Northwest reached its third-highest enrollment in University history this year, with the second highest retention rate after a peak of 78% last year.
Total enrollment this fall is 7,104, an 11% jump from 2017 when the Missouri Academy of Science and Technology closed.
Northwest Provost Jamie Hooyman said the University has taken an intentional approach with its strategic planning to not only recruit students but to retain them and help them succeed.
“Some of these factors that are setting trends not just for right now but are setting trends for five years from now, the universities that are smart are going to start planning,” Hooyman said. “I would say one of the best things that the University did was we started planning early.”
One of the biggest recruitment challenges facing universities, according to an Inside Higher Ed article, is a plateau in the number of high school graduates nationwide.
According to the article, from 1995 to 2012, the number of high school graduates was steadily rising, but in the years since, that number has leveled out. Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s 2016 report indicated that the stagnation is expected to continue for at least the next five years.
According to the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development, total enrollment of same-year Missouri public high school graduates in Missouri public institutions decreased by 0.4 percent, from 22,160 in 2017 to 22,067 in 2018.
Missouri Western University’s enrollment has increased steadily since 2015, rising from 5,321 in 2017 to 5,707 in 2018.
Truman State University’s enrollment is down from 6,200 in 2015 to 5,853 in 2018.
Director of Academic Success and Retention Allison Hoffmann said during a challenging time in higher education, the University’s focus on retention and recruitment are campus-wide efforts, and the recruitment team collaborates with every department on campus.
“We try to think about scholarships for students that can both help students come to Northwest and be able to retain them as well,” Hoffmann said. “We’re looking at ‘Do our scholarships align to keep students here? Are the rates to renew for students? Can they meet those?’”
Director of Institutional Research Egon Heidendal said around three years ago, the University reevaluated its thresholds for renewing scholarships, which has helped students to afford to stay at Northwest.
Hooyman said in staying competitive, scholarships are part of an overall strategy to keep costs down, of which the laptop and textbook programs are also a key part. On top of all of that, she said ensuring academic programs are of quality and competitive is a high priority in attracting and retaining students.
“We are evaluating and looking at our programs all the time,” Hooyman said. “To make sure that we’re relevant with society and what the student needs to be successful and that we have rigor in our courses so that we’re always putting a program out there that is going to best prepare that student for the life that’s coming.”
Hoffmann said in the last three years, the implementation of the first-year professional advising model, the secondary faculty advising model have been major factors in increasing retention.
“It’s allowed (students) to have two people to go to or to contact, and having a first-year adviser who’s in their office or available 40 hours a week … that has been a really positive thing,” Hoffmann said.
Online enrollment increased 101.4% in 2018 and increased another 24% this year, with 1,230 students enrolled in online-only programs. A major facet of the University’s new strategic plan is focusing more attention on online students.
“What we do know is not all students, even though we’d like all students to have that on-campus experience, it doesn’t work for all students,” Hooyman said. “We took a hard look at what we were doing and how we can protect what we’re doing well on ground … but then how do we meet those other student needs that are not being met by the traditional on-ground delivery.”
Heidendal said the majority of online enrollment is in graduate programs, and there is not a significant difference in retention and success between graduate students on campus and online.
“Research shows that at the graduate level, those students are far more likely to stop out for one semester to just take a small little break and then continue, and they do not see that as an interruption,” Heidendal said. “It’s a different type of learner at the graduate level.”
Enrollment of underrepresented students on campus has dropped from 24% of students in 2015 to 12% now, which includes international students, who have dropped from 11.8% of students in 2015 to 6% now.
Heidendal said nationally there have been fewer visas issued to international students, which has negatively impacted international enrollment at all universities. The number of international students who apply has remained the same.
He said domestically, underrepresented student enrollment has remained relatively the same in the last five years.
Regardless of factors outside of Northwest’s control, Hoffmann said the University is always striving to do better, and there are programs in place focused on improving retention of underrepresented students.
Not addressed in previous years but included in the census news release this year is first-generation students, who make up 46% of this year’s freshman class.
“To me, that tells me that we’re doing something well that they feel comfortable coming here,” Hooyman said.