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JSU enrollment up despite pandemic pressure

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The anticipated end result of college enrollment, graduation, is depicted here in a stadium scene from this past summer at Jacksonville State University.

Jacksonville State University has reported higher fall enrollment numbers than last year at this time, in spite of a national downward trend brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In an email sent by the university news service last week, school officials said total enrollment had gone up by 2.4 percent this semester, reaching a total of 9,238 students, 217 more than the last fall semester.

Graduate student enrollment had leapt up 17.2 percent with an additional 219 students, pushing the total above 1,400 for the first time since 2010. Total credit hours broke an eight-year-old record by increasing 1.5 percent, climbing above 104,000 enrolled hours for the first time since 2012. 

Tim King, vice president of student success, was quoted in the release as saying, “I think one of the most important pieces supporting our enrollment this fall was a comprehensive effort across all divisions to connect with students throughout the spring and summer.” 

In the release from the school, JSU officials offered a few possibilities for their undergraduate increase, primarily “an aggressive communications campaign” over the summer, with academic departments reaching out to their students directly, and the office of admissions engaging with first-time freshmen to ensure admissions turned into enrollments

Other universities in Alabama had seen similar effects on their enrollment, with surges in graduate students helping ease losses in undergraduate enrollment. The University of Alabama announced earlier this month that it had lost 683 undergraduate students from last year’s totals, but graduate student enrollment had gone up by nearly 1,000, according to a story from the Montgomery Advertiser. The school has a total of 37,842 students, down from last year’s 38,103 students, a difference of 261 enrollees. 

Auburn University saw overall growth, with 277 more students this semester than last fall, totaling 30,737 students. 

According to Matthew Campbell, director of the Auburn’s Office of Institutional Research, graduate enrollments tend to rise during times of financial uncertainty, like this year’s pandemic or the housing crash in 2008, when the labor market becomes unstable. 

“Not all of them are kids anymore,” Campbell said by phone Wednesday. “Maybe they’re going back to school to pick up a new skill or make themselves competitive in the job market.” 

Those students tend to stick with their programs to the end at larger universities known at the national level, Campbell said, but at smaller institutions they may abandon their graduate degrees and head back to work if the job market stabilizes.

“It’s going to be very nuanced; it’s something you can’t summarize in a tweet,” Campbell joked.