Cal Lutheran enrollment sees rebound in first-years


Photo Contributed by Tracie Karasik

California Lutheran University Class of 2026.

Emily Henbest, Reporter

Cal Lutheran enrollment rates rebound this fall following a two-year decrease brought on by COVID-19 restrictions on campus. According to a press release sent out by Sharon Nelson, operations coordinator for University Relations on Aug. 29, there have been increases in enrollment rates for all undergraduate student sub-sections.

“About 844 undergraduate students are scheduled to enter Cal Lutheran for the first time this fall. Of those, 628 are first-year students and 216 are transfer students. Around 60% are students of color; 43% are the first in their families to attend college; and 4% are international students. Total undergraduate enrollment is approximately 2,440,” Nelson said in the press release.

This rebound can be attributed to looser restrictions surrounding COVID-19 protocol. Falone Serna, dean of Undergraduate Admission and Outreach, said the Cal Lutheran environment and community were also factors that contributed to the enrollment increase.

“I’ve just found that folks aren’t coming to Cal Lutheran to do class over Zoom. And so I think that really impacted our ability to attract students because they knew the realities of the pandemic, or that was–that’s what they had offered to them,” said Serna.

As stated in the press release from Nelson, students of color make up the majority of all new enrollments this fall. 

“It’s a representation of how the majority of our students do come from the state of California and the Western region. We’re one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the country. So I think it’s natural that our student body population reflects the percentage of the region that we’re in. And I’m really proud of that,” Serna said.

Transfer rates have also rebounded. Serna said in Nelson’s press release that Cal Lutheran’s transfer numbers are up 39% year-to-date, and the university’s housing is full, which he takes as a sign that things will continue to some sense of post-pandemic normalcy. 

David Rowe, associate director of Transfer Admission, said in a Zoom interview that nearby community colleges played a role in the spiking enrollment rate.

“I think that this transfer class is kind of a rebound of students that are from the Ventura County [and] Los Angeles area that are looking for community, so they’re transferring closer to home,” Rowe said. 

COVID-19-related challenges changed the way Cal Lutheran went about recruiting transfers from community colleges, which limited how they connected with prospective students.

“We were able to kind of dig into some recruitment activities that we hadn’t been able to do during most of that remote period, so I think some people around campus are seeing transfers kind of surprised,” Rowe said.

As for the increase in international enrollment, Adriana Dominguez, International Admissions counselor, said the limitations that COVID-19 had on their recruitment became an aid in connecting with people internationally. 

“We were doing a lot of virtual sessions, and we were able to do these recruitment events in countries that we’ve never been before. We were really able to definitely spread the reach of Cal Lutheran,” Dominguez said.

When compared to pre-COVID enrollment rates at Cal Lutheran, there is still a way to go before the university can hit its former benchmark. 

“Even though this year we had a nice rebound from the previous year, and even from the last two years, we’re still not quite where we were at pre-pandemic…We do believe we can climb back to that point,” Serna said.