UND sees enrollment growth despite pandemic

Number of new transfer, graduate and law students increases over last year; four-year graduation rate also shows gain

Students take a selfie in front of the Eternal Flame during Welcome Weekend 2020 at UND. Despite the ongoing pandemic, UND is seeing enrollment growth in a number of key areas. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

After a spring in which worries about a significant drop in fall-semester enrollment abounded, and a summer of keeping fingers crossed during a time of pandemic, UND is pleased to report positive first-day numbers in key categories such as overall enrollment, new transfer students, new graduate students and new law students.

Moreover, the freshman class – down by just 3 percent or 56 students from last year – is shaping up to be the most diverse and academically prepared ever. This achievement, like several other First Day Enrollment successes described here, aligns with the One UND Strategic Plan Goals and represents the continuation of positive trends of the past few years.

This fall, UND posted a first-day enrollment of 13,413, up 41 students or 0.31 percent from the first day of classes last year. The figure includes the best-prepared cohort of new freshmen to date. Two years ago, the freshman class came in with an overall high school GPA of 3.46; last year, the figure was 3.50, at the time the highest overall high school GPA in UND’s history.

This year, the incoming freshman class of 1,627 looks to make history again, having compiled an average high school GPA of 3.54. Since the launch of the One UND Strategic Plan, the collective GPA of UND’s freshman classes have consistently made small but steady year-to-year increases.

The One UND Strategic Plan also has driven significant increases in UND’s four-year graduation rates. Starting with the class that entered UND in 2012 and tracking the numbers through the class that entered in 2015, UND’s four-year graduation rate has steadily increased each year.

In fact, the 2015 cohort graduation rate has increased by a full 43 percent over the 2012 cohort graduation rate. This increase is highest among American Indian/Alaska Natives and African American graduates.

“UND’s Fall 2020 enrollment and other achievements reflect the demand for our diverse array of educational credentials and the quality of our programs,” said Debbie Storrs, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

“We’re excited to welcome our new freshmen to campus and are also pleased to see increases in online, graduate, transfer, and part-time students,” Storrs added.

“These successes are the result of good teamwork, generous scholarships made possible by our friends and alumni, and the quality of education our committed faculty provide. To a person, our One UND team takes tremendous pride in helping so many students pursue their educational dreams.”

Challenging times

For UND to see gains in all of the above categories is a real achievement in a pandemic year, Storrs said. The coronavirus put all colleges and universities on a roller coaster – and UND was no exception.

For example, back in April, the talk around campus was of a potential 10 percent drop in enrollment. In June, the Fitch Ratings Group predicted enrollment drops of up to 20 percent among colleges nationwide.

With that in mind, the fact that UND’s numbers are on par with or even exceed last year’s is extremely good news, Storrs said.

“This has been a unique and fluid year, with students and their families also being challenged,” she said.

“They’re coping with the pandemic. They’re making difficult financial decisions, sometimes right up until the last minute.

“And so, the fact that so many students are choosing to attend UND makes us extremely proud. We honor their trust, and we’re committed to delivering to them the best educational experience that we possibly can.”

Archival image.

Welcoming climate

The incoming freshman class is on track to being UND’s most diverse. Based on first-day to first-day numbers, the fall class is up 5 percent in the number of students who report an ethnicity other than white/Caucasian. Again, last year’s class was UND’s most diverse ever, which means this year’s class has reached another all-time high in the University’s history.

“It is exciting to see that our class of first-year students continues our upward trend of being more racially diverse than the previous year, said Cara Halgren, Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Affairs and Diversity.

“As the UND Diversity and Inclusion Task Force begins its work, Dr. Tamba-Kuii Bailey, assistant professor and the Task Force’s co-chair, and I look forward to working with our colleagues across campus and the community to identify actions we can take to make UND better for everyone.”

Goal 4 of the One UND Strategic Plan calls on UND to “enhance discovery at a level consistent with most research-intensive universities”; and with that in mind, this year’s 6.3 percent increase in the number of new graduate students is significant.

The increase brings the number of new graduate students to 780, up 46 students from last year’s first-day number of 734.

“I am excited to see solid growth continue in our graduate enrollments across campus and online,” said Chris Nelson, Associate Dean of the School of Graduate Studies at UND.

“This growth – contributing to another semester of record breaking overall graduate enrollment – reflects the tireless efforts of many across campus, including not only graduate directors and faculty, but also all who make UND such a welcoming place. We look forward to continuing this upward trajectory.”

Upward trends

Transfer students are also among the enrollment categories that have grown this year. This year’s first-day number of new transfer students is 986, up 32 students or 3.35 percent from last year’s number.

“As a campus, we’re making a very coordinated effort in how we’re reaching out to and serving transfer applicants, and it’s paying off as we continue to see growth in that student population,” said Jennifer Aamodt, director of admissions.

Online programs at UND are registering some of this year’s most dramatic enrollment increases. UND counted a total online-program enrollment of 3,571 on this year’s first day. That’s up 555 students or a full 18.4 percent over the first-day figure from last year.

“The broad variety of programs we offer online, and the high quality of our online offerings, gives working professionals and non-traditional students the chance to complete their degree or earn an advanced degree in a flexible format that works for their lifestyle.”

The UND School of Law saw an increase in new law students of just more than 5 percent over last year’s first day. “In a time of uncertainty for prospective law students, we are very excited that our first-year student recruitment held very strong again this year and resulted in an even more diverse class,” said Michael S. McGinniss, Dean and Professor of Law.

“We are also delighted to add several transfer students from across the country. This combination helped our UND Law community grow in overall enrollment for this year.”

UND’s official enrollment will be tallied on the North Dakota University System’s Census Day, the week of Sept. 21. The roller coaster will likely continue, with students both here and across the nation making decisions on their educational pursuits relative to the pandemic. UND stands ready to support those students, both in on campus and online courses.