Despite the headwinds facing higher education, fall enrollment is up 3% from this time last year across the University of Arkansas System.
The system's Board of Trustees, through President Donald Bobbitt, "has placed a strong emphasis on retention and student success, and every [system] school has a special initiative to retain students and make sure they see the value of higher education," Bobbitt said.
Many college students in Arkansas are first-generation, he said.
"They need a little help to get over hurdles," but when colleges provide that assist, those students "are as successful" as anyone else.
In addition, leaders of schools in the system have realized that -- in many areas of the state -- starting to recruit students when they're high school juniors or seniors "is too late," Bobbitt said. By then, many "are already resolved to some other option."
Consequently, school administrators have prioritized reaching out to students as early as middle school -- Keith Pinchback and Phillip Wilson, chancellors of Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas and the University of Arkansas-Rich Mountain, respectively, have led that charge -- emphasizing the importance of college for the financial well-being of students and their families, he said. The system also continues to focus on the pivotal role of education for the workforce, and "we've been very aggressive on that theme."
Enrollment figures are based on the 11th day of classes, but those numbers will change -- although typically not dramatically -- before colleges and universities make their official reports in October.
After crossing the 30,000 milestone for the first time last fall, the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville has more than 32,000 students this fall.
The freshman class is the second-largest, at 6,344 -- more than 700 behind last year's figure -- but that was intentional, Chancellor Charles Robinson explained earlier this year. "We could have a freshman class of 8,000 [this fall] if we wanted, but we will not, because we don't have the capacity.
"We did not bring in every [student] we could have this year," because last year's freshman class of 7,100 "was tough on our organization in terms of housing," etc., but no Arkansans who met qualifications were turned away, only out-of-state students, Robinson said last month. That's illustrated by there being more Arkansans in this freshman class than ever before and a record number of Arkansans -- more than 16,000 -- enrolled overall.
This "class was a little smaller than last year's by design, but by any other measure, it's a big class prepared to succeed," Suzanne McCray, vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions, said in a news release from the university.
The university's first-year retention rate has increased to 86.5%, up 1% from last year, and the incoming class GPA is 3.79, a record, Robinson said. The latest six-year graduation rate is 69%, but "we're not satisfied with that number -- we want to be over 70%."
Total enrollment at the university, which includes graduate and law students in addition to undergraduates, has increased nearly 16% over the past five years, according to the university. Over that same time period, the number of Arkansans in incoming classes has increased by almost 20%, and more Arkansans are now enrolled than at any other time in the university's history.
"When I came here in 1999, we had 15,000 students total," Robinson said. "Don't be surprised if we've grown some more next year," as applications are up 50% from this time last year.
Growth won't be limitless, however, he said. "We may need to put the brakes on" eventually, as "we need to grow responsibly."
UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS AT FORT SMITH
Overall head count enrollment -- 5,514 students -- is up 2.5% from last fall, while the number of first-year students and transfers is also up at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. Last fall, UAFS reported a 1.6% dip in enrollment from the prior fall.
The number of first-year students is up nearly 7%, at 889, while transfer student enrollment is up 1.6%, according to UAFS. Campus housing occupancy is also up, to more than 760, and business administration, nursing and computer science are the programs of highest growth at UAFS.
Blake Bedsole, director of admissions at UAFS, noted in a news release from UAFS that staff "have worked tirelessly to remove barriers to the application and enrollment processes and on refining our messaging to prospective students and their families concerning the value of a UAFS education and the individualized support that they will receive here."
UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS AT LITTLE ROCK
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock has halted a 13-year decline in full-time enrollment, with an increase in undergraduate and graduate student full-time equivalents (FTE) of 1.2% this fall compared with this time last fall, according to the university. The last fall term to experience an increase in student FTE was 2010.
"The extraordinary commitment of our students, faculty, and staff at UA Little Rock made this possible," Chancellor Christina S. Drale said in a news release from UALR. "We knew reversing a decade-plus enrollment trend would take time, focus, and significant work, and I'm pleased to see our collective efforts translate into student success and improvement in the university's enrollment."
Positive trends emerged last fall, when the university saw a nearly 30% increase in freshmen and an 8% increase in transfer students, according to UALR. This year's freshman head count is similar to last year's, although transfer students are down 4%.
The university has also upgraded academic spaces, focused on building industry connections and added internship opportunities in recent years.
Students' semester credit hours this fall are up 1%, although head count is down 1%, according to UALR. Preliminary enrollment indicates 7,147 undergraduate and graduate students -- excluding law school students -- at UALR.
The reason UALR's FTE is up 1.2% while the head count is actually down 1% is that this fall UALR has seen an increase in full-time students, but a drop in part-time students, according to Angie Faller, UALR's news director. UALR's main area of growth is in the George W. Donaghey College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, which experienced an enrollment growth of 6% for undergraduate students and 14% for graduate students.
More students are also living on campus this year, 932, an increase of 1.4% from last year, according to UALR. Universities encourage on-campus living, as undergraduates who do so typically perform better academically and are more likely to graduate.
The University of Arkansas at Monticello has increased fall enrollment, powered by significant growth in freshmen and transfer students.
The number of first-time freshmen at UAM increased by 26.6% to 485, up from 383 during the fall 2022 semester, according to the university. Transfers are up nearly 17%, from 162 to 189.
"The incredible growth in our freshman class is the result of a university-wide, team approach that focused on many new recruitment efforts over the past year, including new and revamped scholarships," Chancellor Peggy Doss said in a news release from the university. "At UAM, we are deeply aware that affordable education matters. We offer one of the lowest tuition rates in the state, and we welcome transfer students to UAM with a very generous transfer scholarship. This, in conjunction with our multiple partnerships with two-year institutions in the state, has contributed to our growth in transfer students."
UAM has 2,758 students enrolled this fall, up 2% from 2,717 last fall, which was up from 2,673 the prior fall. Undergraduate enrollment is up 3.3%, from 2,266 to 2,340.
More students are living in university housing this semester, 478, up more than 11% from 429 last fall, which the university attributes to a higher number of freshmen and transfers, as well as a new housing scholarship. The number of high school students taking college classes at UAM this fall is up almost 4% over the fall 2022 semester, growing from 438 students to 455 students.
Graduate student enrollment at UAM has seen increased interest since the creation of several new programs, including the Master of Science in nursing degree with an emphasis in public health, the Master of Science in forest resources degree and the graduate certificate in waterfowl habitat and recreation management.
Enrollment continues to fall at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, one of the few schools in the UA System to report a decline this fall.
UAPB's fall enrollment of 2,117 is down 11% from last fall, which was down 7% from the fall of 2021.
Fall enrollment at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is 3,275 -- 1,380 undergraduates and the rest graduate students -- which is up slightly from 3,240 last fall, which was an increase from 3,088 for the fall of 2021. Enrollment at the Northwest Arkansas campus, which is included in UAMS' total enrollment, is 356, and the Northwest branch has four colleges: Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Health Professions.
At UA Grantham -- based in Little Rock and the UA System's only exclusively online institution -- eight-week terms start every month in a rotating fashion, as opposed to traditional semester starts, according to Nate Hinkel, director of communications for UA Grantham and for the UA System.
In early August, the start of the latest semester, enrollment was 4,651, which continues an upward trend, as that's up from 4,427 students at a similar point last year, which itself was an increase of nearly 200 from a similar time in 2021.
A complete overhaul of UA Grantham's visual identity that included a new website last summer -- which increased traffic and "conversion" -- has been "fantastic," UA Grantham Chancellor Lindsay Bridgeman explained this summer. The university -- which transitioned from private, for-profit status to public, nonprofit status when acquired a couple of years ago by the UA System -- has restructured undergraduate degrees to align with Arkansas state standards and is building Arkansas partnerships, such as the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership, which is providing health care workers to rural areas, and the Arkansas Farm Bureau, which will list UA Grantham as an education partner on its website.
UA COMMUNITY COLLEGE AT HOPE-TEXARKANA
The University of Arkansas Community College at Hope-Texarkana reported its largest fall enrollment since 2019, with 1,292 students, a 9% increase from last fall.
"As rural community colleges across the nation continue to struggle with decreasing enrollment, this increase is a testament to the hard-working faculty and staff at UAHT who continue to put students first," Chancellor Christine Holt said in a news release from UAHT. "Our collaborative and innovative efforts in how we serve students equate to their success as they enter the workforce or transfer to a four-year university."
One reason for the enrollment jump is an increase of 24% in high school student enrollment through concurrent credit, the Hope and Arkansas High Collegiate Academies, and the Secondary Career & Technical Education Center, and UAHT also experienced a 28% increase in students transferring to UAHT from other institutions, according to Casey Curtis, UAHT communications coordinator.
"Our innovative early college high school programs, technical training programs, health professions programs, and world-class general education transfer degrees provide a bridge to the future for every student," Holt noted in the news release. "We strive to keep tuition and fees affordable, and with the addition of many scholarships and the Hempstead Guarantee, along with Arkansas state scholarships and in-state tuition for border county residents, a college education at UAHT is one of the greatest values in higher education."
Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas has 1,392 students, up 13% from this time last year.
"We've seen a big shift in post-secondary goals since" the pandemic, with youth "exploring more options beyond what they're used to seeing in their communities, and the national conversations that have been taking place about student debt have made a generation of students wary of taking out loans to pay for college," said Drew Smith, PCCUA's director of enrollment management.
"Programs that have specific scholarships, like our behavioral health program, and programs that can immediately place graduates in high-paying jobs, like our [commercial driver's license] program, fill up very quickly.
"High schools are also looking to boost opportunities they can provide their students, especially with the upcoming diploma tract requirements from the LEARNS Act," Smith added. "Our directors of high school relations have done a wonderful job facilitating the enrollment process for them."
The University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton is up 18%, with 2,229 students.
"Much of our enrollment growth was seen in the growth of concurrent students this semester, [but] we are also seeing a significant increase in the number of people interested in workforce education and training [as] the skilled trades are in high demand, and businesses and industry are experiencing a shortage of qualified applicants to replace their long-term employees who are retiring," said Mary Clark, director of marketing and public relations at UACCM.
"Short-term workforce training programs are attractive to students who want to earn credentials quickly through certificate programs that will give them a competitive advantage for high-wage, in-demand job opportunities."
The college "has been very deliberate in recruiting students, focusing on non-traditional students and short-term training needs as well as concurrent high school students," groups that at times are "overlooked," and who may not necessarily seem themselves in a traditional college experience, said UACCM Chancellor Lisa Willenberg. UACCM tries to demonstrate "what's available to them by way of community college training, whether it's to upskill or retrain for a second career, or earn concurrent credits and prepare to enter the skilled workforce immediately following high school."
"Individuals who are not really sure what they want to do with their lives may go to community college with an exploratory mindset as there are so many options; then, before they know it, they find success with classes and have a whole new view of their futures," Willenberg added. "With the many opportunities available through the State for education and workforce training, there's never been a better time to enroll at a community college."
UA-Rich Mountain is up 6%, at 721 students.
Athletics have been integral to the college's recent momentum, and they've been a revenue generator and a tool for student recruitment, Wilson explained earlier this year. The college now has a dozen athletic programs for men and women, including esports -- which debuted this fall -- and will add shooting sports in the fall of 2025, while also adding on-campus housing for athletes, and "we'll ultimately be able to house 190 students."
The University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College is down 1% this fall, with 4,152 students.
Cossatot Community College of the University of Arkansas reported enrollment of 1,345, up 5% from last fall.
The University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville reported 1,238 students, a 13% increase.