% lower, or 142 students fewer from fall 2019 census headcount. For context, in the past five years, the average annual decline in fall overall headcount has been 1.5%. Because our budgeting process has been fiscally prudent, we have reached 99.5% of the budgeted headcount goal of 22,041. On all counts, DePaul is among a small group of institutions who were fortunate to experience less than 1% enrollment loss compared to the previous year, research from the National Student Clearinghouse shows.  

 “DePaul faced tremendous uncertainty about how new and returning students would adjust to remote learning, while coping with severe financial pressure as well as personal health and safety concerns," Ghosh says.  “Our enrollment success this fall speaks volumes about the enduring quality of a DePaul education and how we collectively positioned ourselves for the success of our students. We must continue to do so always."

Freshman class hits new milestone

New freshman enrollment is a notable achievement with  another record-breaking class.  For the second consecutive year, DePaul welcomed the largest freshman class in our history, enrolling 2,774 students, 4.7% greater than our budgeted goal and 147 more students than fall 2019.

Student requests for an enrollment deferral to a later term increased dramatically. Of those who applied for fall 2020 enrollment, 260 students chose to defer to another quarter. 

“The pandemic created urgent and immediate financial and health-related challenges for our students, and enrolling in college may have felt like a distant possibility. Empathetic to our students' changing needs, we are actively developing strategies to keep deferred students engaged with DePaul throughout the coming year," Ghosh says. “They will know that when they are ready to enroll at DePaul, we are here for them."

The freshman class is also one of the most diverse in DePaul's history with students of color comprising 49% of the class, Pell grant-eligible students at 32%, as well as first-generation students at 34%; and out-of-state students at 43%. 

New master's student enrollment is strong as well. The 1,732 new master's students who started this fall represent a 6.7% increase over last year. Overall graduate enrollment of 7,106 stands at 99.2% of the budgeted headcount goal, and three students more than last year.  The Colleges of Business, Education, Liberal Arts & Social Sciences and Science & Health increased their overall graduate enrollment headcount over last year.

The College of Law also exceeded expectations by enrolling 225 new students -- 110.8% of the budgeted goal, which was203.  

New and continuing international student enrollment remains a point of focus and concern. Our international students face acute challenges, from health and financial concerns to increased regulatory pressure, coupled with travel restrictions at the global scale. Despite these challenges for international enrollment, new freshman enrollment is down 20 and transfer is down by only three students.  Graduate enrollment is up by 33 students, composed primarily of international students who are already in the US. 

“The university anticipated a decline in new international student enrollment under the current circumstances, but we also set up innovative ways in which they could still pursue a DePaul education," Ghosh says.

Transfer enrollment remains a challenge

Transfer enrollment, however, is less than projected.  The 1,028 transfer students enrolled this fall meets 93.5% of the budgeted goal of 1,100, which is down 57 students compared to fall 2019. Transfers remain strategically important to DePaul's enrollment portfolio, and competition for this market is fierce.

“DePaul has always been one of the prominent players in transfer student recruitment in Illinois," Ghosh says.  “We enroll the most transfer students among private, nonprofit universities in the state.  Yet a decreasing number of potential transfer students – coupled with the steep competition – has created significant challenges for DePaul to hold onto its strong position in the market."

Continuing student enrollment requires new focus 

There continues to be a slow decline of undergraduate enrollment despite reaching new enrollment milestones in recent years. Since peaking in fall 2012 at 16,498 students, overall undergraduate enrollment has decreased annually to 14,145 this year. While our first-to-second year retention rate has improved from 83.8% to 85.1% in the previous five cohorts, we saw a 2% point decline in retention rate for the fall 2019 cohort.

“The university must focus on the factors that affect students continuing their education at DePaul.  While the financial pressure our students face is the most obvious obstacle, it is not the only issue that leads to discontinuation. We are discovering that students with strong financial wherewithal, as well as students with strong academic preparation, are not returning to DePaul," Ghosh explains. “It will require greater focus on finding solutions to this urgent problem."

Even though DePaul's retention rate exceeds national benchmarks, the steady decline in the undergraduate student body indicates that we need to become more effective as a community in ensuring that a larger proportion of our students persist and complete their college degree at DePaul. 

 “I am grateful for the university's response to achieve our enrollment goals.  These efforts – from the summer anti-melt programs hosted by many colleges to the value-added yield strategies – all made a difference for a strong fall enrollment outcome," Ghosh says. “The pandemic presented us with challenges, but we effectively rose up as a community.  Our work ahead to recruit, re-enroll and graduate every student is of paramount importance as the nature of the higher education landscape is changing dramatically. I am encouraged that we can achieve great things together."  ​