Area colleges show little change in student numbersEnrollment at area colleges and universities this fall changed little from last year; any noticeable growth came from people choosing online programs at some schools.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
Enrollment at area colleges and universities this fall changed little from last year; any noticeable growth came from people choosing online programs at some schools.
The University of Minnesota Duluth, the College of St. Scholastica and Lake Superior College all had small increases in their student bodies. The University of Wisconsin-Superior and Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College had small decreases.
St. Scholastica experienced a 20 percent increase in new online students and a 9 percent increase in nontraditional students, including online, graduate and extended-studies students.
“It really speaks to the groundswell of nontraditional students looking to get a degree,” said Eric Berg, vice president for enrollment management at the college. “There is a large, critical mass of students out there that chose to forgo going to college when they graduated from high school either recently or long ago. Those are the students looking at coming back and getting a degree.”
UWS has a 9 percent increase in students enrolling in online, or distance-learning, programs. The launch of some new majors has helped that number, said Lynne Williams, director of marketing and communications for UWS.
“There is a shift in adult learners going back, and a shift in balancing work and school,” she said. “Online is more flexible.”
Lake Superior College is experiencing the same trend, partly because its online offerings are among the largest in the state.
“Without a doubt, we’re seeing an increase in part-time students and a decrease in full-time students,” said Melissa Leno, director of admissions for the college. “It has a lot to do with the economy. Students do need to work, and they are struggling to do full-time classes and work at the same time.”
Fond du Lac’s small decrease comes after several record years. Final numbers, said spokesman Tom Urbanski, will bring this year almost even with last year.
“We’re not looking at a huge step backward,” he said.
Though UMD had about 1 percent overall growth this year, its freshman class was much smaller than last year’s. But last year was an anomaly, said Jackie Millslagle, associate vice chancellor of academic affairs. Nearly 240 fewer freshmen enrolled this year, but last year’s class was far bigger than those in previous years. UMD is most excited about its retention rate. Unofficial numbers show that 84 percent of last year’s freshman class stayed at UMD.
“Retention numbers are looking good,” Millslagle said. “Students are having a good experience in their freshman year.”
Whether UMD can and wants to continue to grow and at what pace are questions that will be asked as part of the university’s new strategic plan. An enrollment management plan will be developed to answer those questions, Millslagle said.
UWS isn’t necessarily looking to grow, Williams said, because the school wants to keep its small student-to-teacher ratio and focus on keeping the students it has. It does have the space, if needed.
St. Scholastica cannot physically increase its student body at its main campus much more than it has. Limits on infrastructure such as housing, parking and classroom space put the college near capacity. It’s focusing on increasing non-traditional populations instead, Berg said.
A trend the school noticed this year with its applicant pool was a smaller number of high-financial-need students, despite the large amount of federal and state financial aid available to them.
“We’re hypothesizing that a combination of continued bad news on the economic front and because of the job market, that more of these students … made the decision that they weren’t even going to look at a college like St. Scholastica,” Berg said. “Last year we saw an historic high when it came to (those students.) Our goal this year is that those students know … a college like St. Scholastica isn’t out of reach.”