Baker University reports strong new enrollment since 2007
On her third day of classes Monday at Baker University, Nicolasa Kenney entered the school’s Harter Union wearing a gray University of Kansas T-shirt.
The Lawrence freshman majoring in math and secondary education said she did give serious consideration to her hometown school before narrowing her college list to Baker, Benedictine College in Atchison and Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo. Kenney selected Baker because of the “homey feeling” she got during visits.
“I like the one-on-one atmosphere,” she said. “I sat in on a class last spring. Everyone was so welcoming even though they knew I was just visiting.”
A university-wide effort made it a very good year for new freshmen at Baker, said Danielle Yearout, Baker vice president of enrollment and marketing. After a disappointingly small freshman class a year ago, the Baldwin City private university bounced back with a healthy freshman enrollment of 241 students on last week’s “move-in day,” she said. That compared with 189 freshmen a year ago.
Baker also successfully recruited 51 transfer students this year compared with 40 last year, Yearout said. The school’s total enrollment now stands at 881 students. There will be a slight adjustment in the numbers before Baker records its 20-day numbers, but that total traditionally changes by 10 or fewer students, she said.
The 292 new students were the most at the university since 307 new students enrolled in the pre-recession year of 2007, Yearout said.
This year’s enrollment success wasn’t happenstance but the result of the university community’s concerted effort to develop enrollment “pipelines,” Yearout said. The effort included students consciously using social media tools in student recruitment and volunteering for visitation or orientation events.
It also extended to the school’s faculty, said Yearout, citing the effort of Frank Perez, Baker University director of bands. Perez visited area high schools last year for fun days and made a point of celebrating with young musicians signing to attend Baker. The school’s biology faculty also incorporated the Baker Wetlands into student recruitment by inviting high school students to special events at the center.
The university still draws most of its students from northeast Kansas and the Kansas City metropolitan area, Yearout said. But it has expanded its focus in that area to recruit from schools once overlooked. The result is the school’s “most diverse class ever,” she said.
As part of that outreach, Baker successfully recruited 14 freshmen Kauffman Foundation Scholars and now has 31 on campus, Yearout said. The Kauffman Foundation Scholar program is an eight-year, $140 million initiative that provides higher education opportunities to low-income students in the Kansas City area.
Freshman Mindy Lo is one of those new Kauffman Scholars. After graduating last spring from Sumner Academy in Kansas City, Kan., she considered KU, Emporia State University and the University of Missouri-Kansas City before choosing Baker.
“I liked it because it was small and strong in what I was looking for,” said Lo, who is majoring in exercise science.
Unlike some past strong enrollment years that occurred as newly available scholarships became available with the introduction of new sports programs, this year’s enrollment gains were sustainable, Yearout said.
“I’ve already got sights set for 308 next year,” she said. “I want to top 2007.”
Baker officials said last spring that the university would start strategic planning for the capital and academic upgrades needed to support an enrollment of 1,000 students on its Baldwin City campus. Yearout said, however, that the school could absorb the consistent addition of 300 new students a year outside of that effort.
“I think we might have to look at a different housing policy to allow more off-campus living, but I think we have enough classroom space, faculty and academic services,” she said. “Housing would be the issue. It could be a boost economically to the community as well. When Baker wins, the whole community wins.”
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