Despite pandemic, SAU enrollment up

Anne Marie Amacher
Students from St. Ambrose University in Davenport take a break between classes. Despite the pandemic, enrollment is up at the Catholic university.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT —Enrollment at St. Ambrose University has grown this fall, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Jamie Loftus, vice president for enrollment management, said the official total is 2,997, recorded Sept. 11, the 20th day of the academic year. The number of first-year students (freshman and transfers) is 973, an increase of 11% over the previous year. “We also improved our retention rate by 6%.”

When the pandemic hit in March and the school moved to online learning only, planning began for finishing out the 2019-20 academic year and preparing for the fall semester, keeping the pandemic in mind.
Students received surveys over the summer about their plans to return to St. Ambrose in the fall. Prospective students responded to a survey about whether they would seek a deferral for the academic year. Faculty and staff responded to a survey asking their thoughts on a return to campus, a hybrid format or full online teaching.

“We have a great facilities management team who thoroughly looked at the health and safety for the entire St. Ambrose community,” Loftus said. “I have to give credit to everyone on campus who helped make this a reality.”

As summer progressed, administrators studied the models that other colleges and universities offered. “This was an all-hands-on-deck response” to keep St. Ambrose viable and safe for all. The admissions department offered virtual tours and kept in touch with students admitted to the university and prospective students. “They kept the relationship going.” Loftus believes the university’s strong communication throughout the pandemic has helped maintain and increase enrollment.

Enrollment over the past five years has had its ups and downs, he noted. “It’s a great challenge.” When enrollment misses the mark, changes and cuts need to be made. “St. Ambrose is a great investment.”

Others apparently agree. U.S. News and World Report and The Princeton Review once again recognized St. Ambrose University in the U.S. News and World Report’s Best College reports. St. Ambrose ranked 27th in the Midwest region universities category. The Princeton Review ranked St. Ambrose among 158 Midwest universities and colleges in the 2021 Best Colleges: Region by Region.

“We’d like to think these strong enrollment numbers in a difficult year speak to the quality and value of a St. Ambrose education as recognized by two of the most prominent rating mediums,” Loftus said. “We and the people who hire our graduates well understand the worth and value of a St. Ambrose education. It’s affirming when that’s reflected in the various rankings.”

St. Ambrose University also maintained its No. 19 position in the Best Midwest Regional Universities for Veterans.

“We work hard to assist our veterans and current members of the military as they make use of their hard-won educational benefits,” said Natalie Woodhurst, SAU’s Coordinator for Veterans Recruitment and Services. She is a 2016 St. Ambrose graduate and Air Force veteran. “Our veterans deserve the best.”

In addition to maintaining its overall position in the U.S. News & World Report Midwest region, the university also is rated No. 33 among Midwest Regional Universities for Best Value Schools in the magazine’s annual assessment of U.S. institutions of higher learning. St. Ambrose also remained on U.S. News & World Report Midwest list of A+ Schools for B students.


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