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St. Mary’s College of Maryland should have a full freshman class by August after experiencing a dire enrollment shortfall a year ago, according to college officials.

Gary Sherman, vice president for enrollment management and dean of admissions, said the college has been successful during the last several months in securing a class of applicants that meet the criteria and standards of the school.

“Lots of things are working well,” Sherman said.

He attributed that to a renewed recruiting focus using a “personal approach” that includes multiple follow-up interactions with the prospective students.

The school also altered its handling of financial aid, opting for a less-money-to more-people approach.

“We broadened merit-based aid” to give awards to more students as a way for the college to show it values them, Sherman said.

All colleges and universities in the country count May 1 as a national decision deadline. Up until that date, Sherman said, colleges cannot penalize a student who has not made a decision by rescinding a financial aid package.

The admissions director said that St. Mary’s College has “met our budget for first-years,” referring to next year’s freshmen class.

The number of students who have submitted a deposit — the best measure of commitment — is up by more than 22 percent from this time last year, he said.

Earlier this academic year Sherman outlined a goal of 420 new freshmen and 120 new transfer students for next year.

However, the college budgeted only for the actual number of new students this year (381 freshmen and 95 transfers), and is on track to meet that number, Sherman said.

He said as of this week the college has 386 freshmen lined up for next school year. That compares to 355 this time last year.

Sherman said the college also has 59 new transfer students planning to enroll at St. Mary’s next year, up from 27 at this point last year.

Both of those numbers are expected to grow during the next couple of months before the fall semester starts.

The college also got a last-minute boost courtesy of the state government, which passed legislation last month that awarded St. Mary’s College an extra $1.5 million to reduce its tuition next year.

“That has had an effect,” Sherman said.

Addressing a shortfall

The campus had to slice $3.5 million from this year’s budget after a shortfall in new students came to light last spring.

The low enrollment for the Class of 2017 will continue to haunt the college’s budget for the next three years, even as administrators and staff have been replaced to correct problems.

The high cost of tuition at St. Mary’s — it was recently ranked the fourth highest public institution in the nation — was cited as a main factor in the enrollment crisis, although college officials said missteps in the admissions department contributed to the shortfall.

Tuajuanda Jordan will join St. Mary’s College of Maryland in July as it’s next president. Continuing to tackle the admissions battle will be among the issues she will face.

The college this week hired Michael Cummings as director of admissions.

Gail Harmon, chair of the college’s board of trustees, praised Sherman and the staff in admissions for pushing to recruit students this year, especially through use of social media.

The college is also opening its doors wider to transfer students, including those from community colleges. St. Mary’s College is planning to sign an agreement with the College of Southern Maryland to ease those transfers in the near future, Sherman said.

Harmon said it can be complicated to make sure community college classes are aligned with those at St. Mary’s College, but that serving a diverse group of students is part of the liberal arts college’s mission.

“We’re working on that,” Harmon said.

Harmon said St. Mary’s College will still need to cope with a national trend of fewer students projected to enter college — particularly smaller institutions — during the next several years.

“We’ve got to be really smart about our recruitment,” Harmon said.

Offering prospective students individual attention is important to college recruitment today, she said. She cited a recent report that said having good relationships with college professors helps a student succeed not only in college but also later in life.

“Over the summer the campus community really rallied,” Harmon said.

The faculty, especially, worked to analyze what mistakes had been made and offered to help in the recruiting process in a variety of ways, she said.

“The faculty has been enormously helpful with recruiting” including conducting presentations and meeting individually with prospective students, Harmon said.

jyeatman@somdnews.com