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Amid the global coronavirus pandemic, an increase of more than 400 students in the incoming freshman class could help WKU increase its undergraduate enrollment in the upcoming academic year and nearly offset a decline in graduate students, according to the information given to the Board of Regents on Friday.

Ethan Logan, WKU’s new vice president for Enrollment and Student Experience, said the number of enrolled first-time, first-year students was 3,170 as of Friday, up 409 students compared to the number of enrolled freshmen one year earlier.

“It’s a very promising, very exciting perspective that we take into this fall,” Logan told regents at their August quarterly meeting. 

Logan provided numbers that showed, as of this week, 12,656 undergraduates are enrolled for Fall 2020, compared to 12,606 on the same date last year for Fall 2019. The numbers showed graduate enrollment at 1,678 for the coming semester, versus 1,789 last year. Overall, his report showed 14,334 students enrolled for Fall 2020, compared to 14,395 for Fall 2019, or a decline of 0.4%. 

Those numbers do not include high school students taking college-credit courses, joint admissions agreements with community colleges or students at Gatton Academy, which bring the total to about 18,000. 

Logan noted that higher education officials had feared that the pandemic could decimate college enrollments this fall, but said that does not appear to be occurring for WKU. 

“The concerns we were hearing as late as a month ago was that… there may not be anybody who shows up this fall because of the pandemic exposure, and that the movement and engagement we were seeing could be false in terms of its promise,” Logan said. “We’re showing and tracking great participation and interest … but will that hold true?”

A key indicator, he said, is that significantly fewer students are withdrawing after enrolling this summer than in previous years. “This gives me great confidence that students are signing up and will show up,” he said.

While the freshman class appears to be growing, Logan and President Timothy Caboni said the university also has seen improvement in retaining students. Logan said the overall retention rate would be about 77%, or about 1.5 percentage points better than last year. Caboni said WKU had worked tirelessly on retention efforts. 

Caboni said WKU has seen improvements in retention the past couple of years and it’s been a leap this year so far.

“Part of that has been focusing on admitting students who are ready for a WKU experience, Caboni said. “Part of the growth is identifying students who want a four-year degree.” 

He credited the growth to several interventions such as ISEC Academy, centralized advising, a new scholarship program, and the Opportunity Fund -- all of which are designed to help students overcome challenges that they face in their first year.

“It looks like we made another year of terrific gains and even more gains in our underrepresented minority population,” Caboni said “We think this is positive and that this demonstrates the work that we have been doing that we hope in our retention for graduation.”

 

Gabrielle Bunton is a news/features reporter for the College Heights Herald. She previously covered Campus organizations get ready to meet students and COVID guidelines this fall.