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BG Falcon Media

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BG Falcon Media

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BG Falcon Media

The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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Fierce competition for future Falcons

Universities often battle rival schools for conference championships in football and baseball, but what many people don’t know is they are also constantly competing to enroll students.

As high school graduation rates continue to drop and college tuition increases, a strong recruiting strategy is essential.

“The marketplace for students is extremely competitive,” said Gary Swegan, director of admissions at the University. “We have to do whatever we’re doing better than the next university or we’re not going to get what we desire.”

Bowling Green State University recruitment counselors travel nearly 22,000 miles a year to entice prospective high school students to visit campus.

They travel all over Ohio and make stops in Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Texas and even California.

With 69 private institutions and 15 four-year public universities in Ohio, high school students have multiple options.

But a recruiter’s job is to get them to come to BGSU – and graduate from here.

“All of our sister institutions are very active [and] if we don’t recruit, not having that Bowling Green name out there is going to hurt us,” Swegan said.

Swegan’s staff of 27 counselors spend the entire year visiting 500 high schools and 150 college fairs.

Their goal is to enroll between 4,300 and 4,500 students every fall.

First-year student enrollment this year reached 4,329 – the third highest in University history – including both freshmen and transfer students.

Swegan attributes those high numbers to multiple factors, but said the University’s atmosphere hooks prospective students.

“Our goal ultimately is to get them on campus,” Swegan said. “Campus is doing a good job of selling itself if we can get them here.”

A majority of students have previously considered coming to the University prior to a recruiter’s visits, Swegan said.

But counselors have an impact.

“We commonly feel we make a difference at the margin of the last 20 to 30 percent of enrolled students,” he said. “I hope that we make some sort of impact on students that weren’t previously thinking about BG.”

Brandon Sauls, freshman, didn’t know much about BGSU during the beginning of his senior year in high school.

But after receiving multiple brochures from the Office of Admissions, Sauls made the two-hour trip to Bowling Green from his hometown near Columbus.

And though Sauls visited seven other universities, BGSU’s friendly atmosphere is what sealed the deal.

“It’s a really nice atmosphere, I like this place,” Sauls said.

It costs the Office of Admissions roughly $370 to recruit students like Sauls.

That amount is low compared to some universities that spend more than $600 for each student.

But despite spending less than other institutions, recruitment counselors continually attract students to BGSU.

Total enrollment this year reached 21,071 – which is the highest ever at the University.

In addition to the record-breaking enrollment, 79.1 percent of last year’s first-year students returned this fall.

The retention rate is the highest it’s been in 12 years, according to Alberto Gonzalez, vice provost for Academic Services. The rate has climbed from 77.9 percent last year and 74 percent in 2003.

“Every time you move that retention rate is cause for celebration,” Swegan said. “To go up five points in two years is tremendous.”

Often colleges admit small classes of elite students, which allow retention rates to be high, Gonzalez said.

But BGSU does the exact opposite.

“We’ve got a diversity of academic preparedness,” Gonzalez said. “The conventional wisdom is the bigger the classes, the lower the retention rate. But we’re having bigger classes and improving retention rates.”

Gonzalez said continued growth at the University is a result of a proactive approach and desire to intervene before problems escalate.

A new program was recently designed to force freshmen students to see their advisors. The mandatory freshman-advising program was implemented this fall and doesn’t allow students to register until they visit their advisor.

“It may sound heavy handed, but it’s our way of trying to catch mistakes early, of having advisors talk to students, to get them to think about how to register, [and] how to learn more about their own degree plan,” Gonzalez said.

Other services like the Writer’s Lab and Study Skills Lab also exist to help students succeed academically. If problems arise with assignments or classes, students have a place to turn, Gonzalez said.

“We try to identify all the barriers to student persistence, and we try to remove those barriers,” Gonzalez said.

But in addition to support services and programs, the attitude of caring for student success is an essential part of recruitment and retention.

“All of these things have to be in place in order to have the outcome that we call retention, the outcome that we call graduation,” Gonzalez said.

Though the state does not set enrollment or retention goals for universities, they monitor progress, Gonzalez said, adding BGSU is doing better than average.

The state provides a subsidy for every Ohio undergraduate student enrolled at the University.

As enrollment increases, the amount of revenue the state provides also increases, Swegan said.

“The more students, the more costly it is to educate,” he said. “We’re not a business that makes profit, but we’ve got to be able to cover the cost.”

But as state funding for higher education decreases, students are burdened with more of the cost.

In 2004, the state provided 35 percent of the total cost of tuition and fees and students were responsible for the remaining 65 percent, according to the University of Toledo’s student government Web site.

Those financial barriers are hard for the University to overcome, Swegan said.

“Being a public university in Ohio is a challenge,” he said. “We’re in a high fees state for public universities.”

And the high cost is what’s keeping Stephanie Florek, a freshman majoring in graphic design, from staying at BGSU.

“I can’t afford it,” Florek said. “[It’s] just a money issue.”

Florek is moving back to her hometown of Parma Heights, near Cleveland, to attend Cuyahoga County Community College at the end of the year.

But despite increasing tuition, Gonzalez said most people understand the necessity of a bachelor’s degree.

The benefits of bachelor’s degree extend beyond the academic aspect, Gonzalez said.

“What’s important in a four-year degree isn’t just what you know, but what you’re capable of learning beyond college on your own,” he said. “Hopefully we uplift the people around us, [and] we teach the people around us. Someone with a four-year degree has more intellectual resources to be able to do all those things effectively.”

Keeping students at BGSU through graduation is sometimes as simple as making them comfortable, Gonzalez said.

“If they feel like they belong, they’re going to come back because they have no reason to go anywhere else,” he said.

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