Firelands looks to boost enrollment

Tim Sampson and Tim Sampson

Despite a 1.5 percent dip in enrollment at BGSU Firelands this year, officials at the branch campus predict continued growth in the near future.

Since fall 2000, enrollment at Firelands has increased by 37.6 percent, bringing the total number of students last semester to 2,024.

During that same period of time, the main campus saw less growth, only about 9.5 percent, bringing its total up to 19,108 students.

According to Gary Swegan, director of admissions for the main campus, the University has deliberately sought faster growth at Firelands than at the main campus.

‘We’re trying to maintain our current numbers,’ Swegan said. ‘We basically have been at our capacity for the last couple of years. By contrast Firelands has been looking to grow.’

The plan to increase growth at the University’s branch campus has been successful according to Lesley Ruszkowski, director of marketing and communication for Firelands.

‘The University has been focusing attention in a deliberate way toward boosting enrollment here,’ Ruszkowski said. ‘We have broken enrollment records every year over the last six years.’

Firelands managed to top 2,000 students for the second year in a row last semester, and is looking to eventually increase enrollment to 2,500.

Among the fastest growing programs on campus have been nursing, criminal justice and computer science. In addition, two new programs, radiological technology and early childhood studies, have proved highly popular with students.

Several initiatives for ‘non-traditional’ and part-time students, such as web-based and off-campus extension classes, have also helped to boost enrollment, Ruszkowski said.

‘We’re strictly a commuter campus and so these initiatives are very popular,’ she said.

Even though it has a history of serving ‘non-traditional’ students, Firelands has begun to shift toward a more traditional student body in recent years.

In fall of 2002 the majority of Firelands’ students were part-time, with only 48 percent enrolled full time. That number has since climbed to 55 percent.

In addition, the average age of Firelands students has gotten younger, Ruszkowski said.

William Knight, director of planning and institutional research, believes these changes are a result of ‘traditional’ students choosing to attend Firelands before transferring to the main campus to finish out their degrees.

‘I would attribute this to more traditional students, who would have gone to four-year campuses, starting at two-year campuses due to cost increases at the four-year,’ Knight said.

According to Knight, this is a phenomenon being seen at two-year colleges across the country.

But despite the growth in past years, Firelands did see a 1.5 percent decrease last fall from the previous year and about a 1 percent decrease this semester from last spring.

According to Ruszkowski, these decreases are not an indication of future trends.

‘There are going to be dips and changes. I don’t see that as a sign of decreasing,’ she said. ‘I think it probably has more to do with an uncertain economy in the area, and I think we can count on further increases in the long term.’