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UNL, UNO report enrollment decreases; UNMC, UNK see increases
University of Nebraska

UNL, UNO report enrollment decreases; UNMC, UNK see increases

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Take a look at the 2021 fall enrollment numbers for Nebraska colleges and universities.

The University of Nebraska experienced a 2% decline in overall enrollment this fall as its two largest campuses — UNL and UNO — experienced declines.

Total enrollment across all four campuses, plus the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, is 50,653 this fall, with gains coming at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the Kearney campus.

With NU managing “a COVID-19 world,” officials pointed to a 7.2% dip in international student enrollment as part of the reason for the overall enrollment decline. Speaking with The World-Herald, NU President Ted Carter pointed to a decline in the number of international visas issued and other challenges related to the virus.

“Eventually, I think we’ll be able to get that corrected,” he said.

Despite the challenges in recruiting international students, NU was still able to achieve its most diverse student body ever this fall. More than one in five students identify as minority.

Nearly half of the university system’s enrollment is at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which reported that 24,431 students are enrolled. The University of Nebraska at Omaha reported that 15,328 students are enrolled. UNL experienced a 2.7% decline from last fall, while UNO experienced a 3.5% decline.

Although Carter acknowledged that the ongoing pandemic has contributed to the declines in student enrollment, he also suggested NU’s recent emphasis on graduating students in four years is a factor.

For example, UNL graduated a record 3,512 students last spring. The university increased its six-year graduation rate to a record 69.3%.

“We’re already seeing the impact of that push,” he said. “Now we’ve got to refocus on matching those same numbers on the incoming side.”

Carter believes NU already has some of the pieces in place. This academic year is the first of a two-year tuition freeze across all of its campuses.

Another piece is the continuation of the Nebraska Promise program, which covers tuition for in-state Nebraska students who maintain at least a 2.5 GPA and whose family income is $60,000 or less. Carter believes spreading awareness of those two initiatives will help drive more growth.

Even with declines in overall enrollment, both UNL and UNO emphasized gains in key areas.

In its press release, UNL touted a 4.7% increase in first-time freshmen who are the first in their families to go to college.

“I’m especially pleased that those first-year students — both those who identify as first-generation and those who come from communities across Nebraska — continue to see our university as a place where they can grow and thrive,” UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green said in a statement.

UNO pointed to a 40% enrollment increase in its Career Currency program compared to the fall of 2020. Under the program, employees from seven of Omaha’s largest companies partner with UNO to earn degrees without having to bear the upfront costs typically associated with a reimbursement program.

“These partnerships demonstrate the need for an institutional partner like UNO to help develop Nebraska’s workforce, and I take great pride in the fact that Omaha’s urban university is doing just that and moving the state forward,” UNO Chancellor Joanne Li said.

As UNL and UNO overall reported slight enrollment declines, UNMC and the University of Nebraska at Kearney enjoyed gains.

UNMC set an enrollment record for the 21st straight year with a 3.5% increase. UNMC’s total enrollment is 4,387 students, up by 148 students.

Carter said most UNMC students come from Nebraska, drawn by the school’s reputation “as a world-class academic institution.”

“We fill pretty much every seat that is available,” he said. “As we’re looking to expand certain programs, you can expect to see continued growth at UNMC.”

The New Nebraskan scholarship program significantly contributed to UNK’s first enrollment increase in nearly a decade as an influx of freshmen from other states drove up enrollment by 0.8% to a total of 6,275 students. By offering in-state tuition rates to out-of-state students via its New Nebraskan scholarship program, UNK experienced a 70% gain in freshmen from other states.

UNK also had an increase in international freshmen.

UNK freshmen from outside Nebraska make up 14.6% of this year’s freshman class.

“This is especially good news for UNK and for Kearney, particularly in light of the ongoing challenges with COVID-19 and economic uncertainties for some students and their families,” Kelly Bartling, vice chancellor for enrollment management and marketing, said in a statement.

Carter said UNK’s New Nebraskan program could be a blueprint for NU’s larger campuses to follow.

“We’ve got some more work to do. I’m optimistic that we did as well as we did (given) where we are. We just got to focus on student success now,” he said.

Creighton University in Omaha reported a total of 8,735 students enrolled — just 35 fewer than last fall — with the decline coming from the graduate ranks. Creighton set enrollment records in the number of undergraduate students at 4,366 and professional students at 2,675. Professional students include those studying law and health sciences.

The Nebraska State College System, which has campuses in Chadron, Peru and Wayne, saw a nearly 2% increase in its full-time equivalent enrollment to 6,316 students.

Wayne State’s 801-member freshman class helped drive the college’s total enrollment to 3,269, while Chadron State and Peru State, respectively, have enrollments of 1,741 and 1,306.

“This year’s enrollment reflects ongoing efforts of Chadron State, Peru State and Wayne State to be responsive to the needs of their students,” Chancellor Paul Turman said in a statement. “The state colleges listened to their students and continued to prioritize face-to-face instruction, affordability and accessibility.”

Bellevue University’s fall numbers aren’t yet finalized. The university has preliminarily recorded an enrollment of 12,004 students. That’s down from last fall’s official total of 12,863. A spokesperson noted that it’s the second straight year the university, where traditionally 90% of the students are enrolled online, has eclipsed 12,000 students.

Omaha’s Clarkson College reported a preliminary enrollment of 1,194. The college’s enrollment will be finalized on Sept. 14.

Concordia University in Seward reported a fall enrollment of 1,172 undergraduates — 20 less than one year ago — with 366 of those being new students. The private Lutheran university reported a graduate student enrollment of 447.


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