UND Census Day enrollment sees increases in overall new students, led by gains at graduate level, law and transfers

UND Census Day enrollment sees increases in overall new students, led by gains at graduate level, law and transfers

University designates 2019-2020 as ‘Year of Retention’ by ensuring students have the tools to progress toward timely completion

Significant growth in the number of new graduate students at UND has helped boost the number of new students overall, reaffirming the University’s success at attracting the best and brightest.

As of Monday (Sept. 23), the University’s official Census Day, the total new student headcount stands at 3,475. That’s up 64 students or 1.9 percent over last year’s figure, and includes a striking increase of 198 new graduate students – up nearly 37 percent over 2018 – and a first-year class at the UND School of Law that’s up 33 percent over last year’s.

The University is concentrating on attracting more doctoral students to energize and bolster its research capabilities, an important tenet of the One UND Strategic Plan. The growth in the total graduate headcount shows the success of this effort: It stood at 2,909 on Census Day 2019, up 124 students or 4.5 percent over the Census Day 2018 figure.

As for the University’s overall headcount, it came in at 13,581 on Census Day, an increase of 209 students from the First Day Enrollment figures from late August. The Census Day 2019 figure represents a 1.9 percent or 266-student decline from the headcount figure from a year ago due in large measure to more students completing their studies and graduating. UND officials planned for that decrease and the associated reduction in tuition revenue, and it’s on par with what the University had budgeted for, administrators said. That will let the University move forward without interruption with the plans that have been laid out for this year in the One UND Strategic Plan.

Aviation surge

UND’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, which includes the Department of Aviation, has been seeing marked growth, as students flock to UND to fill a nationwide shortage of pilots. According to Census Day reports, total aviation majors at UND have increased 5.2 percent since the same time last fall, and commercial aviation majors have grown by 8.2 percent in the same time frame.

UND Aerospace’s growth has been aided by a number of attractive career pathways programs with major airlines. The agreements provide waiting jobs for student-pilots and a pipeline of well-trained employees for the airlines.

“Another exciting trend we are seeing is our percentage of female commercial aviation majors is starting to increase,” said Elizabeth Bjerke, associate dean and professor of aviation at UND. “This year, we are at 12.4 percent, which is the highest I have ever seen and more than twice the national rate that sits around 5 percent.”

Year of Retention

In recent years, UND has devoted great effort to improving graduation rates, another key goal of the One UND Strategic Plan – which includes key initiatives that strengthen the University’s service to the state. That focus on graduation rates has paid off. Starting with the class that entered UND in 2011 and tracking the numbers through the class that entered in 2014, UND’s four-year graduation rate increased by 38 percent.

Now, the University has launched a plan to increase retention, which – along with boosting graduation rates – is called for in Goal No. 2 of the One UND Strategic Plan.

Designating the 2019-20 academic year the Year of Retention, UND Provost and Vice President for ‘Academic Affairs Tom DiLorenzo said the University will focus on that issue as intensely as it has on improving graduation rates. And the process in both cases is the same: researching best practices, studying our own students’ decisions and plans, and implementing solutions campus wide.

The efforts connected with the Year of Retention already have begun, DiLorenzo said.

“For example, we are implementing a Degree Planner that provides students with up-to-date information on their progress to completing their degrees and the path forward,” said DiLorenzo.

He added, “It shows them what courses they need to complete their major. Importantly, it also lets them compare their major to others on campus; so if they’re thinking about changing majors, the Degree Planner shows them exactly which courses they’d need in that case, too.”

Universities that implement such a tool show on average a 3- to 5-percent increase in retention, DiLorenzo said. In other words, it has been proven to show results, and that’s why UND is adopting it campus wide.

Transfer student success

Helping transfer students transition smoothly to UND is another key component of the Year of Retention. To that end, “we’re using our team of Core Advisors, campus-wide Professional Advisors, and the Registrar’s Office to make the process of accepting transfer credits faster than ever before,” DiLorenzo said.

In years past, it sometimes took months to fully evaluate a transfer student’s transcript. “In contrast, the process today typically takes one to three days,” DiLorenzo said.

These efforts and others, inspired by the One UND Strategic Plan, already have made this year’s fall enrollment process the smoothest that DiLorenzo can remember in his career. “We’re not trying to make things easier academically” he said.

“We’re trying to make the process easier bureaucratically. I’m seeing this kind of innovative and strategic thinking here at UND more than I ever have in my 7 years here, and it’s all directed at first attracting students who can be successful, and then helping them be the best that they can be.”

Prepared and diverse

UND’s retention goals also are being helped by the increasing preparedness of its recent incoming classes. That’s because the more academically-prepared a student is the more likely they are to stay in school and graduate on time. This fall’s incoming freshman class of 1,672 is making history with UND’s highest-ever collective high school GPA of 3.51. Since the launch of the One UND Strategic Plan, the collective GPA of UND’s freshman classes have consistently made steady year-to-year increases.

The UND Honors Program also has been an excellent partner in helping recruit academically qualified students to UND. The Honors Program combines advanced coursework with opportunities to get involved beyond the classroom. Enrollment in UND Honor’s Program has increased 48 percent over the past two years, and retention rates have climbed from about 30 percent to over 90 percent.

UND’s 2019 incoming freshmen class also has been determined to be among the most diverse in school history, with a 10-percent increase in students who report an ethnicity other than white/Caucasian over last fall’s incoming record-setting freshmen class.

“I’m very excited to see our One UND Strategic Plan’s commitment to fostering a welcoming, safe and inclusive climate reflected in the increased diversity of our incoming freshman class,” said Cara Halgren, vice president for student affairs & diversity, when the numbers were released in August. “Our increased diversity provides opportunities for all of us to learn about how we are unique from each other as well as how we are connected by common goals and aspirations.”


David L. Dodds
Director of Communications
UND Today
Division of Marketing & Communications
University of North Dakota
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