Woodbury Enrollment Drops as Students Take Gap Year

Photo courtesy Woodbury University
Woodbury University’s President David Steele-Figueredo said declines in enrollment are attributable to students taking “gap” semesters or years and fewer incoming students.

Enrollment at Woodbury University in fall 2020 fell about 8% compared with fall 2019, the institution reported, as fewer high school graduates nationally joined institutions of higher learning.
In a statement, Woodbury President David Steele-Figueredo did not provide a precise enrollment count, though he said much of the decline was attributable to students taking “gap” semesters or years. The university’s spring enrollment is 1,022 students, the Associated Students of Woodbury University said on Instagram.
According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which provides reports on national higher education enrollment, private nonprofit four-year institutions collectively saw a 0.1% decline in fall 2020 enrollment compared to fall 2019.
The research center also reported that, though there is little evidence that COVID-19 impacted high school graduation rates, immediate college enrollment rates have dropped. Immediate enrollment at private nonprofit four-year institutions fell about 28.6% in fall 2020 compared with fall 2019 — more than twice the decline seen by four-year public colleges, 13.8%.
Steele-Figueredo said that Woodbury University came in at 2% below its spring enrollment goal, saying the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and the pandemic’s economic effects meant that fewer new students were enrolling.
The private university held classes via a hybrid model during the fall semester, allowing students to come to campus three days a week and reserve labs and studios.
But due to a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the state, classes this semester are offered online only — though it could allow some in-person courses under Los Angeles County regulations, which state that colleges and universities can offer classes for “essential workforce activities.”
The university could return to a hybrid model later in the semester if public health protocols signal that it’s safe to return, Steele-Figueredo added. About 55 students are living on campus, he explained, with each student living in his or her dorm room alone.
Though its enrollment has decreased, the university has received a significant amount of federal aid, including a $4.7 million loan from the Payment Protection Program from the Small Business Administration, which allowed Woodbury to avoid laying off employees. The U.S. Department of Education also gave the institution a $3 million Title V grant last October toward its new environmental science and sustainability programs, according to Steele-Figueredo.
“We are optimistic that we will get through this difficult period as we have over our 136-year history, which included two World Wars, the Spanish Flu pandemic and the Great Depression!” he said in a statement.

STUDENTS MISS COLLABORATION

Though the number of incoming students appears to be falling because of the pandemic, some graduating students at Woodbury are also lamenting what COVID-19 is forcing them to miss out on.
Marta Huo, a fifth-year architecture student and president of the Associated Students of Woodbury University, said she would normally build lavish models or draw towering sketches for her thesis project. But the pandemic has pushed classes online — along with her thesis.
“I don’t want to say we’re mad at it or disappointed in it,” Huo said. “We would want to see that in person as soon as possible, but with the pandemic, it’s not safe to do that.”
Huo and Matthew Pardini, a fourth-year graphic design major and the ASWU vice president of marketing, added that they’ve missed the tightly knit community of Woodbury, which reported having 1,173 undergraduate and graduate students in fall 2018.
While Huo and Pardini might have seen each other every day before the pandemic, or regularly greeted their fellow students as ASWU representatives, now they’re both off-campus.
“This isn’t exclusive to the school or Woodbury… but [I hate] the monotony of it,” Pardini said. “It’s like, there’s my bed, there’s my computer. I don’t leave this area, which oddly has upped my productivity … but I hate it. And I never thought I’d hate it so much. But just getting up and sitting in a chair all day is hard.”

Photo courtesy Associated Students of Woodbury University
Woodbury University student representatives Marta Huo and Gayane Mikaelyan pose at a truck offering students and staff members food during the university’s on-campus COVID-19 testing days in fall 2020.

That loss of in-person interaction also affected their studies. The collaborative environment normally offered by Woodbury, where small class sizes allow artists to easily view and critique their peers’ work, has been limited by the virtual learning format.
“We all care. This is a school we went to for our major specifically,” Pardini said. “I think it’s been done as well as it can be done for our situation. I don’t get to have classmates walk up and look at really close details. … They give the review they can give, and I take what I can from that.”
Both Pardini and Huo said they’d return to in-person classes for their major if they could, explaining their small class sizes would likely allow them to socially distance in the studio. But they also credited their instructors for offering frequent one-on-one meetings and meeting students’ needs.
“At least from all the professors that I’ve had … they already know us, they know our personalities and our goals,” Huo said. “And I think the professors at our school do a very good job at personalizing their teaching to the class.”