Augustana welcomes 553 freshmen to campus

Freshman enrollment this fall was the second largest in Augustana’s history, with 553 total incoming freshmen joining Augustana’s campus. 

As campus infrastructure grows with new residence halls and renovations to existing buildings, enrollment is pushing to bring in even more students in the future. As part of the Viking Bold strategic plan, the goal is to have 3,000 total students on campus by 2030.

“The goal of this department is to try to break records,” Joel Munza, associate vice president for enrollment management, said. 

In recent years, the average number of students per class has been about 400, but 2020 only brought in about 320 new freshmen. The current record for greatest incoming freshman class was secured in 1970, with a freshman class of 594 students. 

Munsa credited the affordability and scholarship opportunities at Augustana, as well as the university’s marketing strategies to high school students, as some of the largest factors in bringing in more freshmen.

Dean of students Mark Blackburn attributes the growth in incoming freshmen to new undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as more scholarship opportunities. He also credited new athletic programs and the School of Music as sources to bring in more students.

“Right now, we’re trying to pump out programs and initiatives as fast as we can so we can support the students,” Blackburn said.

Of the 553 freshmen this year, 71 are international students, with a notable increase in the amount of students coming from Ethiopia and Nepal.

Ben Iverson, director of international programs and enrollment, said maturing relationships with high school counselors and recruitment agencies, as well as with EducationUSA, a Department of State network of international student advising centers, have contributed most to the increase in international freshmen. He also credited international students’ good experiences at Augustana and word-of-mouth advertisements.

“In some locations, we are on the map as an affordable, quality destination, especially as compared to commentator schools in the United States,” Iverson said.

Twenty-nine countries are represented in this year’s freshman class, and in the total student body at Augustana, 50 countries are represented. There are 188 total graduate and undergraduate international students at Augustana that make up about 10% of the total undergraduate population.

Iverson was optimistic that a larger freshman class would benefit both the international and regional students.

“There is some energy in a larger group,” Iverson said. “When there’s a large freshman class like this, I think they’ve historically retained or persisted better.”

However, such fast-paced growth also comes with some concerns. The influx of students has filled residence halls and parking lots to capacity. 

The university plans to expand the Fryxell parking lot out to Grange Avenue, but this expansion will only add 100 new parking spots, according to Blackburn. Blackburn also said the university is looking at turning more land around campus into parking spaces.

For housing, Blackburn said the reintroduction of Solberg Hall after renovations next fall will ease housing pressures. The university also plans to build another apartment complex on Grange Avenue west of the towers.

Apart from infrastructure stressors, Augustana has also been hiring more faculty and staff to keep up with growing class sizes. Blackburn said he hoped to maintain the ratio of students to support staff and faculty at comparable levels to previous years. 

Blackburn said that these challenges are natural when a university is expanding and that he is still optimistic about Augustana’s future

“When you’re growing, that’s a good problem,” said Blackburn.

As enrollment continues to bring more students to campus, Blackburn said he hoped to see more domestic students of color recruited to campus. He said the Journey Scholars program, impact scholarships and admission policies in high schools are meant to bring more students in.

“I think the more students, the more opportunities people will have and to be a part of a liberal arts institution,” Blackburn said.

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