Muhlenberg College’s 2022 student-body is the lowest recorded enrollment on campus within the last decade. Even if ‘Berg is not the only institution suffering a decrease of enrolled students, the College has an ability to dictate how they will respond to the crisis at hand. The question still remains: what can Muhlenberg do to proactively address this? Specifically, how can certain departments, like athletics, play into this?
There is historic evidence that the success of athletic programs has increased student enrollment at different institutions. One can point to the many different ‘cinderella teams’ that pop up in the men’s and women’s DI basketball tournaments; those smaller DI schools do see a temporary uptick in enrollment following those seasons. These statistics, however, are not applicable because Muhlenberg and DIII sports do not provide as much attention and revenue as the schools mentioned above.
When it comes to the 22 sports teams that make up NCAA DIII athletics on Muhlenberg’s campus, student-athletes make up roughly 20 percent of undergraduate students on campus. If athletics are such a prominent component of the student-body, then a simple answer can be to boost athletics right? Researchers at Northcentral University studied how successful small institutions in the midwest that competed in the DIII level performed when it came to this model. In a published study, the results found that although there is evidence suggesting student-athlete growth within these studied institutions, there is not a “formalized enrollment management strategies [and] using athletics as facilitators is not a guiding philosophy and practice for most academic institutions.”
So then, why do student-athletes, as well as general students, decide to enroll on campus? For soccer player Olivia Oberman ‘24, she says, “If I had not heard about Muhlenberg through word of mouth and through the athletic department, I don’t think I would’ve known to look here. Muhlenberg has so many amazing things to offer, but I was not entirely aware until I visited and became a student-athlete here. I think we could always do a better job of marketing the school as a whole to a greater amount of geographic areas and in more depth… After gaining an appreciation for the campus, I was sold after seeing the way students interacted with each other and how genuine the people that I met were.”
As for non-student athletes, like Patrick Carmody ‘23, he was sold on, “The academics, particularly when it came to the pre-med sphere. Physically, I thought the campus was nice enough but the student body seemed small, too small, but the merit aid that the school offered along with their ability to get students into medical school was too hard to say no to. When a college boasts a roughly 95 percent acceptance rate to medical schools that is extremely impressive to someone who sees that as their future, of course, this rate of acceptance is due to people being aggressively weeded out but incoming students don’t know that.”
“The majority of the sports teams at Muhlenberg have seen success which is great for the College, but I wouldn’t say the success has or will lead to increased enrollment rates,” says Carmody. “I’m sure the success of programs leads to more athletic recruitment and thus a small boost in enrollment, especially considering just how successful these programs already are… The best way for the College to increase enrollment would be to double down on its strong suits in academics while actively making efforts to improve the areas that are lacking.”