Based on official data, enrollment at the University of Minnesota Crookston for fall semester 2013 has, again, surpassed previous record levels. Official, confirmed data reports place enrollment at 1,813 degree-seeking undergraduates–the highest enrollment in the history of the campus. That number exceeds fall 2012’s all-time record of 1,802 and continues a seven-year growth trend.
The official enrollment number includes all full- and part-time degree-seeking undergraduate students–those attending courses on campus as well as those pursuing their degrees entirely online. Over the past several years, a major contributing factor to UMC’s enrollment growth has been the increase in “online only” students, a designation which means all of their courses are taken online. The U of M Crookston currently offers eleven of its twenty-eight degree programs entirely online as well as on-campus. This year more than 800 students are considered online only students, up from about 700 last fall.
This fall the number of students attending classes “on site” on the Crookston campus has dipped to just under 1,000, down roughly 100 students from last year’s all-time high. Fred Wood, chancellor for the U of M Crookston, views this as a natural fluctuation involving variables such as UMC’s large graduating class of 2013, a slight dip in the number of international students, the improving economy, and overall declining trends in the number of recent high school graduates in the Upper Midwest. He says, “Our on-campus enrollment is still healthy, if somewhat down, and we have plans to grow that number.”
“We are committed to offering an excellent on-campus experience for residential and commuter students,” Wood states. “Our traditional college students, who are typically 18 to 22 years old, along with many of our older students want to interact face-to-face with faculty, staff, and other students. That said, we also have an important obligation to serve a growing segment of students, the vast majority of whom are in their 30s and 40s and choose to pursue their studies online due to career, family, or living situation. I see this obligation as an extension of our long-held commitment to access that truly supports our mission as a modern, land-grant university. As technology changes, we will likely continue to see increased interest in our online programs, and we’re very pleased to be able to offer a top quality online education to meet those needs.”
Barbara Keinath, vice chancellor for academic affairs adds, “By offering some of our programs online, UMC makes it possible for online students to earn a valuable University of Minnesota degree, continue to work, and manage their family obligations.”
Chancellor Wood says the campus has plans to grow enrollment strategically, both online and on-campus. A recent planning retreat of campus leaders resulted in three major priorities: 1) growing both on-campus and online enrollment; 2) retaining and graduating more students, with a strong focus on enhancing student advising and support; and 3) examining the breadth of academic majors and program offerings. According to Keinath, new program options will be assessed according to how well they help achieve the UMC mission, address student interest, complement and build on strengths of the faculty and staff, and meet employment needs. She adds, “Any new programs, like our current programs, will have to demonstrate that they are worthy of carrying the University of Minnesota name.”
“Our aspirations for growth are a continuation of our evolution,” says Wood. “As we evolve, we must strive for quality and excellence in everything we do. We also must keep an eye on costs for our students and their families and focus on assessment as, increasingly, the public wants real value returned on their educational investments. Finally, placement–in jobs or graduate and professional school–must also remain a priority.”
“The University of Minnesota Crookston has shown an amazing resilience and the ability to change,” he concludes. “We have evolved to stay current and to find our place in the marketplace. Just as this has been so critical in the past, it will continue to be so in the future. We need to maintain our experimental spirit with technology as well as our innovative approach to our academic programs.”