Students in Masks

Masked Northwest students make their way across campus during the first full week of classes. Student enrollment for the 2020-21 academic year increased by 3% during the pandemic.

Well into the resumption of on-campus and hybrid course instruction, Northwest reports the fall 2020 semester began with the second highest retention in University history, recording an uptick in enrollment amid a global pandemic where other colleges are facing declining enrollment, financial burdens and indefinite closures.

Northwest saw a 3% increase in enrollment on the first day of classes, welcoming 7,018 students compared to last year’s 6,841. Retention remains at 76%, the same rate as the previous academic year. The highest recorded retention for Northwest was 78% in 2018, a year in which enrollment increased by 8.2% for the University.

This academic year marks the third consecutive that Northwest has seen an increased headcount while maintaining a comparatively high retention rate among its state competitors. All numbers from the first University report are preliminary until Northwest’s official census takes place Sept. 16.

Northwest President John Jasinski attributes the recurring successful rate of retention to University leadership teams and brand ambassadors for promoting the institution’s goals and vision.

“Northwest is tuned in to the needs of it’s employer partners and region, and we are focused on graduating students who are ready to launch their careers when they complete their degrees,” Jasinski said, according to a University press release

Northwest’s enrollment total came with a 29% increase in first-time graduate students, a 26% increase in overall graduate enrollment and a 15% increase in online enrollment. The 2020-21 freshman class is 1,248 strong with 44% identifying as first-generation college students.

Nationally, it is still too soon to determine COVID-19’s complete effects on college student enrollment and retention since not all institutions are releasing data at the same time.

However, a recent study found that international student enrollment is down on the national level. The number of international students in the U.S. declined by 2.4% in 2019, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Northwest, though, continues to bring in international students at a 6% enrollment rate. Of the 6,841 students enrolled at Northwest in the 2019-20 academic year, approximately 411 were international.

Amid the overall enrollment increase, University officials remain hopeful for long-term in-person course instruction for the fall 2020 semester as Northwest students and staff begin to speak out on the relevance of mitigation efforts at off-campus gatherings.

“I could not be more pleased with our leaders and their willingness to stand up and take a position of mitigation off campus,” Vice President of Student Affairs Matt Baker said. “We all know that mitigation measures are a political topic now, and I think that makes things very uncomfortable for a lot of people. But I’m super impressed with students who not only wear a mask but stand up and say, ‘You should wear a mask too.’”

Baker, who has worked in higher education for close to 30 years, said the student response warmed his heart.

“I wouldn’t work in Student Affairs and I wouldn’t work on a college campus if I didn’t deeply believe in the power and the passion of undergraduate students,” Baker said.

According to the retention and enrollment rates press release, the University’s graduation rate falls in the 89th percentile of its national peer group, and 97% of bachelor’s degree earners and 99% of masters degree earners secure employment or continue education within six months of graduation.

Admissions staff is gathering additional data and will release more institutional research numbers regarding Northwest enrollment and retention in September.

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