Freshman enrollment surges at Notre Dame

In the last five years, the incoming class walking the historic halls of Belmont’s Notre Dame de Namur University has dwindled until last fall, when there were just 96 freshmen to replace this year’s graduating class of 215.

But the Catholic university plans to turn that around.

The private school, which was founded in 1851 as a women’s college, has overhauled its leadership and launched a marketing campaign to bring in students — and so far, it appears to have worked.

The number of freshmen who have said they plan to enroll in the school is up60 percent from last year, said Hernan Bucheli, vice president of enrollment. The school appears to be en route to best its goal of 135 new freshmen in next year’s crop.

The secret, Bucheli said, has been a more pointed, better-funded marketing campaign and paying attention to what’s working to recruit students.

Recent years have not been easy on the private school. A controversy detonated when the school’s new $1 million lacrosse field generated a cacophony of noise complaints from neighbors. Students and faculty then publicly blasted the university’s president and the chairman of its board of trustees. Both of those men and a handful of other trustees resigned.

The university is now searching for a new president, but in the meantime, interim president Judith Maxwell Greig holds the reins.

One reason to drive up enrollment is to help fill the schools coffers. Tuition fees — about $25,000 a year — are its main source of income, so when enrollment drops, it’s felt throughout the campus, university spokesman Richard Rossi said.

Outgoing Student Body President Mallory Barr said students were aware of the declining enrollment.

“We’re already a really small campus, so it was a pretty big issue,” she said.

Even so, she said, the student body’s morale has remained relatively high.

“I was impressed by how the campus took it as a positive thing — like it was a bad year, but that means it can only go up from here,” she said.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsLocal

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