UW enrollment

A Wyoming cheerleader rises above the crowd during the Cowboys’ Nov. 5 game. The university boosted its freshman enrollment by nearly 10 percent in the fall of 2017.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune

The University of Wyoming’s freshman enrollment grew by 145 students compared to last fall, when the state’s only public, four-year institution experienced a nearly 200-student drop.

The university’s 15-day numbers showed 1,696 freshman enrolled for fall 2017, a boost of 9.3 percent compared to last year. Transfer students also saw a 12.3 percent increase, from 967 to 1,086. Seven hundred and seventy one of those transfer students are from Wyoming.

The freshman enrollment is short one single student from tying the university’s record for largest incoming class, said Assistant Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Kyle Moore. Officials had predicted this class would break the record.

Still, the 9.3 percent increase year of year is significant for a school that saw several years of stagnant growth, bottoming out last fall with a drop of nearly 200 freshman compared to fall 2015.

When President Laurie Nichols arrived on campus in spring 2016, she learned the school faced a 600-student drop heading into the fall semester.

“I about had a stroke,” she told the Star-Tribune in July.

Eventually, officials were able to trim the loss down to less than 200.

Moore said this year’s growth will continue into the future.

“I think this is just beginning of students understanding and recognizing how the University of Wyoming is a great partner for long-term student success and students are going to respond in the semesters to come,” Moore said.

Boosting enrollment

There are a total of 12,397 students at UW as of fall 2017, a total increase of 31 students. The university graduated its largest-ever senior class over the past year, according to a press release.

The boost can be at least partially attributed to two overlapping moves the university has made in recent months: The board of trustees passed a strategic plan in July that placed a heavy emphasis on boosting enrollment. The university also hired a Chicago firm to help officials build a five-year enrollment plan and identify short-, middle- and long-term objectives.

That plan calls for strengthening ties with community colleges and increasing financial aid communications.

Moore said both of those played a role. He also said faculty reaching out were a significant part of the increases.

As Nichols discovered the severity of the university’s enrollment situation in spring 2016, UW was told that its budget would be cut by $41 million — part of statewide reductions in the midst of an economic downturn.

Nichols blamed the enrollment decrease on a lack of a strategic plan at UW. It had been years since such a blueprint was drawn up, she said, and that essentially left the school rudderless.

Moore, whose position was created under the strategic plan, agreed.

“If you don’t have that kind of guiding documentation or that guiding vision, you’re certainly liable to not be unified in your progression toward that achievement,” he said. Not having a strategic plan “absolutely has a huge impact on where we go.”

That’s since been rectified: The university’s board of trustees approved a five-year plan in July that placed a heavy emphasis on boosting UW’s overall enrollment. By 2022, officials hope to have 13,500 students enrolled.

It appears the university is off to a good start: Moore said the school wants to increase freshman enrollment by 2 percent annually and transfers by 5 percent. Both of those figures were easily met heading into this fall, though whether those rates can continue or are the result of a full-court press by the university is unclear.

Moore said he couldn’t predict growth in coming years but was confident students would flock to the university.

The strategic plan also calls for freshman-to-sophomore retention to grow from 76 percent to 80 percent by 2022. From 2016 to 2017, 78 percent of underclassmen stayed at UW, a record.

The school’s average ACT score also saw a small increase, from 24.4 to 24.7. Students typically need a 21 to be admitted to UW.

Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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