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Purdue crushes enrollment record; 46,114 students back Mitch Daniels’ campus reopening predictions

JCOnline.com (Lafayette) logo JCOnline.com (Lafayette) 9/15/2020 Dave Bangert, Lafayette Journal & Courier
a group of people walking down the street: Students walk across Purdue University's campus, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020 in West Lafayette. © Nikos Frazier | Journal & Courier Students walk across Purdue University's campus, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020 in West Lafayette.

WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue President Mitch Daniels built his argument about reopening West Lafayette campus, in part, on a premise that there was a big demand from students who were ready to return or to enroll as freshmen.

On Monday, Daniels unveiled record enrollment numbers for freshmen, for undergraduates and an overall enrollment of 46,114 for the fall 2020 semester – which is 1,563, or 3.5 percent, more students than in a then-record-setting fall 2019.

Of those, just shy of 90 percent of those students were taking some form of in-person courses as Purdue navigates holding classes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Daniels signaled early on – within weeks of the campus all but emptying in March as a COVID-19 precaution – that Purdue was prepared to take in a larger student body at a time when enrollment projects on campuses across the country weren’t sure. Over the summer, Daniels made national headlines with predictions that Purdue could reopen safely and that deposits on fall 2020 semester tuition showed students were willing to come to campus.

Even then, Daniels told faculty that numbers were more than expected.

More: ‘A lot of crossed fingers’: Purdue’s campus reopening 'manageable' so far, as other schools retreat, higher ed monitors Mitch Daniels' plan

“To our surprise – I guess astonishment wouldn’t be too strong – when it all settled out, we had not just a record but a dramatic increase and a record number of freshmen,” Daniels said. “Once again, I view this as a tribute to our faculty for establishing standards that students around the nation and around the world continue to notice and seek out.”

Here’s a breakdown and a look behind the numbers, based on a report Daniels first shared Monday afternoon with the faculty-led University Senate as Purdue started its fourth week of classes:

Freshmen enrollment: The numbers of incoming students weren’t as first reported by Daniels, who told Purdue trustees in August to expect 8,977 freshmen. Still, the 8,925 freshmen enrolled in fall 2020 was 10.7 percent more than in fall 2019, when Purdue had its second largest incoming class in the campus’ history. Purdue’s previous freshman class record was 8,357 in fall 2018. Of those freshmen, 1,294 – or 14 percent – were attending classes online only.

Kristina Wong Davis, vice provost for enrollment management at Purdue, said the university set a target last fall for 8,050 incoming students. That was before COVID-19 hit. Still, Purdue wound up with 57,279 applications – also a record for the university.

She said Purdue aimed for 900 more than that for fall 2020, knowing coronavirus would keep some international students from being able to get to campus, given travel restrictions, and that others would opt for online-only courses.

She also said Purdue typically can count on about a 5 percent “summer melt” – or students who make accept offers from the university but change their mind before the fall semester starts. That melt came in slightly lower than that, she said.

“In this environment, we didn’t know what to expect around that,” Davis said. “But a lot of this is very intentional. ... I think coming out early, much like the president often says, saying what we intended to deliver for fall and then continually communicating all summer with families as decisions were made, helping them to understand what expectations to have regards to campus goes a long way to helping families make a decision they feel good about.”

Undergraduate enrollment: Undergrads number 35,122, which 1,476 – or 4.4 percent – more than a record set in fall 2019.

Overall enrollment: The 46,114 enrollment figure is up from the previous record of 44,551 students in fall 2019. The fall 2020 total continues a run of four consecutive record enrollment years on a campus where the student body has grown by 18.9 percent since 2014.

Davis called Purdue has been well-positioned for growth – with a stable tuition, programs people recognize and a robust application pool – even in what she called “a declining higher education environment” that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

 “I think we’ve been able to withstand a lot of turbulence,” Davis said. “It doesn’t mean we’ll weather the storm forever. But for right now, we seem to be doing well in this environment, despite everything.”

She said next year could be trickier still, given that high school seniors are dealing with an often uncertain mix of online and in-person classes, along with changes to access to college prep courses.

“It’s an environment that could reshape the application pool, and we’re trying to work through that,” Davis said.

Daniels told faculty that Purdue was watching in the coming week to see how things shake on other campuses.

“From anything we know anecdotally, this is an unusual, perhaps unique, outcome and one that had us scrambling a little bit to address,” Daniels said.

Around the state:

► At Indiana University, fall enrollment was 42,552 degree-seeking students, down from 42,760 in fall 2019, Chuck Carney, an IU spokesman, said. That was less than a half-percent drop. Of those, 37.5 percent of students were taking online-only courses. Across IU’s system, enrollment was 90,090 students compared to 90,754 in fall 2019, Carney said. That’s a 0.7 percent decrease.

► At Indiana State, enrollment dropped 6 percent to 10,830. Indiana State also saw a 6 percent decrease in the number of new freshmen, according to numbers released Aug. 25.

► Ball State University expects to release fall enrollment numbers Friday, Marc Ransford, a university spokesman, said.

Among enrollment trends at Purdue, according to number released Monday:

  • In-state vs. out-of-state undergraduate enrollment: Indiana residents, 18,032; U.S. non-Indiana residents, 12,816; international students, 4,274. That put in-state undergraduate enrollment at 51.3 percent. The 17,402 undergraduates from Indiana in fall 2019 accounted for 51.7 percent.
  • Minority enrollment: Purdue recorded a record number of underrepresented minority students for fall 2020, with 3,773. That was up from 3,461 in fall 2019, which was a record at the time. Underrepresented minorities include American Indian or Alaska native, Black, Hispanic or Latino, or Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander students, according to Purdue. The 3,773 students represent 8.2 percent of Purdue’s total enrollment and 12 percent of the U.S. residents enrolled on the West Lafayette campus, according to Purdue figures.
  • Enrollment by gender: Women, 19,906, men, 26,208. At 43.2 percent in fall 2020, the percentage of women students on campus was down from 43.5 percent in fall 2019.

Reach Dave Bangert at 765-420-5258 or at dbangert@jconline.com. Follow on Twitter: @davebangert.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Journal & Courier: Purdue crushes enrollment record; 46,114 students back Mitch Daniels’ campus reopening predictions

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