Admissions up, arts down

Similarly to last year, the faculty of arts at Wilfrid Laurier University suffered a slight dip in enrolment for first-year students for 2012-13. While the drop isn’t alarming — from a figure of roughly 1,440 at the end of the 2011-12 academic year to a number of 1,356 for the intake for this year — discussion has arisen about how the faculty of arts can appeal to and retain more students.

The faculty of arts at Laurier, however, is still the largest faculty on campus with around 6,000 students. The intake of first-year arts students in 2011, according to the registrar’s report, was 1,628. In 2010 that figure was 1,708.

This year’s numbers won’t be finalized until Nov. 1.

“[This is] a bit strange because we were keeping to that number [of last year’s enrolment] until a couple of weeks before classes,” explained Michel Desjardins, Laurier’s acting dean of arts. “And we attribute that to the rise in averages.”

Last fall, the faculty of arts raised its entry level average for high school students from 72 per cent to 74. Desjardins expected that there would be a drop.

“Generally enrolments in universities seem to be higher this year than last year,” he continued. “So in that context, what we’re seeing in the faculty of arts is, I wouldn’t say unusual, but it’s not consistent with what we’re seeing elsewhere.”

Despite the slight dip in numbers for this year, the faculty of arts has seen an increasing interest and enrolment in its communication studies program, which 25 per cent of first-year arts students labelled as their major.

“This is actually a result of the changing economy and the changing world where communication studies really seems to speak to people as the liberal arts degree of choice,” said Penelope Ironstone, a communications studies professor and the chair of the department at Laurier.

“It seems to connect to some of them a little bit more closely to where they want to be.”

The value of an arts degree, especially in terms of future employment for graduates, has been under debate in many academic circles for the past decade. While Desjardins believes that an arts degree has value equivalent to that of science or business, he mentioned how he was “surprised” that arts still shows strong numbers at Laurier and at other universities.

“I’m frankly surprised with how many students come despite all the negative news,” said Desjardins. “Generally speaking, students are still coming to do the arts degrees. I think what’s happening is that we’re sometimes losing certain kinds of students, because those students who would before have done arts degrees might be going to do business or an applied science degree or something because of the economic realities.

“We’re not worried about the slight drop in enrolment, we’re happy actually that the numbers have stayed strong,” he added.

In addition, Desjardins said that the faculty of arts, if the chairs of each department agree to it, would raise the minimum entry average to 75 per cent.

The recent decision to drop anthropology from a department to a program, according to Desjardins, did not have an immediate impact on the dip in enrolment.

“It’s not going to immediately have an impact but I worry for the future,” he said.

Irontsone explained that the arts faculty has a lot to offer prospective students, but marketing those offerings need to be stronger. However, since the dip is so minimal, Ironstone thinks it can actually be beneficial.

“We have gotten into the habit of doing a really good job of speaking of other places and forgetting the faculty of arts. We promote music, we promote business, we promote new science programs and we have sort of forgotten about the faculty of arts,” she said.

“We have grown so much over a long period of time that probably having a moment to take a deep breath to catch up, is not a bad thing. So by being down by a couple hundred students is actually an opportunity.”

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