By Paul A. Anthony, Editor in Chief
Despite lingering reluctance to travel, a poor economy and budget cuts, the university’s enrollment held steady this year, dropping only two students from last year at this time.
After 12 days of school, the university’s official fall enrollment is 4,675. Although the headcount is just two fewer than last fall’s 4,677, students enrolled in about 200 fewer credit hours than budgeted, a cost to the university of about $75,000, said Jack Rich, executive vice president.
“We’d rather be 200 up than 200 down, obviously,” Rich said. “But I’m not too worried about that today. I may be six months from now, if we’re down 200 in the spring and in Maymester.”
The 12th-day figures, which represent the official semester enrollment, were announced at the sixth annual “Enrollment Celebration,” which is conducted by Rich and his office for the university administration and staff.
Rich said the graduate program made large gains for the second straight year, up 57 students to 539 total, while entering freshmen overflowed their residence halls for the first time in two years.
Rich also credited the athletics program’s new junior varsity program for attracting students to the school.
“I’m pleased with the graduate and athletics programs,” Rich told the Optimist after the luncheon. “I’m pleased and proud of what they did.”
The number of out-of-state freshmen jumped 28 percent over last year, and the number of minority students also grew, said Robert Heil, director of admissions.
“We are extremely pleased with our continued increase in the cultural diversity of our entering class,” Heil said in an e-mail. ” With our economy still in a difficult period, we are pleased with the overall enrollment results.”
The university has yet to reach its record high enrollment of Fall 2000, when 4,761 students were enrolled. President Royce Money has singled out enrollment as an area in which the university has struggled in achieving its centennial goals, which foresee 4,800-5,200 students attending ACU by 2005-06.
Enrollment has been held down partly by a poor economy and a general reluctance to travel in the wake of the Sept.11, 2001, terrorist attacks. International student enrollment, particularly, has been affected by terrorism fears.
The stagnant enrollment combined with a plunging stock market and rising utility and insurance costs to create the university’s current financial difficulties.
Heil said the university is recruiting more aggressively through its alumni in order to increase enrollment.
He added that the number of sophomores this semester is down, mostly offsetting gains in the freshman class.
Money said he was pleased with this semester’s enrollment.
“This is a good, solid number,” he said. “We’re up in freshmen, and that shows good promise in the years ahead.”
The enrollment luncheon featured a reality show theme, with contestants competing for a map of Rhode Island, the only state not represented at the university. Afterward, Money praised the recruiting team.
“They work well together,” he said. “They’re top professionals. Their job is 12 months out of the year, and they are tireless workers. I can’t say enough about them.”
Specific data broken down by academic programs were unavailable at press time.