By Casey S. Elliott
One in a series of Outlook stories examining enrollment and retention.
A 2 percent jump in the freshman-to-sophomore retention rate and gains in international and regional campus students pushed Ohio University's total enrollment to 29,486 this fall, up 578 students from a year ago, according to the latest figures from the Office of Institutional Research.
Those figures are the bottom line in the university's annual 15-day headcount, which provides a snapshot of enrollment after three weeks of classes. This year's figures reflect a concerted, coordinated effort across the university to increase retention and bolster enrollment in specific areas.
The first-year retention rate climbed to 80 percent after a 2 percent drop last year and declines of about 1 percent each of the previous six years. The Vision OHIO plan called for retention to hold steady at 78 percent this year and then climb 1 percent a year over the next five years.
Overall, the number of Athens campus undergraduates continuing from the prior spring rose from 11,389 last year to 11,529 this year. Of that increase, more than half can be attributed to the improvement in freshman retention.
"(Increased retention) is significant news for us," Executive Vice President and Provost Kathy Krendl said. "We targeted some specific goals this year, and invested one-time financial support on retention.
"The results are very encouraging, especially in an increasingly competitive environment," she added. "They reflect the smart thinking and hard work of a lot of people across the university."
Strategies aimed at increasing retention included administering the Student Readiness Inventory to help advisers assist students who questioned their academic preparedness, making freshmen aware of the broad range of assistance available at the Allen Student Help Center, expanding learning communities, enhancing the University College 115 first-year experience course, and requiring undecided freshmen in University College -- typically the students least likely to continue a second year -- to enroll in both UC 115 and a learning community.
Total Athens campus enrollment stands at 20,501, up from 20,350 last year. The figure includes 16,717 undergraduates (up from 16,644) and 3,338 graduate students (up from 3,269). The graduate student numbers include 612 individuals (up from 597) seeking graduate degrees through University Outreach, which coordinates off-campus degree programs.
Freshman applications for the Athens campus hit an all-time record in this enrollment cycle, with 14,046 freshmen applying for admission compared with 13,020 last year.
There are 3,986 new Athens campus freshmen, down slightly from 4,006 a year ago. Selectivity increased, however, with 78 percent of applicants admitted this year compared with 82 percent last year. That contributed to gains in academic quality; this year's freshmen had an average ACT composite of 23.7 (up from 23.6) and an average high school GPA of 3.37 (up from 3.34).
Krendl said articulation agreements with other institutions and efforts to eliminate red tape contributed to a rise in transfer students, from 444 last year to 518 this fall.
"We streamlined the transfer process, so that students were able to identify in an efficient manner how their credits would transfer to Ohio University," she said. "This is all about being student-centered on transfers. It should not be a bureaucratic process."
International student enrollment increased significantly. As of last Friday, Ohio University had 409 international undergraduate students, compared with 256 students at this time last year. The number of international graduate students increased by 10 this year, to 1,019 students.
Multicultural student enrollment increased by 133 to 1,694 students this year. Minority students comprise 8.3 percent of the total student population, up from 7.7 percent last year.
Regional campus enrollment jumped 504 students to 8,232 this fall. Significant gains were seen on the Chillicothe (254), Southern (133) and Lancaster (126) campuses.
College of Osteopathic Medicine enrollment increased slightly, from 437 students last year to 446 this year.
Fall enrollment figures are finalized and available in January.
Ahead in this series: A look at international student enrollment, regional campus enrollment, retention and enrollment planning.
Mary Alice Casey contributed to this report.
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