Class acts: first day yields encouraging trends

Analysis: UND enrolls most academically prepared freshmen ever, sees uptick in transfers thanks to new programs

First Day Fall Enrollment 2018

UND’s 2018 first-day fall enrollment tally includes the best-prepared cohort of new freshmen to date, including the most UND Presidential Scholars in the University’s history, more than 160 Honors Program students (a significant increase), and higher overall high school grade point averages than any previous class. Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today.

The University of North Dakota’s first day enrollment snapshot suggests UND’s strategy to recruit the most academically prepared freshmen is paying off.

UND takes its final and official enrollment count the fourth week of classes.  It also takes a first day enrollment snapshot.  For the beginning of the 2018-19 academic year, UND posted a first-day enrollment of 13,445.  That number includes the best-prepared cohort of new freshmen to date.  UND’s freshman class of 1,844 includes the most UND Presidential Scholars in the University’s history, more than 160 Honors Program students (a significant increase), and higher overall high school grade point averages than any previous class. 

UND’s strategy to streamline the transfer process is also paying off.  Programs, such as 2 plus 2, which allow students to more seamlessly transfer to UND from other institutions, have resulted in attracting 724 transfer students to UND, up by 62 over last year.  If you include students who transferred to UND starting with the Summer Session, there are 899 transfer students at UND for their first fall semester.

UND has been part of a national trend that has seen overall enrollments decrease across the United State during the past six years.  In fact, UND’s highest enrollment was in 2012, when the overall student count ballooned by 553 to 15,250.  In addition to graduating the last of that enrollment bubble created by the huge enrollment spike in 2012, UND President Mark Kennedy said UND is adjusting to two planned-for variables that it knew would affect enrollment numbers in the short term.  

Last academic year, UND busted a number of barriers to graduation, including changing the number of credits most undergraduate students need to graduate from 125 to 120.  The change puts UND in line with most universities and colleges.  The good news, said Kennedy, is that students will be just as prepared but will be more likely to graduate in four years.  For many students, the extra one to five or more credits meant another semester, and in some cases, another year at the university.  It also meant that more students were able to graduate this spring and summer, when UND saw large graduating classes.  Nearly 350 students who otherwise would have been back this semester were able to graduate.

“Although we knew this would affect our enrollment in the short term, this was the right thing to do for the students,” said Kennedy.  The resulting boost to UND’s graduation rate will enhance the University’s attractiveness to prospective students.

He also noted that UND has made great strides in retention through a number of efforts, such as better advising practices and the rigorous use of the Starfish program.  The development and implementation of a new academic planner will also help students succeed through to graduation.

Mark Kennedy and students

UND President Mark Kennedy visits with a group of new students at an ice cream social held in honor of the entire incoming freshmen class on Saturday at the Chester Fritz Auditorium. Photo by David Dodds/UND Today.

Building on research

Another change also had a planned effect on enrollment this fall.  As UND continues to build its research enterprise, the University shifted its approach to recruiting graduate students.  In the past, a significant number of students in master’s programs attended UND on waivers, essentially generating no tuition income.  UND has shifted its emphasis to recruiting doctoral students, who tend to play a larger role in helping faculty conduct research.  In essence, UND is investing more in doctoral students and subsidizing master’s programs with waivers to a much less degree.

Tom DiLorenzo

UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo

“One of the goals of our One UND Strategic Plan is to build our research capabilities.  To do that, we need to concentrate on recruiting top-notch doctoral students.  We knew that shifting away from recruiting master’s students with waivers would hurt our overall enrollment initially, but this will help us recruit even more high-caliber doctoral students, which will be important as we energize our research programs,” said Kennedy.

Tom DiLorenzo, UND Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, said recruiting more doctoral students will have added benefits to the Greater Grand Forks community, since doctoral students will be more likely to have families and to live in the community in apartments and houses.

Overall, UND’s graduate enrollment is at 2,657, including 1,951 master’s students, 594 doctoral students, and 112 specialist diploma students.

UND’s professional programs, the four-year M.D. program in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and School of Law, are steadily growing at a combined 542.

Other undergraduate student enrollment (non-freshmen) is at 7,678.

In Fall 2017, the overall first day enrollment was 13,958, of which 1,954 were freshmen, 662 transfers, 8,090 other undergraduate students, 2,709 graduate (master’s 2007, doctoral 586, specialist degree 116), and professional 543.

UND beefed up its advertising and marketing significantly over the past year, but Kennedy has said consistently that UND will first see the fruits of those efforts — as well as the payoff from UND’s new mobile friendly web site unveiled in May — starting in Fall 2019.