DePaul student enrollment rates remain high despite pandemic


Eric Henry

A student walks along the Quad, located in Lincoln Park.

The data released in DePaul’s 2020 census revealed that the university’s enrollment rates remain high despite complications relating to the ongoing pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic has disturbed, among many things, enrollment at many institutions of higher learning. 

“As of census on Sept. 26, total university enrollment for fall 2020 is 21,922 students, which is 0.6 percent lower, or 142 students fewer from fall 2019 census headcount,” according to DePaul Newsline.  

 Also noted was the three percent drop in national college enrollment rates, but DePaul has been a part of a small group of institutions that did not see an enrollment decrease of over 1 percent.

 In an interview with DePaul Newsline, the Vice President of the Division of Enrollment Management at DePaul, Soumitra Ghosh, emphasized this high enrollment rate, despite all the challenging circumstances presented by 2020. 

 “A significantly larger freshman class and improvements in new graduate enrollment contributed to DePaul’s overall enrollment position for the fall quarter being more positive than many other institutions,” Ghosh said. “We took collective action as a community: we were quick, thoughtful, and imaginative in facing enrollment challenges. Working together under pressure is really the key to our success.”  

 Although DePaul welcomed its largest freshman class this year, several prospective students opted to defer or cancel their enrollment, according to Enrollment Management. Cole Wilbur, a prospective freshman, decided to cancel his enrollment at DePaul — a difficult decision many others had to make this year.  

 “I decided to completely withdraw from DePaul University and enroll at my local community college in Connecticut,” Wilbur said. “I initially thought I would be deferring, but learned that I would not be eligible to take courses at another institution, which led me to withdraw from DePaul so that I would not waste a whole year without gaining college credit.” 

 Upperclassmen at DePaul have also been forced to reconsider their enrollment, causing the issue of declining retention rates to come to light.

“While our first-to-second year retention rate has improved from 83.8 percent to 85.1 percent in the previous five cohorts, we saw a two percent point decline in retention rate for the fall 2019 cohort,” according to Newsline. 

 Rocio Martinez, a former DePaul student who was a part of this cohort, also canceled her enrollment this year. 

“I feel that a lot of students are rethinking their enrollment because of Covid,” Martinez said. “I don’t think my reason is any different.”

 One of the most prominent concerns regarding college classes during a pandemic involves the quality and cost of online courses.

“I figured that since I would likely be taking general education courses in my first year, it would not be worth it to pay the higher tuition price,” Wilbur said.  

 Proximity and access to the city of Chicago is a major factor in the allure of DePaul University to prospective students — one that the university largely capitalizes on.

“I enrolled because of the location, scholarships, and family and friends who have gone to DePaul,” Martinez said. 

After the pandemic forced the university to drastically reduce on-campus housing, this aspect of the university’s appeal took a hit this year. 

 “I decided to withdraw when it was announced that I would not likely be able to live on-campus for the fall quarter and likely the winter quarter as well,” Wilbur said. “One major reason that I sought to go to DePaul in the first place was to have the opportunity to live in a major city for the first time, and since this opportunity was no longer there, the prospect of taking classes at DePaul was far less enticing.” 

 Enrollment Management has had to quickly adapt to the enrollment challenges posed by 2020. 

“The university is highly focused on student success as a whole,” Ghosh said. “Retention and academic progress are important measures of supporting student success. Our goal is to continue to improve the academic and learning experiences of our students, find newer ways to help them engage with one another and provide support throughout for their career success. There are many initiatives focused on this overall theme of student success.”

Academics, student affairs, housing, and career success are the focuses of current and future initiatives to curb decreases in enrollment and are central to the continuing engagement with students who have decided to defer their enrollment.  

“EM is highly focused on students who deferred their intended enrollment to a future term. Students are facing challenges on many fronts, and many have had to make difficult choices,” Ghosh said. “Our goal is to help these students with their higher education journey, and welcome them into our community when they are ready to join. We have designed our communication and outreach to deferred students so that they are well-informed about all of the great things happening at DePaul, and so that they know we’re here to support them.” 

 When asked about what actions Enrollment Management or the university could have taken that would have made her reconsider canceling her enrollment, Martinez mentioned an individualized approach. 

“Maybe they can ask more questions and see a way where they could compromise with the student,” Martinez said. 

 While Enrollment Management can do very little after students make the decision to cut ties with the university, the outcomes of these initiatives are not enough to convince them to continue their education at DePaul.

“I was personally set on canceling my enrollment, so nothing could change my mind,” Martinez said. “I’m going to community college at the moment, so I’ll see where I stand after two years.” 

 In some cases, not all the cards are off the table yet in terms of potential enrollment at DePaul. 

“I still think that DePaul is a great option for the future, but right now I am more focused on getting good grades in my current classes so that I can make a solid resume when it comes time to apply for transfer,” Wilbur said. “I would be kidding myself not to look at DePaul as an option, but I would also be a fool to not examine all my potential options for transfer universities.”