Freshmen enrollment down, retention rates steady for fall semester

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the number of students who would begin their college career at Augie, but it has not influenced how many students have returned to their Viking home, according to statistics from the admissions office.

According to the registrar and associate dean of interdisciplinary programs, Joni Krueger, 1,942 students enrolled for the fall semester. This number includes part-time and full-time undergraduate and graduate students and is similar to total enrollment in years past. For the fall of 2019, enrollment totalled to 2,069 students and was 2,118 the year before. 

There are 127 fewer students attending Augustana University for the fall semester of this year, in comparison to the same time last year. This difference is in part due to a decrease in the number of first year students. In the 2019 fall semester, 430 students arrived on campus for their first year of college. In the fall of 2020, only 319 incoming freshmen were reported.

 All across the country, students are opting to take gap years, and universities are struggling to incentivize students to return to college campuses in the midst of a global pandemic. According to a recent study done by SimpsonScarborough, 40 percent of would-be incoming freshmen declared that they would consider options other than beginning college due to challenges presented by the pandemic.

The number of incoming freshmen is historically low for Augustana, a further indication of the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on enrollment. In the past twenty years, the number of incoming freshmen has generally been upwards of 390 students, according to information from Adam Heinitz, director of graduate and transfer enrollment.

In addition to a decrease in freshman enrollment, a report published by Augustana cited that this decrease in total student population is also caused by travel restrictions for international students. 

Even though fewer first year students came to Augustana this fall, students who had already experienced the “Augie advantage” were likely to return, contributing to a retention rate that is on par with those of previous years. Heinitz said that 359 of the 430 students that were freshman last year returned as sophomores this year, a retention rate of 83.7 percent. In comparison, only 82.2 percent of freshmen in 2018 returned as sophomores in 2019. 

This retention rate is typical for Augustana University, as it has averaged around 83.3 percent the last 10 years. The rate is well above the national average retention rate — 78 percent according to the College Transitions website. 

The pandemic appears not to have deterred students from pursuing a graduate degree. Compared to last year, only 11 fewer students enrolled in a graduate program this year, bringing enrollment to 284 part-time and full-time graduate students. 

Masks and Zoom accounts in tow, troves of Augie students have returned to class, and 319 new freshmen have embarked on their journey as Vikings. 

  1. I do not think students returned because of the “Augie Advantage.” The only reason I (and many others) returned during this pandemic is because of the debt that I would be forced to pay back if I took a gap year. Taking a gap year is a luxury that many returning students just cannot financially make possible.

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