Are incoming freshman classes getting smaller every year at Principia College? The answer is yes. This fall there are 94 new students, and only 79 are freshman. In the fall of 2014 there were 144 new students, and in fall of 2013 there were 151 new students. In total, there are 463 students enrolled this semester. This is quite a drop from 483, which is the number of students who were enrolled at Principia this time last year.
There was chatter around campus that the freshman class is smaller this year because there is a policy change regarding admissions. On paper, no GPA or SAT/ACT requirements have changed, but this year, Principia has been approaching the application process with more rigor than it has in the past.
Principia has always worked to accommodate students in their application process in order to make sure everyone who wanted the “Principia experience” could have it. What has changed is that the administration does not want to set students up for anything other than success. The administration feels that making exceptions for students who have not shown a readiness for university life (based on their high school academics) may hurt the student in the long run.
Vice President of External Relations, Peter Stevens, said, “We changed the enforcement of our existing standard because 1) it’s important that every student has a very good chance at thriving at Principia and not just surviving. 2) When the range of academic readiness in a classroom is narrower—when all students are similar in their academic preparation—instruction and learning is improved. 3) If an unprepared student “flames out” of Principia academically, it’s more likely that they’ll have a negative view of their Principia experience. This means they’ll be less likely to encourage others to think positively about Principia or about attending Principia.”
So if Principia’s acceptance approach is different, how could this affect the recruiting process? Potentially, tighter admissions standards equal fewer prospective students. Stevens said, “Yes, the prospect pool for this fall was 15% smaller than the pool for Fall 2014. When we ask prospects why they didn’t enroll, we get a variety of responses.”
Stevens added, “Sometimes it seems there are as many answers as there are students. Principia is too far from home, too far from a city, doesn’t have the right major, is too small, etc. Thoughts and issues like these, in combination with the smaller prospect pool and staffing issues… contributed to the smaller incoming class for 2015.”
Since 2011, Principia College has offered an expedited admissions process to students attending the Upper School. In order to be eligible for expedited admission, the student needs to have maintained good standing both academically and morally.
Due to the expedited process, it is much easier and less time-consuming for Upper School students to apply, which naturally increases the amount of applicants. However, this year’s college freshman class had a smaller percentage of Upper School students than usual.
Home Life Manager, Reid Charlston, said, “One of the policies says that Principia should be treated as one institution. We have always looked at that from a business perspective and tried to keep it as one school. We need to get a snapshot of who [the prospective students] are to make a decision on if we want them in the community.”
Charlston added, “[If they went to the Upper School], we already know who they are and they are already part of the community. Principia [Upper School] is a college prep school, so why—if [the students] have completed the program—would they not be allowed to partake in expedited admissions if they are in good standing? There has been concern about [expedited admissions] because the effect could be that Principia is a backup option and the easy way out, but it makes a lot of sense. [The students have] done their time, we want to keep them here.”
With only 79 freshmen, one would think the dynamic around campus would be different. However, Ann Brown, the Anderson Resident Counselor, doesn’t feel like there is a single thing lacking from what this class brings to the table. “I love the atmosphere in the house. It’s definitely upbeat and a lot of fun. It’s not the numbers that create the vibrancy, it’s the attitude.”
With admissions ensuring that students’ high school test scores and GPA are at a certain level and the overall lower number of students who are matriculating from the Upper School, it follows that enrollment is lower than it has been.
Statistics aside, what is it like to actually be in a small college class?
Freshman Gavin Austin said, “I wish there had been more [students in our incoming class] but I’m glad that I’m here. I’m really enjoying my experience so far and I just wish more people would have had the chance to experience [Principia].”
Freshman Madison Ouellette said, “I really enjoy being in a class that is so small because there are more opportunities to get to know everyone… Coming from a public school with over 2,000 kids, it’s refreshing.”
Freshman Leah Schaefer said, “I like being at a small school because it has really given me the chance to reach out and get to know a lot of different people! There is a real sense of community here and I absolutely love that.”
Freshman Brody Swan said, “I absolutely love being at a smaller school. I appreciate the fact that it gives students a chance to be involved in a class and have a more personal experience with learning in general. It also creates a welcoming atmosphere, which encourages new students to be more active in class.”