Five new majors, a host of innovative communication technologies and other admissions strategies have contributed to a double-digit increase in applications for next fall’s entering freshman class at Eastern Connecticut State University. As of April 15, 2015, freshman applications at Eastern are up 14 percent over fall 2014 figures. In addition, the average SAT scores of applicants is up 40 points, with the scores of admitted students up 31 points.
While Eastern remains the smallest of the four Connecticut state universities, its enrollments have grown steadily over the past two decades: Eastern’s growth of 52 percent in full-time undergraduate enrolment in that time has been more than double that of the other three state universities, which have grown a combined 25 percent over the past 20 years.
A new crop of academic programs has spurred more growth at Eastern. “By this fall, we will have almost 500 students enrolled in our five new majors in finance, new media studies, health sciences, liberal studies and philosophy,” said Provost Rhona Free.
The five new majors were launched in fall 2014, bringing the University’s total offerings to 40 majors. “That is a testament to the hard work of our faculty and the career potential of these new majors,” said Free, also acknowledging the critical support provided by the Board of Regents for Higher Education, who approved the new programs in a timely fashion and provided additional faculty positions to teach the new majors.
Each of the new majors responds to labor market conditions in Connecticut and the nation. For instance, the need for financial analysts will increase 16 percent over the next eight years. In Connecticut, demand for digital media specialists — people working on the Internet and in such fields as 3-D animation and digital video production — outstrips the availability of trained professionals three to one. And elementary education and early childhood education majors—the two Eastern programs for which the liberal studies major is designed as a dual major option—will benefit from a Connecticut job market in which the two fields are the number one and number five occupations needing professionals with a college degree.
Health care may be the occupation with the greatest interest and potential in the coming years. In the next five years, 28 percent of all new jobs in America will be in health care; in Connecticut that equates to an additional 70,000 jobs. With concentrations in pre-physical therapy, pre-nursing and public health, graduates of Eastern’s new major will be well positioned to enter the state’s growing healthcare workforce.
Philosophy majors also have good job prospects—the academic discipline with the highest admission rate at the nation’s law schools is philosophy, at 85 percent.
“These new majors have grown out of our existing strengths in the arts, the natural and physical sciences and the humanities, and will enrich the liberal arts at Eastern,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “In addition to skill sets specific to each major, students will gain competencies in critical thinking, communication and collaboration as they prepare for career fields with excellent employment opportunities. I commend our faculty for the work required to get five new majors approved and integrated into our curriculum, and I look forward to seeing the first graduates from these majors join the ranks of successful Eastern alumni.”
Director of Admissions Christopher Dorsey points to a number of other factors that contribute to this year’s increase in applications at Eastern. For one thing, Eastern continues to make use of social media and new technologies to attract prospective students. The University’s Facebook page has seen a 300 percent increase in interest in the past year and now has more than 9,000 regular followers. Each entering class, as well as parents, also has its own Eastern account on Facebook, allowing students and their families to network, ask questions even before arriving on campus and serve as a mutual support system.
The University has also introduced several new web-based and mobile-ready communication technologies into its recruitment activities. An online “virtual tour” allows prospective students from around the world to visit Eastern on their home computer in their own living room. Since it launched a year ago, the tour has generated more than 16,000 visits — by people in places as far away as Brazil and Malaysia — and converted those visitors into applications at a rate only exceeded by college fairs.
A new interactive viewbook—complete with photos, videos and links to Eastern web pages—is available on all platforms, including desktops, laptops, tablets and smart phones. “The average time of a visit on the interactive viewbook is 24 minutes,” said Dorsey, “which is six times the average visit time on a college website. This shift in online marketing has also allowed us to dramatically reduce our costs for print materials, while continuing to connect with technology-savvy students.”
Additional technology initiatives in the works at Eastern include the production of an aerial video of the campus, a virtual reality program and the use of 3-D images to showcase the campus’s residence halls.
Another strategy that has helped attract students is the University’s adoption of the popular “test optional” policy. Eastern has joined other schools around the country in focusing on a students’ class rank and GPA in high school, rather than using standardized test scores, to decide whether or not to admit them. Once a prospective student is accepted, they still need to supply SAT or ACT scores to complete their academic record, but those tests are not used to assess a student’s qualifications. “Class rank and the rigor of the courses students take in high school have consistently been shown to be better measures of ultimate success in college,” said Dorsey.
“With smaller high school graduating classes in the foreseeable future, colleges and universities are finding that attracting students will continue to be highly competitive,” said Dorsey. “If we don’t use newer technologies that appeal to high school students, we won’t be able to capture their attention. If we do, we think what Eastern has to offer will impress them and their families.
“In addition to these new technologies and the hard work of our admissions staff, I believe the increased interest in Eastern is the result of our improving reputation,” said Free. For instance, Eastern is ranked in the top 30 public universities in the North by U.S. News and World Report and holds the highest U.S. News ranking among Connecticut’s four state universities.
The University also has been recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council and the Princeton Review as one of the nation’s top “green colleges” for the past six years. Earlier this year, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching gave Eastern its coveted Community Engagement Classification. And the National Council for Teacher Quality came out with a study last year that placed Eastern’s elementary and secondary education teacher preparation programs at first and third respectively among New England colleges and universities. The elementary education program was also rated eighth best in the United States.
Such national recognitions are based on empirical data. Eastern has the highest four- and six-year graduation rates of the four Connecticut state universities, as well as the highest average GPA of entering freshmen among the four. Eastern also has the highest percentage of faculty members with doctorates or other terminal degrees of any Connecticut state university, and is the most selective. As Connecticut’s public liberal arts college, it also makes sense that Eastern is the most residential of the four institutions, with 53 percent of students living on campus.
“Parents and students throughout Connecticut and beyond are placing a greater value on the type of liberal arts education we provide at Eastern,” explained Free. “The fact our students are also gaining invaluable experience in internships, research projects and other practical applications of their liberal arts education resonates with parents and prospective students alike in today’s economy.”