BOONE—The beginning of fall semester is weeks away, but Appalachian State University officials have a good idea of how many students will be enrolled by the start of classes Aug. 19.
Despite a decline in enrollment in the university’s off-campus master’s degree programs, officials expect overall enrollment to hold steady around 17,800 students, thanks to student retention and a slight increase in on-campus enrollment. The total enrollment includes students enrolled in campus-based and off-campus degree programs.
“That’s our best guess with what we are seeing with orientation and early registration,” according to Dr. Bobby Sharp, director of the Office of Institutional Assessment, Research and Planning. “Increases in enrollment on the main campus will offset distance education decreases.”
Sharp and others believe the university’s high student retention numbers and an increase in transfer students will help stabilize enrollment. Appalachian’s freshman-to-sophomore retention rate for fall 2012 first-time freshman cohort was 87 percent, which at the time was the third-highest rate in the UNC system and above the national average.
The university has received more than 15,000 complete and partial applications for the 2014 freshman class, the largest number of total applications in the university’s history, according to a report presented to Appalachian’s Board of Trustees June 27.
Sharp told trustees that 8,460 students had been offered admission to Appalachian, and of that number the university expects to enroll 3,050 freshmen. “We can effectively open the gates into campus only so wide and the freshmen and transfer populations can only be expanded so much before we have infrastructure and service problems,” he said.
The projected academic profile of the 2014 freshman class shows a 4.0 high school GPA, an average SAT score of 1,157 and a 26 ACT score. The university anticipates a 20 percent increase in out-of-state freshmen and an increase in “high-achieving” students – those with a predicted first-year 3.0 grade point average or greater. A total of 110 merit-based scholarships have been awarded to incoming freshmen, an increase of 45 from last year.
“Beyond presenting outstanding academic credentials, our new students have been leaders in their high schools and communities, participated in community service, and demonstrate an eagerness to be engaged as Appalachian students,” said Susan Davies, associate vice chancellor for enrollment services.
Transfer applications have increased as well, Sharp reported. More than 2,700 transfer students have applied for admission, which also is the largest number of applications in the school’s history. Sixty-one percent of the applications are from students transferring from two-year institutions and 39 percent are from those currently attending another four-year institution.
Appalachian expects to enroll about 1,145 new transfer students this fall.
At Appalachian, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Reich College of Education have each experienced about a 20 percent decline in graduate enrollment. The decline, which has been felt across the UNC System, has been a trend for the past several years, dating back to the Great Recession. Also contributing to the drop in graduate enrollment is a 2013 legislative decision to no longer financially reward teachers who earn a master’s degree in their field.
As for future trends, Sharp said all universities could experience declining enrollment in the coming years as projections show little if any grown in the state’s high school population and of that number fewer will choose to pursue a college degree.