by Max Brantley
Enrollment figures at the University of Arkansas show that the flagship campus has a total of 26,754 students for the fall semester, according to a preliminary enrollment snapshot taken Sept. 8.
The total is nearly a 2 percent increase from the fall 2014 enrollment, a rate of growth that university administrators believe is sustainable. The enrollment growth continues to show improvement in both academic quality and diversity of the student body.
All institutions of higher education in Arkansas report their “eleventh day” enrollment figures to the Department of Higher Education based on a capture of data from the eleventh day of the semester.
“We’ve come a long way since I was in this seat before,” interim Chancellor Daniel E. Ferritor said. “The student body has grown not only in size, but in quality, following a long-term plan put in place to increase the size, quality and academic reputation of the university.
“But it’s not just enough to get them here. We need to support our students so they have the best educational experience we can give them,” Ferritor said. “And we will continue to focus on improving retention and graduation rates to continue to increase the number of Arkansans holding degrees.”
This fall’s freshman class of 4,916 students is among the largest seen at the U of A, too, according to the preliminary numbers, with 345 students more than the 2014 freshman class.
Preliminary breakdowns – quality and quantity
Undergraduate and graduate student enrollments are both up this year, according to the preliminary numbers, captured Sept. 8. Suzanne McCray, dean of admissions and vice provost for enrollment management reported that there are a record 22,158 undergraduate students enrolled on campus, a 1.5 percent increase over last year.
“Since 2009, the percentage of freshmen with a GPA of 3.75 or higher has risen by 69 percent. Those scoring a 30 or higher on the ACT is up by 41 percent,” McCray said. Overall, the academic quality shows 41 percent of the freshman class has a GPA of 3.75 or higher and 17 percent scored at least a 30 on the ACT.
“We are as excited by the quality of our students as we are by the numbers,” McCray said.
McCray explained that the university’s determination to enroll students who are prepared to succeed academically is a major factor in improving retention and graduation rates.
The University of Arkansas Honors College has selected 90 students to receive Honors College, Bodenhamer and Sturgis Fellowships. Some 79 percent of Honors College Fellows are from Arkansas, effectively keeping some of Arkansas’ most academically talented students in the state of Arkansas.
“This 14th class of fellows was chosen from more than 670 applicants and includes 26 National Merit Scholars,” said Lynda Coon, dean of the Honors College. “This is another great cohort of students who are helping to improve the overall academic quality of the freshman class. The U of A is an attractive and competitive destination for high-caliber students.”
Students must score at least 32 on the ACT exam and have a 3.8 grade point average to apply to be an Honors Fellow. This class boasts an average ACT score over 33, placing them in the 99th percentile nationwide, and a high school GPA of 4.16.
Graduate student enrollment has also grown to 4,596 students, adding 195 students over last year, the largest one-year increase in several years. Improved recruiting and efforts to work with the other colleges and graduate faculty to attract high-quality graduate students and international students are key to the growth.
“We want to continue to attract high quality graduate students not only to grow our graduate enrollment, but also to support our institutional vision of assisting the university in excelling at research, teaching and service while fostering student and scholar success,” said Kim Needy, dean of the Graduate School and International Education.
The campus is more diverse and becoming more reflective of the state’s ethnic diversity with 5,006 students of African American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Hawaiian descent and those who indicate two or more races. When international students are included, the diversity number reaches 6,551, which is a little less than 25 percent of the overall student body.
The current enrollment figures are still preliminary. The enrollment data will be analyzed and reviewed for accuracy before a preliminary report is submitted to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, with the final numbers from that 11th day snapshot officially filed by mid-October.
Rankings, Retention and Graduation
The university has worked hard not only to increase enrollment but to provide the growing number of students with the resources they expect.
The University of Arkansas moved up seven places in the ranking of national public universities and six places among all national universities to remain a top-tier national university in the 2016 edition of “Best Colleges” published by U.S. News and World Report, attaining a ranking of 62nd best national public university.
This year the U of A improved in its class size rating – with more small classes and fewer large classes – while the graduation rate also improved from 60 percent to 62 percent. The university’s retention rate of 83 percent also contributed to the overall score.