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Great Start to the Academic Year!

September 28, 2018

To the UW community:

As we enter the final days of September, fall semester is well underway, and we are off to a strong start for the 2018-19 academic year. The beehive of activity on our campus is at once invigorating and exhausting! I have enjoyed attending and participating in a wide array of activities with our students, faculty and staff.

You have noticed by now that campus is especially full of people this semester. This is primarily due to the fact that we have enrolled the largest class of first-time freshmen in the university’s history, while maintaining the record freshman-to-sophomore retention rate from last year.

There is good reason to celebrate these achievements. The 1,859 first-time students represent a 9.5 percent increase from last fall, shattering the previous record of 1,697 students set in 2008. That comes on top of last year’s 9.3 percent increase in new freshmen. So we have seen two straight years of nearly double-digit growth in freshman recruitment, at a time when many institutions across the country are seeing flat to declining enrollment.

Our overall enrollment of 12,450 was up slightly from 12,397 last fall -- a smaller increase than we would have liked to see. That’s mostly because the number of graduate students dropped from 2,606 last fall to 2,452 this year. Still, our overall number did increase, and momentum is growing toward meeting our strategic plan goal of 13,500 students in 2022.

Associate Vice Provost for Graduation Education Jim Ahern and others are looking closely at ways to grow our graduate numbers in coming years, and we know that this drop in graduate students is closely associated with the loss of faculty through the voluntary retirement/separation program we offered over a year ago. With nearly 80 new faculty hires this year, we feel this number will rebound.

Interestingly, our increase in first-time freshmen was driven by enrollment of students from outside Wyoming, as 944 nonresidents are enrolled, up from 771 last fall, a 22.4 percent increase. The largest increases in out-of-state enrollment come from Colorado, California, Illinois and Nebraska.

While the number of first-time freshmen from within Wyoming dropped slightly, from 925 last fall to 915 this year, the percentage of in-state high school graduates choosing to attend UW actually increased from 15 to 18 percent. That’s because there was a 350-student drop in the number of students graduating from Wyoming high schools this year.

Meanwhile, our Wyoming community college transfer numbers are strong, rising from 771 last fall to 784 this semester.

Our challenge, in conjunction with our Wyoming community college partners, is to convince more young people -- and nontraditional people in the workforce, quite frankly -- of the value of college education. Not only will it help them achieve their career ambitions, but a higher level of educational attainment is critical for the state to prosper economically and socially.

It’s good to see that while the headcount on our Laramie campus rose from 10,396 last fall to 10,540 this semester, enrollment at UW-Casper is up as well, from 164 to 193. It’s also noteworthy that even with a significantly larger freshman class, we didn’t sacrifice quality for quantity: The average ACT score for first-time freshmen actually rose from 24.7 last year to 24.8 this year.

Credit for the increases goes to our many staff who devote their work to recruitment and enrollment, as well as our faculty and staff who work to recruit and retain our students every day. I also appreciate the extra efforts to make sure we could accommodate the higher numbers in our academic units, as well as in our residence halls. On the latter, Residence Life is taking some steps to identify additional beds to handle even more students next fall, and we are getting close to having a plan to build new residence halls as soon as possible.

We all know our current, aging residence halls leave a lot to be desired. It’s an issue we must address to achieve our enrollment ambitions. We recently completed our biennial student satisfaction survey, and the state of the residence halls clearly is a drag on what otherwise are very favorable reviews of the UW student experience.

I can’t give you all of the survey results here, but I’ll mention a few numbers that we can be very proud of:

-- The percentage of students who are pleased with their UW education is 93 percent, a number that has held relatively constant since 2004. Satisfaction ranges from 98 percent for freshmen to 89 percent for seniors.

-- Eighty percent of UW students say they would enroll here if they had to do it over, a percentage that is significantly higher than the national average.

-- The percentage of students who believe the campus is safe and secure is 85 percent, with only 8 percent dissatisfied.

-- Asked if they experience intellectual growth at UW, 89 percent of students answer yes, up from 82 percent in 2016, with just 4 percent expressing dissatisfaction.

-- Regarding UW’s commitment to academic excellence, 82 percent of students indicate satisfaction, up from 76 percent in 2016, with 8 percent dissatisfied.

-- Ninety percent of students are satisfied with faculty knowledge in their fields of expertise, up from 80 percent in 2016.

-- Seventy-six percent of students describe their tuition as a worthwhile investment, up from 73 percent in 2016 and significantly higher than the national average.

-- Eighty-eight percent of students rate UW’s atmosphere as friendly, with just 6 percent deeming it hostile.

-- Seventy-four percent of students say there is a strong commitment to racial harmony on campus, up from 68 percent in 2016.

-- Seventy-four percent of students say intercollegiate athletics programs contribute to a strong sense of school spirit, up from 49 percent in 2016 -- and significantly higher than the national average.

To see complete results from the student satisfaction survey, go to here. A special thanks to former College of Arts and Sciences Dean Ollie Walter, who continues to crunch numbers even in his retirement.

The survey results do give us some areas to work on, beyond the state of the residence halls. But overall, they show that we’re serving our students well in many ways.

I appreciate the efforts of our faculty and staff to provide student-centered, high-quality education. And I am confident that as we execute our strategic plan -- “Breaking Through: 2017-2022” -- we will continue to fine-tune our performance in enrollment and academic achievement.

Enjoy these beautiful fall days, and welcome to families who join our campus this weekend for Family Weekend!

Laurie Nichols, President

1000 E. University Ave. Laramie, WY 82071
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