JONESBORO – Significant progress on first-time and transfer students, and improved retention results are the highlights of the Fall 2018 11th-day enrollment at Arkansas State University.
A-State announced an overall enrollment head count of 14,058, which includes all students at the Jonesboro campus as well as the students enrolled at Campus Queretaro, marking the third consecutive year with enrollment over 14,000.
Last fall’s smaller-than-expected freshman class and weak first-year retention numbers prompted officials to reinvigorate recruiting and retention efforts. The results include Arkansas State welcoming a much larger class of first-year students, and establishing a new all-time retention record for second-year students.
“I’m very happy with the progress we have made in two vital areas for our university – retention and first-time students,” Chancellor Kelly Damphousse said. “It takes a lot of work to increase your freshman class as much as we did in one year. To have close to 1,600 new Red Wolves this fall is a positive step in the right direction. I am even more excited, though, that our team’s effort to enhance the first-year experience at A-State has resulted in a record retention rate this fall.”
Arkansas State reported 1,565 first-time first-year students, up 9.7 percent from 1,426 in 2017. Included in this year’s freshman numbers are 50 international students, a 51 percent increase over last year (33 up to 50). One of A-State’s recruiting priorities is improving minority recruitment efforts, which also showed promising results. The number of African American students in the first-year class increased 23 percent over last year (from 131 to 161) and Hispanics were up 48 percent (from 48 to 71).
Earlier in August, Damphousse predicted that this year’s freshman retention rate would increase significantly, and it proved to be a record with 76.6 percent of the fall 2017 first-year cohort returning for their second year of college. The retention rate edged past the previous record of 76.1 percent from the fall of 2014, and was a distinct improvement over last year’s 72.8 percent.
“The credit goes to our faculty and staff who took a hard look at our processes and procedures that were impacting the ability of our students to return, and programs to assist students in staying at A-State and complete their degrees,” Damphousse said. “It is the combined effort of the entire campus that is making Every Red Wolf Count. Our ultimate first-year retention goal is 85%, so we still have a lot of work to do, but we are now in record territory, and we are excited about continuing to move forward.”
The incoming Class of 2022 earned the distinction of tying the highest average composite ACT score at 24.0 and the mark for the highest high school composite grade point average at 3.56.
“The grades and test scores tell us these are some of the most academically prepared students to attend A-State, and now it is our job to set the expectation with them that they will finish their degrees at Arkansas State,” Damphousse said. “These Red Wolves are now in our care, and now our gifted faculty and staff members begin the work of making the academic dreams of our students a reality.”
Arkansas State also saw huge gains in other groups, significantly its transfer population, increasing from 662 last year to 802 this year.
“We have worked closely with community colleges across the state to make certain that their students know that there is a place for them at A-State,” Damphousse said. “We have signed almost 350 articulations with these colleges, creating a pathway to Jonesboro and to a four-year college degree. The fruits of our team’s efforts are evident when you see a 21.1 percent increase like we had this year.”
Despite these positive numbers, the overall number students at A-State declined from last year’s 11th day count of 14,144 for a number of reasons.
“One factor in having fewer undergraduates than last year is that we have had record after record graduation classes,” Damphousse said. “In 2017-18, for example, Arkansas State conferred 4,746 degrees, breaking the one-year old record of 4,435 in 2016-17. Also keep in mind that we had a small freshman class in fall 2017 and retained less than three-quarters of our Fall 2016 class. Those small numbers will linger in our data for a couple more years as those cohorts move toward graduation.
“Finally, we are just a part of the national trend of fewer students coming to the United States from other countries. While our strong summer ESL program helped us grow the freshmen international enrollment, fewer students are coming to the USA for college degrees than in years past. The good news is that we are starting to fill that gap with more incoming students and retaining the ones we already have at a higher level.”
The university’s online enrollment grew slightly less than previous years, also in part due to the large graduating classes over the past two years. The public-private partnership campus in Mexico welcomed its second incoming class, with 349 students enrolled.