GVSU programs see slight shift in enrollment

Lizzy Balboa

With nearly 90 undergraduate programs fighting for students at Grand Valley State University, some are bound to find more success than others.

The lucky departments see large expansions over the course of the years, while others begin to wane as students shift their interests to other disciplines.

Philip Batty, director of Institutional Analysis at GVSU, said nearly all cases in which programs have recorded significant enrollment shifts are due to changes in curriculum; either the programs were renamed, split or combined. However, some have just been swept up or dropped by trends in interest and the economy.

Some departments are deliberately decreasing their enrollment numbers, including the photography program through the School of Communications.

“We intentionally reduced our student numbers from a high of around 180 to a more manageable population of 120 because we did not have the facilities to support such large numbers,” said Stafford Smith, photography program coordinator at GVSU. “This was done at the dean’s recommendation.”

The department’s largest graduating class was 39 students in 2007, but that number has steadily declined over the years. Only 23 students graduated from the program in 2012.

The largest visible decline, though, is seen in GVSU’s English department, which in 2012 graduated 46 fewer students than in 2002 and 63 fewer students than in 2007. Representatives from the department were unavailable for comment.

Some thriving programs, like Hospitality and Tourism Management, have graduated increasing numbers of students every year. With only 40 graduates in 2002, HTM produced 99 graduates in 2007 and 147 in 2012.

The biomedical science department has seen similar trends over the years. From 45 students in 2002, it grew to graduate 116 students in 2007 and 205 in 2012. Last year saw a break in the trend, as 2011 saw a swell in 217 graduates.

Tony Nieuwkoop, chair of biomedical sciences, said his department has not done anything intentionally or in particular to increase enrollment over the years.

In fact, Nieuwkoop mainly attributes the increase to factors outside of university control: namely, the changing demands of the job market. “It kind of comes and goes with the economy,” he said, noting that a few years ago business and computer programs were popular and thriving.

While the economy may play a significant role in university program enrollment, the opportunities for undergraduates at GVSU might also contribute to the increase in biomedical science majors, Nieuwkoop said.

For one, GVSU is one of the few institutions that offer a biomedical science program to undergraduates.

“Most of the biomedical science degrees are graduate degrees if you look at other universities,” Nieuwkoop said.

He added that another reason people might choose GVSU’s biomedical science — essentially pre-medical — program is simply because of the title. ‘Pre-med’ at other universities sometimes means a biology degree.

“The courses and types of experiences that are in biomedical sciences that are in other universities often roll into a biology department,” Nieuwkoop said. “GVSU is unique in having both biomedical sciences and biology.”

Further enticing students is the opportunity to do cadaver anatomy labs as an undergraduate, which is typically exclusive to graduate schools.

Still, the biomedical science department only passively attracts students and has no aggressive marketing scheme.

Bryan Bickford of Institutional Marketing at GVSU said his department does nothing to promote specific programs, but instead focuses on the entire university. Bickford added that no departments have sought marketing assistance because “it’s not something we do.”

Likewise, the admissions office provides little to no help to departments looking to boost enrollment numbers. “In admissions we recruit to the university and not specifically to programs,” said Jodi Chycinski, director of GVSU Admissions. “Of course we work hard to make sure our prospects understand the wide range of programs available to them.”

For more information about GVSU’s undergraduate programs, visit www.gvsu.edu/catalog.

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