Real-World Experience and the Liberal Arts

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Published by Inside Higher Ed

The university’s real-world experience guarantee germinated from a report Furman commissioned from the research firm Art & Science Group. The charge: to dig into data and look at its enrollment numbers. There wasn’t an enormous problem, said Ben Edwards, the researcher who put together the report; both Furman’s yield and conversion rates were “OK but not great,” he said.
Freshman enrollment numbers have fluctuated over the past few years. In 2011, Furman had 794 incoming freshmen, but that dropped by nearly 100 students in 2012, when the university enrolled 697 incoming students. After modifying its admissions strategy -- targeting out-of-state students who had less need for financial aid -- the number of matriculating freshmen rose to 759 students in 2013. Those numbers are still low and reflect a competitive environment, said Fitch Ratings, a credit rating agency.
In addition, students Furman accepted but who decided not to attend opted to enroll at universities that weren’t comparable, such as large public institutions. This is pretty common among liberal arts admissions, Edwards said. Students across the nation increasingly are choosing larger, metropolitan-based institutions.

Furman was left with a question: How could the university set itself apart and attract more students? 

“The key factor at play here is one of perceived value,” Edwards said. “You have an institution that’s charging more than competitors, which have honors programs to try and attract top students. You can’t offer SEC football, and you’re a smaller city. You have to prove your value in a way that the market could understand.”

At Furman, that meant using its assets -- balancing preprofessional experiences with academics and engaging students in the community -- to create a structured campuswide system that would set itself apart.

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