Offering Students a Seat at the Table

Founded in 1891, and originally located in Minneapolis, North Park University has been in Chicago since 1893. The school was located away from the city, but Chicago’s growth, particularly in the early 20th century, resulted in the University becoming accidentally urban — a boon to the school according to Mark Olson, dean of enrollment and director of Church Relations at the University. The city offers countless resources to the school’s 3,200 students, and the University works to actively engage the city. Olson states that North Park is intentionally Christian, purposefully urban, and purposefully multicultural.

North Park currently has around 1,850 traditional undergrad students, 1,050 in graduate programs, and 250 to 300 in an adult degree completion program. In the last six years, the University has grown from about 1,400 students to 1,850. “We are anticipating an increase up into the 2,400 range, say [in] the next five years,” says Olson.

“A lot of schools like North Park are very regional, with a high percentage [of students] from a single state and the neighboring, surrounding states,” explains Olson. But, recruitment for North Park’s students comes from 40 states and typically 25 to 30 countries. The University’s aggressive recruitment includes about 100 college fairs around and in Illinois. North Park is also a member of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.

Recruitment Through Tuition
What helped North Park see an increase in enrollment? According the Olson, the biggest change happened in 2005. That year, the University restructured its entire tuition and financial aid program to follow what is sometimes called the Muskingum Method, named for Muskingum College in Ohio. The change resulted in a 32 percent cut in tuition as well as a reduction in grants. “We had stalled out in growth around 1,400, and we were wanting to increase it. At the same time we were seeing increasing frustration with costs,” Olson explains.

Before the tuition change, students would often walk away at college fairs as soon as they’d heard the price of tuition. “Before you could say, ‘But there’s a lot of financial aid!’ they were gone. We were just seeing too much of that. And this was before the economic meltdown,” says Olson. The cut in tuition happened when the University was in a good trajectory. “For us, all our indicators were pointing up,” Olson adds. The change allows North Park to continue to carve out a niche in the marketplace, and a simpler, clearer presentation of costs and financial aid brings positive feedback from families.

Online Recruitment
Online recruitment, through North Park’s Website and social media, is aggressive, according to Olson. The admissions section of the Website is manned through a full-time position, and the University’s Twitter account has been active for well over a year. Staff has been added to support the University’s Facebook account as well. A new integrated Web team focuses the Website on social media and recruitment.

Olson relates that students and their families do engage the University’s social media outlets. “We monitor it carefully, and it’s been very gratifying to see students engaging it.” Students often post questions to the University’s Facebook page that they may not ask a recruiter, and often other students chime in with excellent answers.

Retention and Campus Programs
“We’ve got a retention team that is led by the vice president for student services,” explains Olson. “This last year we started a series that we call Bridge Programs.” Chicago offers an array of activities for North Park students — the University isn’t remote from urban areas where there is a need to create a campus culture. But, the University still needed a way to bring the University community together with formal programming during the course of the year. These activities include outings to Cubs games, museums, and on-campus events.

A summer Bridge Program also supports first-generation college students, teaching success skills for college.

Another program that is in the early stages of implementation assigns every student a faculty member as an academic advisor. Undecided majors work with a team until they declare their major. “Our experience has been that it’s the faculty that unlock that long-time passion for learning. The earlier we get them involved in the student’s lives the better,” says Olson. This is bolstered by the University’s hiring of faculty members who have a passion for teaching undergraduate learners.

For more information on North Park University, contact Mark Olson at molson@northpark.edu.

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