UW Sees Lower Decrease in Enrollment Than Expected During COVID-19

UW Sees Lower Decrease in Enrollment Than Expected During COVID-19

PRESS RELEASE – The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a significant decrease in enrollment of out-of-state freshmen at the University of Wyoming this fall, but an increase in graduate/professional students and relatively strong numbers of in-state students have kept UW’s overall enrollment decline to a small percentage.

According to census data collected on the 18th day of classes, 11,829 undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled at the university, compared to 12,249 last fall. That’s a decrease of 420 students, or 3.4 percent. But it’s a much smaller drop than had been anticipated earlier in the summer as the pandemic impacted students and their families.

In addition to intensive efforts to retain and recruit students amid the pandemic, the university’s enrollment received a boost from two financial aid programs created by a commitment of federal CARES Act funding by Gov. Mark Gordon for the fall semester. The first provides grants of up to $3,250 to all full-time students for expenses such as housing and food; the second makes available $2,500 for nontraditional students between the ages of 25-64 to pay for tuition and fees.

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“We appreciate the governor’s use of CARES Act funding to help so many of our students continue or start their educations,” says Kyle Moore, UW’s associate vice provost for enrollment management. “These programs have made a significant difference in the lives of our students and, as a result, the university’s fall 2020 enrollment.”

The decline in first-time students from outside Wyoming is the biggest factor in the overall drop, as the 609 nonresident freshmen this fall are down 32.5 percent from last year’s 902. But even amid the pandemic and a continuing decline in the number of Wyoming high school graduates, enrollment of resident students remains strong, with 815 first-time freshmen and 712 transfer students from the state enrolling this fall — compared to 858 in-state freshmen and 749 transfers last fall.

“Across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many students to stay closer to home to start their college experience, whether it’s because of concerns about exposure to the virus or financial constraints,” Moore says. “We definitely see that impact in our enrollment this fall, but we also see good numbers of students from across Wyoming choosing their state’s university, even with all of the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. We are working hard to provide a safe, high-quality on-campus experience for our students this semester.”

The 15th class day normally is used as the official census date because it falls after the class drop/add deadline, and after the first tuition and fee payment is due. But Friday, Sept. 18, was designated as the census date for this fall because UW extended the deadline to withdraw from classes with a full refund through Sept. 15 — a day after a two-week pause to the phased fall return plan was lifted.

The most encouraging data this fall is the increase in graduate and professional students, with 2,487 enrolled — up from 2,442 last fall. The international economic downturn likely played a role by driving more people to consider graduate education instead of entering the depleted job market, but UW has intensified its graduate recruitment initiative as well.

Overall enrollment of sophomores also is up over last year, rising from 1,793 to 1,856.

While the number of first-time students from out of state showed the biggest drop, nonresident transfer students held relatively steady, going from 233 last year to 223 this fall. That helped sustain the overall transfer number, with 935 transfers this fall compared to 982 last year.

After enrolling the two largest freshman classes in UW’s history the previous two years, Moore says the university is working hard to make this fall’s pandemic-driven decline in first-time students a temporary challenge.

“We have stepped up our efforts to recruit Wyoming students, and the university is working with our K-12 and community college partners to create more of a college-going culture in the state,” Moore says. “While college might not be for everyone, the statistics are clear that earning a bachelor’s degree leads to significantly higher earnings and job satisfaction. And the future prosperity of our state depends, in large measure, on a higher level of educational attainment.”

The CARES Act funding for the fall semester is on top of a significant increase in merit- and need-based aid to Wyoming students by the university. Called the Cowboy Commitment, the new financial aid package includes award commitments of $6,500, $3,500, $1,500 and $500 for new Wyoming high school graduates based upon their academic performance, in addition to Hathaway Scholarship Program awards. There’s also a new $4,000 award for Wyoming community college transfers with associate degrees, 75 or fewer academic credits and grade-point averages of at least 3.0. Additionally, trustees have allocated $1 million for need-based aid for in-state students. For more details, go to www.uwyo.edu/cowboycommitment.