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Colleges see changes in enrollment

by I.C. Murrell | September 22, 2021 at 3:01 a.m.
Winners of the Chancellor's Medallion awards pose with UAPB Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander, third from right, during the schools' spring graduation at Simmons Bank Field on May 8, 2021. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)

Enrollment among new and continuing students at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff increased by 3%, according to preliminary data released Tuesday by the school and the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

Numbers for the University of Arkansas at Monticello are down slightly while it's too early to determine what the enrollment is this fall at Southeast Arkansas College.

Preliminary enrollment at UAPB for the fall 2021 semester is 2,748 and marks a second year-over-year increase, after an increase of 6.8% from fall 2019 to fall 2020, when there were 2,668 students. The fall 2021 count includes 2,548 undergraduates, 188 graduate students and 12 high school students.

A 16.8% increase in students pursuing graduate degrees enhanced the overall count, according to the release. School officials added that enrollment among first-time students at the university rose 4.4% from fall 2020.

Braque Talley, vice chancellor of enrollment management and student success, also credited UAPB's "cross-divisional strategy" to increase the number of returning students with what he called new and in-demand graduate programs.

"We are deliberate about engaging students through several avenues, using a mixture of traditional, digital and social media messaging that resonates with their lifestyle, a dedication to culturally authentic messages that differentiate UAPB from other institutions of higher education in the region and being intentional around aligning available resources to ease the financial burdens of students," Talley said.

He added the campus has been "open and operational" during the pandemic, despite extensive damage to three buildings during the February snowstorms.

"However, our focus has remained on providing students with the support needed to ensure their success while enrolled and after graduating from UAPB," Talley said.

UAPB Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander said the university is "grateful" to parents and students who continue to choose the school.

"Again this semester, the covid-19 pandemic created challenges for students and the institution to overcome," he said. "Our first aim in enrollment is to ensure a safe return to campus this fall. Students are regularly tested if they have symptoms or believe they were exposed, and we are holding weekly vaccination clinics and incentivizing students to become vaccinated."

The university, Alexander added, has also created personal protective equipment for each student taking classes.

"These efforts, along with those of our divisions of Enrollment Management and Student Success and Academic Affairs, faculty, advisers, other staff and alumni, and agency partner The Design Group have all played a role in the ongoing success of our enrollment," Alexander said.

"The recent enrollment growth of our graduate programs has been nothing short of remarkable," UAPB Provost Robert Z. Carr Jr. said. "In the last few years, we have intentionally enhanced our graduate curriculum to include many in-demand program offerings such as the master of business administration, the master of education in vocational rehabilitation with an emphasis in addiction studies, the master of educational leadership and master of computer science education, just to name a few. Our faculty and staff have worked extremely hard to design contemporary programs that appeal to today's graduate student population."

UA MONTICELLO

Overall enrollment at the University of Arkansas at Monticello decreased by 1.7% from fall 2020.

Of the 2,673 undergraduates and graduates, 2,072 are enrolled full-time. The total number is a drop from 2,719 last fall.

There are 1,958 total undergraduates and 409 graduate students signed up at UAM this semester. The number of high school students increased by five to 306.

Jeff Weaver, UAM vice chancellor for advancement and chief of staff, said a decline in the population of high school graduates across southeast Arkansas, along with concerns related to covid-19, are factors in the enrollment decrease, but that has also been a cause for school officials to get creative in new course offerings.

"Things look bright at UAM," Weaver said, adding the school has seen growth in graduate degree programs. "Our master of arts in teaching program is really popular right now. We have worked really hard on retention. Every faculty member, staff member and administrator has focused on retaining students, and our retention has been up."

UAM is also offering new courses in graphic design and cybersecurity, as well as a master's program in nursing, Weaver said.

"As it's getting harder and harder to increase enrollment, we've been going out of our way to be creative and get students here," Weaver said. "We've added a Chick-fil-A and a Starbucks on our campus in recent years, and our agriculture building will soon undergo renovation."

SEARK COLLEGE

Southeast Arkansas College reported 840 undergraduate students, 484 of whom are enrolled on a full-time basis.

That number is a drop from 915 who signed up during the fall 2020 semester at the two-year Pine Bluff institution.

President Steven Bloomberg cautioned that SEARK is still enrolling for its second eight-week term.

"Unfortunately, it's still really difficult to build enrollment," Bloomberg said. "It's close to what we had last spring."

Bloomberg reported in May that SEARK finished the spring term with 1,009 students. As many as 1,028 registered for the traditional 16-week term.

SEARK College has created a big push for enrollment in recent months over the summer, holding an on-campus festival that Bloomberg said at the time was designed to reintroduce community members back to the school. Interested enrollees could redeem a postcard for a nine-credit hour scholarship.

Like many institutions, however, SEARK was met with challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic.

"We weren't sure how we would start, so we pushed some of our courses back until the second eight weeks," Bloomberg said. "We won't really know where we are until the first part of December."

Bloomberg did not address the sharp decline in high school students enrolled this semester from last fall, from 187 down to 21.

Preliminary numbers from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education are snapshots taken from the 11th day of class during this semester. The ADHE will not present official numbers until January.

Print Headline: Colleges see changes in enrollment

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