Rising Above Challenges
Western Colorado University is celebrating some enrollment gains this fall, with new student enrollment climbing 14% from last year. The student enrollment is comprised of first-time freshmen, transfer students and readmits. The news is welcome following a tumultuous year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the retention rate for first-time students is on the rise.
This fall, 467 degree-seeking first time students are enrolled at Western compared to 419 in 2020, and 454 in 2019 pre-pandemic. Overall, enrollment is up just over 3% year-over-year.
“We feel great about our incoming class,” said Interim President Nancy Chisholm. “It’s a really strong number and we’ve been looking at it closely. Certainly, there are hits to higher ed that are COVID specific, so we’ve been really focused on that. I’m just thrilled with the enrollment numbers we’re seeing this year.”
The 2021 Student Population
The new student population consists of 64% in-state students, with 36% from out of state; 45% identify as female, and 55% male.
Perhaps even more impressive are the numbers of first-generation students and underrepresented minorities. First-generation students make up 30% of the new student group with underrepresented minorities at 25%.
“The entire team has stepped up and adopted a creative approach in the recruitment and retention of this year’s class,” said Abel Chávez, Ph.D., Vice President of Enrollment and Student Success. “Part of that creativity has yielded scholarships to favorably support affordability for our students, including first-generation students. We have also experimented with new efforts in student outreach, marketing and engagement that speak directly to our students, and we’ve done so using English and Spanish language material.”
The EPIC Mentorship Program
The key to growing enrollment is the retention of these first-time students. While they are excited about meeting new people, making friends and enjoying the mountains, they also have their concerns. A recent survey showed that the amount of work, classes, being away from home and family and adjusting to college life weighs on them.
That’s one reason why Western implemented the EPIC mentorship program. Since it was created in 2019, the retention rate of first-time students has grown from 67% to 74% recorded in 2020, even during the pandemic.
Getting Support in Your First Year at Western
“The pandemic has taught us many things about our students and the ways Western provides support during their first year on campus,” said Paul Giberson, Director of Student Retention and Completion. “Although we have to be cautious with our latest retention data, we can celebrate the fact that we have learned a lot from the pandemic which will benefit the university into the future.”
Find out more about the EPIC mentorship program.
Author Credit: Chris Rourke
Photo Credit: Chris Rourke