As future freshmen get acquainted with the University of Wyoming during orientation this month, the institution’s administration is also preparing for the fall semester — and the challenges brought on by admitting the largest freshman class in UW history just months after a $10 million permanent reduction plan takes effect.
UW administrators anticipate record enrollment numbers for fall 2017, an estimation reflected by the number of incoming freshmen taking part in orientation events throughout the summer and backed up by the number of confirmation deposits.
The Office of Academic Affairs estimates UW will welcome up to 1,750 incoming freshmen in the fall, representing a 13 percent increase from 2016 and the largest freshman class in UW’s history, according to a presentation to the Board of Trustees during its May meeting.
According to the same presentation, 1,050 transfer students are expected to join UW in the fall, representing a 10 percent increase from 2016.
“Our freshman class will be the largest freshman class that we have ever brought in,” said Mary Aguayo, interim vice president for enrollment management.
Aguayo said attendance projections for orientation — happening this month — are similarly high. With nine sessions spread throughout the month of June and an average of 180 future students expected to attend each, there might be more students at orientation in the summer than there were freshmen enrolled at UW in fall 2016.
“But we don’t yet know now what the final numbers will be because we’ve got those sessions for the end of the month still up and, every day, more students are signing up,” Aguayo said. “We do typically see the vast majority of freshmen that come in the fall attend summer orientation, but the best bet for projections for the fall (are) really our confirmation (deposits).”
For 2017, Academic Affairs recorded 1,688 confirmation deposits by its May 1 due date. Roughly 95 percent of freshmen starting in the fall attend freshman orientation in June, based on figures from 2015 and 2016.
“That’s really the number one way we know who’s planning to attend,” Aguayo said.
Increased enrollment presents a challenge for UW, which has cut funding to every division and college on campus and has lost — through separation incentives, vacancy eliminations and layoffs — roughly 370 employees during the 2016-2017 school year.
“We’re trying to be really proactive to get ready to meet the needs of students” Aguayo said. “So, we’ve got a group that we’ve formed — sort of a little (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) team, if you will — that’s going to be meeting weekly throughout the month of June.”
The team — consisting of department heads and administrators — looks to anticipate the difficulties in offering a quality education to more students with fewer resources and personnel.
“We’ve already been working to add additional sections and seats in high-demand classes and analyzing the majors that all of these students that are going to be coming in have been signing up for,” Aguayo said. “That (way), we can be really prepared to give them all a great course schedule.”
Though transfer enrollment also looks to be significantly increased from 2016, it is unlikely to set a historic record. But predicting the number of transfer students is more difficult than predicting freshmen numbers.
“We’re a little bit early in the transfer cycle still because many transfer students will do their application even in July and August prior to starting,” Aguayo said. “But our transfer numbers are looking strong and we are expecting to (have) about 1,050 transfers for this fall. That will be up about 100 from last fall.”
During the board’s May meeting, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Kate Miller explained key changes to the transfer recruitment process likely played a role in boosting enrollment.
One of those key changes was a reduction of the $300 holding deposit — a prepayment toward tuition and fees due when a transfer student enrolls — to $100. The lower price makes it easier for students to commit to UW earlier, Miller said.
“That $300 bar, it turns out, is very difficult for transfer students,” Miller said. “So, they put their $100 out there, so they’ve committed.”
Academic Affairs also credits speedier transcript processing, advising and registration days in all Wyoming community colleges, greater outreach to both community college students and veterans and even less red tape for the boost in transfer enrollment.
“We’ve also found a way of streamlining the housing and vaccination record forms and processes around that,” Miller said. “So, for example, transfer students who don’t have to be (in) university housing still had to fill out a form to be exempt from university housing. That’s kind of silly, so we took that away.”
The university also predicts a 5 percent increase in the number of graduates during the spring and summer of 2017 — 2,311 graduates up from 2,199 in the spring and summer of 2016.
However, total enrollment is likely to remain flat given lower freshman enrollment in previous years now means lower sophomore and upperclassmen enrollment for fall 2017.