UAA continues efforts to increase enrollment, student success

Photo credit: Mariah Dejesus-Remaklus

The headcount for student enrollment in the fall close of 2016 after the add-drop period was 14,308 and so far, the enrollment for fall 2017 is at 12,148, according to Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Bruce Schultz.

Some specific colleges are seeing increases in registration despite the overall decline in enrollment for UAA. Schultz says that these numbers still fluctuate, especially during the period of registration, and the final number for fall enrollment should reach above 14,000.

“They’re adding classes and dropping classes, and so one week we have increases, the next week we have decreases… For example, [College of] Education. Education is up so we have more students who are registered in our College of Education,” Schultz said.

The University is also seeing increases in various other aspects, including the number of non-degree-seeking students, graduate students and even applications for admissions.

“We’re starting to see some nice trends there and I think also when we look at the applications for admissions, the number of applications that we’re seeing, there’s areme positive signs in that as well,” Schultz said.

Yet, there are still efforts being made to bolster student enrollment and increase student retention, which has also fallen from 68.38 percent in the fiscal year of 2013 to 66.15 percent in the fiscal year of 2016.

Lora Volden, Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Services, says that the University is recognizing the biggest factors that are affecting students’ decision in enrollment. Not only should the admissions process be smoother, but there is also an important connection between faculty and students.

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“One of the things that I heard when I first started at the university working with orientation was that faculty interaction,” Volden said. “And so I think that the student gets connected with their academic departments and sees what we have to offer… They get really excited about it and can start to see themselves there. I think that’s one of the key pieces that commits them to choosing UAA.”

New Student Orientation participates in many of the initiatives taken to help students navigate through the difficulties of admissions and other responsibilities. Whitney Penn is a New Student Transition Advisor and Orientation Coordinator who says that the University is strengthening their outreach efforts.

“There’s more of a focus on trying to bring those faculty and staff members in and have the colleges engage a little bit more where they’re actually meeting students and deciding, ‘Hey, engineering students always have questions about this. What can we do as a session to address this?’” Penn said.

Although the University is seeing an overall decline in registration efforts, Penn says that there has been an upsurge for orientation. This may be due to the fact that this year is the first time it has been free for students, which helps bring in more attendees, but it also poses negative effects.

“That makes it easier for us because it’s easier to get students to want to come, but it’s kind of a double-edged sword because now that they’re not paying for it, they don’t necessarily show up… If they decide they don’t want to come,” Penn said.

In spite of this setback, the NSO is still working with Student Affairs to implement strategies to target problem areas. Pat Shier, Interim Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services, also says that these strategies are part of “UAA 2020,” which is an initiative consisting of various goals to improve the University’s performance.

“We’re focused on: How do we move UAA closer to that goal? What are the guidelines we’re going to use to try and increase enrollment? And that gets to engagement, getting the message out, advertising more wisely and in a more targeted fashion, and removing barriers that students may experience,” Shier said.

Schultz says that the University is also looking into methods to ensure students are returning to complete their education, and that the retention rates are under the “UAA 2020” objectives.

“Our hope is by fall 2020 we’ll be at 75.5 percent of our first-year students will be retained,” Schultz said. “There is a committee that is in the process right now of hiring a vice provost for student success… so this is something new for UAA. But that position is going to help faculty and staff really focus intently on student success and making sure that we can improve the retention and, more importantly, improve the completion rate for our students.”

The enrollment of students coupled with the completion of education is extremely important to the University as well as the state, Volden says.

“Retention is absolutely huge and that is something that we definitely want to be focusing on because we want our students to be successful and we want them to graduate,” Volden said. “You know, by 2025 we want 65 percent of Alaskans to have some sort of credential because that’s a need for our state.”

The official numbers for student enrollment and registration are still coming in and changing, according to Schultz. In light of the overall decline throughout the past years, the University will still continue pushing the efforts for a more successful outreach and fulfillment of performance-related goals.