UW-River Falls Predicting More Growth
January 19, 1999
Editor's Note: There is a photo available to accompany this story that shows the reams of appliactions received for the fall semester.
UW-River Falls began classes on Tuesday with one of its strongest spring enrollments, with some 5,162 students.
That's 36 more students than last spring, and the numbers are likely to continue climbing. Prospective students have until next Monday to complete their enrollment process. The process was eased for that possibility this semester as all students registered for classes via the Internet for the first time in the University's history. That could mean surpassing the all-time spring enrollment record of 5,257 students set in 1992.
If that happens, it would follow a record institutional enrollment set last fall, and it has University administrators predicting next fall's student body will be the largest in the institution's 125-year history.
"We are a university on the move," said Chancellor Gary A. Thibodeau.
A combination of strong academic reputation, higher quality students and dynamic regional growth have led administrators to project that the student population next fall could be as high as 5,800 students. That would top by nearly 200 this past fall's previous record of 5,617 students.
Several factors contributing to the projected record also has led the University to reduce the size of next fall's incoming freshmen class. Admissions Director Alan Tuchtenhagen said UW-RF will enroll some 1,100 freshmen, down from this year's record of 1,210.
Also, based on application submissions, enrollment could be closed by the end of the current school year. According to Tuchtenhagen, as of Jan. 1, applications were running almost 20 percent ahead of last year's record. That has created a processing backlog that's resulted in taking up to a week extra-some 3 to 4 four weeks-to process an application.
So far 2,100 high school seniors have applied for the fall semester, nearly 300 more applicants than this time last year. Based on past experience, about 55 percent of those who apply and are admitted actually will show up on the first day of school. Transfer applications also are up 28 percent over last year, with over 225 advanced students seeking admission.
That percentage of increase in applications is being matched only by UW-Madison and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus in the two-state area, Tuchtenhagen said.
Vice Chancellor Virgil Nylander said the potential for crowding is an important consideration in reducing next year's freshmen class size. He noted there will be fewer seats in part because this spring's graduating seniors comprised one of the smallest classes when they enrolled, thus providing for fewer available seats when they commence.
Another key consideration is that the University's higher admissions standards have resulted in better prepared students who are more motivated to continue on through graduation. Nearly 90 percent of this year's freshmen were in the top half of their class. The retention rate for freshmen to sophomores-a critical decision-making year for students to determine if they will continue with their education-has seen a 10 percent increase over the past two years.
"We are becoming the college of first choice for more students," Nylander explained.
Chancellor Thibodeau noted that credit for UW-RF's students' success at the institution also must be shared with the school districts that send it students from western Wisconsin and the Twin Cities eastern metropolitan area.
"What I'm pleased about is that our University's success is dependent on the local districts also being successful. We think we've worked well with our high school colleagues to ensure their graduates have an appreciation for our admissions standards. Those high school students are coming to us better and better prepared for college."
Thibodeau said the University has taken substantial steps to ensure UW-RF can accommodate the record numbers. "We have been increasing our productivity and efficiencies to educate more students. We've incorporated technology, new pedagogical (teaching) techniques and highly effective management to the educational process."
But Thibodeau cautioned that the University must continue to receive adequate state funding from Wisconsin's executive and legislative branches during the current legislative session if it is to keep pace with demands for enrollment.
"Education is a driver to an informed, productive citizenry," Thibodeau said. "Adequate funding for higher education is critical to the state. We are credible to receive that funding through our past performance."
Over the past decade, the portion of state tax dollars allocated to public higher education has been dropping in proportion to all state funding as more money has gone to property tax relief, corrections and other considerations.
If that trend continues it could present funding difficulties as the University seeks to increase its enrollment to 6,000 students, Thibodeau said.
"We are a growth-oriented institution in a growth-oriented region. It's an exciting environment to operate in. We are focused on our mission and it is responsive to our service area's needs."
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