SOAR attendance a good gauge for enrollment, could prevent tuition hike

Students and parents browse the RSO fair at the June 5 SOAR session.

Universities are always looking for ways to attract new students, and this year numbers show UNA did it right.

SOAR attendance rose from 1,157 in 2012 to 1,190 this summer. A total of 893 freshmen and 297 transfer students made it the second highest attendance on record, said Tammy Jacques, assistant vice president for Student Affairs.

“The more students we have going through SOAR, the more students we have becoming connected to the university,” Jacques said. “Some are also attending other orientations, and SOAR helps them affirm their decision to come to UNA.”

Another way to look at it, Jacques said, is “Usually, nine out of 10 times, if they come to SOAR, they’re coming to UNA.”

Board of trustees President Marty Abroms said higher enrollment numbers could positively affect student costs such as tuition.

“If we can get higher enrollment at UNA, there is less pressure to raise tuition rates,” Abroms said.

“Because a university operates with an extremely high level of fixed costs, if UNA can grow its student enrollment at a healthy rate, UNA should be able to take in more aggregate tuition and fee revenue to cover our required expenses without the need to raise tuition rates.”

Abroms said he would prefer to never raise tuition.

“As a state-supported university, our mission is not to make a profit, but to provide as much value to our students as we can from the tuition and fees charged,” Abroms said. “But much of (raising tuition) is based on enrollment, the state (allowance) UNA gets annually, and how well we can manage operating expenses.”

Abroms also explained enrollment numbers are not the only concern.

“As important as SOAR and increased freshman enrollment is, we can’t forget that we want students to stay here and graduate form UNA,” Abroms said. “In reality, we do not retain (students). A student makes a decision to stay because they like it at UNA and come to appreciate all we have to offer.”

To get more students to SOAR and ultimately to enroll, the university explored new recruiting tactics for the 2014 freshman class, including communicating with admitted students, said Enrollment Marketing Coordinator Nikki Yarber.

Yarber said she gave a list of all admitted students to the department chairs and deans. Those faculty members then sent letters to the students and their parents about the university that provided a more personal feel to their acceptances.

The “Meet Our Pride” Instagram page, which allows current and incoming students and faculty to add a picture of themselves and a biography to share with the campus community, also had a huge effect on communication, Yarber said.

“A lot of new students participated in that, and it took on a life of its own,” she said. “Students and professors started a dialogue on the page which helped to keep students more engaged after SOAR and to the fall.”

She said television commercials will be produced as a part the new “My UNA” campaign, and will feature students sharing their stories of becoming a part of the UNA family.

“Each person’s experience at UNA is different, and seeing these experiences can be inviting, welcoming and personal,” she said. “We also plan to have some billboards and more outreach on social media.”