CHAPEL HILL (Sept. 16, 2021) – Despite a global pandemic that clamped down activity nationwide, the University of North Carolina System saw record enrollment this fall for the fourth year in a row.
“We are among the fortunate few to see enrollment growth – and that is not true across the nation,” UNC Board of Governors Chair Randy Ramsey told the board.
“Just wonderful this fall on campus,” Kimberly van Noort, the UNC System’s Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, told a board committee Wednesday. Given adjustments for the COVID-19 pandemic, “It’s different, but it’s working.”
Total enrollment across the UNC System grew by more than 2,000 students, to 244,492 this fall, according to preliminary figures.
Van Noort noted that undergraduate enrollment declined slightly, which reflects nationwide demographic trends – birth rates declined during the Great Recession of 2007-09. Transfer students were also down, which reflects decreased enrollment at North Carolina community colleges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But graduate enrollment increased as many students returned to school, van Noort said.
She noted that Appalachian State, N.C. A&T, UNC-Chapel Hill and the UNC School of the Arts all saw enrollment grow by more than 3%.
Elizabeth City State University’s enrollment climbed by 2.6%, continuing to grow since implementation of NC Promise, which provides tuition of $500 a semester at ECSU, UNC Pembroke and Western Carolina University.
The number of students at UNC-Chapel Hill grew by 1,549, or 5.1%. And enrollment at N.C. A&T grew by 569, or 4.5%.
Meanwhile, enrollment fell by 2.8% at East Carolina University, 1.5% at NC Central University, 3.9% at UNC Asheville, 3.7% at UNC Greensboro and 3% at Western Carolina.
Officials at UNCG said the university actually enrolled 111 more freshmen this fall than it did last year. They noted that given the high percentage of first-generation and Pell Grant recipients at UNCG, many students come from financial situations that are more precarious than most.
The UNC System and state leaders have adopted a goal to have 2 million North Carolinians with a degree or high-quality credential by 2030. Whether the increased enrollment in UNC System schools is enough to support that effort – especially with undergraduate enrollment shrinking slightly – remains to be seen.
Ramsey noted the smaller demographic cohort of traditional college-age students at the Board of Governors meeting today. “We can no longer rely on the next generation to fill our classrooms,” he said.
The UNC System will need to reach out to employers and mid-career workers to enroll more adult learners, he said.
And System President Peter Hans said efforts to keep tuition flat next year for the sixth year in a row should allow students to graduate with minimal debt and provide equity in higher education.
“I do not believe there is another state in the country that can make that statement,” Hans said. “We have a great story to tell in North Carolina when it comes to college costs.”