Private colleges and universities in Arkansas are having to change their strategies for recruiting students amid a reduction in prospective students. A number of factors are forcing the schools to rethink their business plans and marketing. The top factor is simply that Americans are having fewer children.
Arkansas Business Editor Gwen Moritz wrote about that for a story in this week's issue:
Bruce McLarty knows he’s responsible for a momentous decision that will change Harding University forever: Students can now wear shorts to class — and even to chapel, the mandatory daily devotional period.
“And it will always be known that it was done on my watch, which grieves me,” McLarty, president of the Church of Christ-affiliated university in Searcy since 2013, said in a recent interview. “I’m probably the last person who would choose to do this.”
Relaxing the dress code is an acknowledgement that recruiting students is harder than it used to be. Even Freed-Hardeman University, a Church of Christ affiliate in Tennessee generally considered even more conservative than Harding, gave up its prohibition on shorts several years ago — a fact that Harding recruiters were regularly reminded of by prospective students.
The dress code changes came too late to keep freshman enrollment from declining by about 5% this fall. Harding enrollment peaked above 7,000 in 2011 and may not break 5,000 when the official fall headcount is announced. It remains, by far, the largest of the private colleges and universities in Arkansas, but Harding’s enrollment trend line is already reflecting a combination of factors putting pressure on institutions of higher education, private and public and coast to coast.
The full story (behind a paywall) can be read here. KUAR's interview with Moritz can be heard above.