North Central Self Study
Chapter 1: UNK and the University of Nebraska:
The First Years
Headcount enrollment at UNK has declined substantially since 1991 (and since the last Self-Study Report). Several factors account for this:
- University standards regarding course offerings and faculty credentials, especially at the graduate level, were different than KSC's. As UNK offerings were reduced to align with those standards, headcount declined immediately (16.6% in the first year).
- University admissions standards were raised in the Fall of 1997, resulting in another significant reduction in new students. Comparing entering freshman classes in 1991 and 2002, over 80% of the 221-student decline is attributable to the absence of students who do not meet present university admissions standards.
- Since 1991, UNK's off-campus headcount declined severely - from 918 in 1991 to 219 in 2001. Much of this decline was deliberate, as we purposefully reduced the number of courses taught by adjunct and part-time instructors. Distance technologies have recently reversed that trend, however, with 413 students enrolled off-campus during the fall, 2003. 87% are graduate students.
- UNK has a significant disadvantage, compared to other university campuses and private universities, in scholarship resources.
- The trend downward at UNK mirrored a statewide decline at public four-year institutions. The 1990's saw a general reduction in enrollment at university and state colleges, while enrollments increased at community colleges and private institutions.
UNK's 1995 strategic plan established an overall objective to stabilize enrollment. A new Dean of Continuing Education was hired to re-invigorate off-campus programs, and a new organization was created in Student Affairs (with new personnel) to lead undergraduate recruitment. In 2000-01 the campus redoubled efforts to recruit students, focusing particularly on new full-time freshmen and transfers. Planning featured (1) a broad operating partnership among marketers, admissions, and academic and other departments, and (2) a new scholarship strategy generating a variety of initiatives to make UNK a more attractive option for good students. General operational aims in each recruiting cycle were to increase the number of applications to UNK and to increase the enrolled yield from the applicant pool.
Since the new strategy has been deployed, results have been encouraging in several ways:
- The trend downward in freshmen applications has been halted at levels comfortably above 1991 numbers (2,303 in 1991 vs. 2,500-2,600 in recent years).
- The trend downward in freshman yield has been reversed, especially compared to the low point in Fall 2000 (43.7% vs. 50% in 2002). However, recent first-time freshman enrollments are still well below the 1991 level).
- The trend downward in transfer enrollment seems also to have been reversed, from a low-point in Fall 2000 (310 in 2000 vs. 350 in 2003).
- First-time graduate enrollments have varied from year to year, especially with the advent of cohort groups, but most recently were at levels above 1991 numbers, with 293 in Fall 2003.
Although off-campus enrollments continue well below 1991 levels, UNK is now on a much better enrollment trajectory with respect to on-campus students, as a result of concerted planning and operational coordination of marketing and recruitment efforts. Moreover, as the education "product" at UNK has improved over the last dozen years, the institution has become more advantageously positioned to attract new students.