Fewer high school seniors are committing to attend Mount St. Mary's University in the fall, and at least one administrator is blaming the drop in part to a controversy this year that led its president to resign.
Four hundred and forty-nine incoming freshmen have committed to attend the small Catholic school in Emmitsburg, down from 500 the year before, spokesman Christian Kendzierski said.
The school drew national attention in January when news broke of a plan to identify freshmen who seemed unlikely to succeed and encourage them to drop out.
"This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can't," then-President Simon Newman was quoted as saying by the campus newspaper. "You just have to drown the bunnies … put a Glock to their heads."
Students, faculty and alumni expressed dismay, and Newman resigned in February.
Michael A. Post, the school's vice president of enrollment management and student affairs, said the controversy likely had an impact on commitments.
"Those few months definitely caused us to have a lot more communications with families," Post said. "I would say it played a role in some families' decisions."
Post said he believes other factors also contributed to the decline, and officials were trying to address them. Foremost, he said, was competition from other colleges.
"If they're not coming to the Mount and they're letting us know where they're going, it's Villanova, Catholic, Loyola, College Park," he said. "These are excellent schools and tough to compete with. For us, it's about moving forward to compete with schools like that."
Post said the school is trying to boost its competitiveness by adding new programs such as cybersecurity, forensic accounting and data science. It's also trying to improve marketing.
Before the drop this year, the college had been adding students over the last few years. Enrollment has grown from about 1,500 undergraduates in 2010 to nearly 1,700 now, Post said.
He said he expected the drop to be a one-year phenomenon.
"I have no doubt the Mount will be growing its programs and enrollment going into next year," he said.