By Neil Gonzales San Mateo County Times
Posted: 09/11/2010 07:35:13 PM PDT
Updated: 09/12/2010 05:46:47 AM PDT
BELMONT -- Ali Young could have accepted an invitation to transfer to a University of California or California State University school from a community college in Stockton. Instead, the 21-year-old junior chose to go to Notre Dame de Namur University this year.
Because of the fiscal challenges saddling public education, she said, "you can't take more than 12 to 15 units (at a UC or CSU school). They're very impacted." Not so at Notre Dame, a private, Catholic, four-year institution. "I can take more units," she said.
Young is among a large number of transfer students who have helped push Notre Dame's enrollment to record levels this year. University leaders welcome the population surge after dips in recent years. They welcome it also because much of the university's funding is tied to enrollment. "We're excited about that," university President Judith Greig said of the growth. "A lot has gone for a number of years into a strategic enrollment plan, which is key to being able to thrive in the future."
As of Thursday, 1,801 students were enrolled in undergraduate, graduate and other programs at Notre Dame -- its highest count ever, according to the university. For the same period last year, Notre Dame served about 1,600 students, according to the school. That represented a healthy uptick after a steady decline in previous years that bottomed out at about 1,480 in 2008.
Much of the latest enrollment spike came from transfer students -- whose numbers jumped 60 percent from 77 in 2009 to 123 this year, according to the school. "The big increase in transfers relates directly to the budget cuts in the state systems," Notre Dame spokesman Richard Rossi said. As part of a renewed recruitment campaign, Notre Dame has reached out to students who have struggled to find the classes they need at community colleges and state universities, which have cut back on course offerings because of the statewide fiscal crisis.
But Notre Dame has also developed new degree programs in collaboration with community colleges as another way to draw in prospective students, said Hernan Bucheli, vice president for enrollment management. "We're broadening our reach," he said. That means going abroad as well. The university has been working with Saudi Arabia to have students there attend Notre Dame with their government paying full tuition -- which for undergraduates this year is $28,200, Bucheli said. "We now have 25 to 30 students from Saudi Arabia."
Notre Dame also is looking to forge a similar partnership with Norway and has tapped an international recruiting firm to bring more students from other countries to the school, he said.
Like other independent higher-education institutions, Notre Dame sees boosting the population of international students as a way to bolster finances. But international students also bring a global diversity to the campus, Greig said. "It broadens people's perspectives. It's not just a funding issue."
In contrast to last year's budget cut of $687,000, Greig said, Notre Dame has made no reductions this time around. "This year, we changed that picture," she said. "We're actually generating jobs." Despite the enrollment boom, Notre Dame plans to remain a small university, having no more than 2,000 students on campus. "We're never going to be a state university campus," Greig said, pointing out that a Notre Dame teacher has about a dozen students per class on average. "The small class sizes are absolutely part of who we are," she added, "and that won't go away."
The small-school setting and resulting personalized instruction were other reasons why Young decided on coming to Notre Dame. "The teacher-student ratio is wonderful," she said.
Another factor played a role in her decision: "It's a Catholic school," she said, "and being Catholic, that's very appealing."
by the numbers
Fall 2010 enrollment: 1,801 students
Previous high: 1,799 in 2002
2010-11 tuition: $28,200 for full-time undergraduates
Source: Notre Dame de Namur University