INDIANAPOLIS — At Marian University, students are getting ready for a new school year.
“I think it’s just like a lot going on, but I’m sure that it’s going to be very fun and a lot to learn as well,” said freshman Niky Quezada.
Quezada spoke with FOX59 in between her classes Monday morning. She’s a student-athlete on a full-ride scholarship playing soccer and studying engineering.
Quezada is one of 750 new students enrolled in the university’s undergraduate programs. She’s also part of Marian’s first-ever class for the E.S. Witchger School of Engineering, which consists of 42 students, 21% of them being women.
Across all of its locations, Marian officials project a near double-digit percent increase in undergraduate enrollment for Fall 2022.
“In the last six years, enrollment in Indiana and the Midwest has gone down in higher ed significantly,” said Marian University President Daniel J. Elsener. “Our enrollment’s advanced 25 percent.”
Elsener credits some of the university’s growing enrollment to the support within and outside the campus and continuous efforts to address workforce needs in the state.
For Marian’s new school of engineering, Elsener said it’s an $81 million project equipped with the resources to produce qualified talent along with helping fill gender and diversity gaps within the industry.
“We’re building a beautiful building, hiring faculty from all over the country, to put in a full-scale engineering program, including a graduate program,” he said. “When you respond to needs, the people come so to speak, the resources are flowing in.”
The addition comes as Marian also launches a new 4-year nursing degree program at the Ancilla campus in Plymouth, Indiana. The goal is to help provide opportunities to help aid the nursing shortage in the northern Indiana market.
“I think it’s some of the most remarkable, quiet work that’s going on these days and it began a few years ago by the college and universities broadly to say what does the market need today? What does it need tomorrow?” said Commissioner Chris Lowery, Indiana Commission for Higher Education. “Really coming down to supply and demand, can individuals go to college or university and land a job today but also with the promise of tomorrow, and are the institutions paying attention to that.”
In its most recent report, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education noted the state’s college-going rate dropped 6 points in one year. While it was exacerbated by the pandemic, Lowery said it’s an issue that’s been impacting the state and the rest of the country for some time, and institutions are making a conscious effort to change that.
“They’re focusing their message around affordability, quality, career relevance, helping students who might question the value of higher education,” Lowery said. “I think everyone in higher ed has realized those are the key areas where students have questions or prospective students have questions.”
Working alongside its education partners, Lowery said they’re helping to market the affordability of Indiana’s colleges and universities, which is a big factor in many deciding whether or not to pursue higher education.
“Indiana’s universities and colleges, or public institutions, have held the line on tuition increases better than almost any state in the country in the last 10 years,” he said, “also, a lot of folks in Indiana don’t realize that Indiana has a wonderful portfolio of need-based financial aid.”
Lowery said making a harder push to debunk some of the myths about post-secondary education could help produce better outcomes.
“Unemployment rates are not only low in Indiana, they’re exceedingly low at the bachelor’s degree and higher,” he said. “For individuals with a bachelor’s degree and higher, it’s less than 1 percent unemployment. I mean, it’s almost non-existent, and yet it’s five times higher for folks with a high school diploma only. So you start to see that for the individual, it’s important. For the employer, it’s important, and certainly for the fabric of the community.”
For Quezada, she’s looking forward to being a trailblazer in the world of STEM and making a mark for women in the industry.
“What we’re looking for is to empower women and having that opportunity, for me, is a blessing,” she said.
FOX59 also reached out to Butler University, who also gave projections of increased enrollment with more than 1,200 first-year students, which is a more than 6% boost compared to last year. University officials also noted this incoming class as the third largest in school history and one of its most ethnically diverse classes.
To increase enrollment, Butler said it’s strategically targeting marketing in areas of the country where high school graduation rates are increasing. So far, university officials report seeing success with that approach as more than half of its students are from out-of-state and 47% are from Indiana.