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June 14, 2024 11:29 pm

Local News

UNCG First-Time College Enrollment Rises After Falling Numbers, Budget Cuts

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by Joe Killian, NC Newsline

UNC-Greensboro released its fall enrollment numbers Tuesday, showing increases in first-time college students after budget cuts and declines in student numbers that have threatened programs and positions across the regional university.

UNCG enrolled a total of 17,743 students for the fall semester, which started last month — down slightly from 17,978 for fall of 2022. But this fall’s number includes an increase of 11.5 percent in first-time college students.

The university also reported a 12.5 percent increase in-state first-year students, a good sign for the campus under a new UNC System funding model that prioritizes those enrollments. According to university data, it’s the largest first-year class since 2019, when overall enrollment peaked. The average high school GPA among the first-year class is up as well, now 3.64.

“Amid national enrollment challenges, we recruited and welcomed a strong academic class of Spartans,” said Chancellor Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. in a statement Tuesday. “As our new students show, UNCG continues to be a university of choice for students who seek an exceptional education in a welcoming environment where they can be themselves.”

Like most U.S. universities, UNCG struggled with enrollment at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. And like most regional universities, it has struggled to recover since, while facing the additional headwinds of fewer traditional college-aged students and rising skepticism about higher education, its cost and value.

Neighboring N.C. A&T University, just two miles from UNCG, has seen an explosion of enrollment, new funding and construction as it has grown into not just the nation’s largest historically Black college or university (HBCU) but a national attraction for engineering and research. A&T reported 13,487 students enrolled for its fall semester — the highest enrollment ever recorded — not just at A&T but at any HBCU. Enrolling as many qualified North Carolina residents as it can, the school has also twice successfully argued to have its out-of-state student cap lifted by the UNC Board of Governors.

UNC System campuses taking part in the NC Promise program, which offers $500 per semester tuition, have also offered UNCG new competition for lower-income students, of which UNCG has some of the most in the system. Nearly half UNCG’s students are eligible for income-based federal Pell grants, a point of pride for a regional university ranked first in the state for social mobility.

The recent first-time student enrollment bump at UNCG comes after an 11% decline in overall undergraduate enrollment from 2020 to 2022. Those losses led to a November vote by the UNC System’s Board of Governors to cap state funding losses at three regional universities: UNC-Asheville, UNC-Greensboro and UNC-Pembroke. Those schools were among five chosen as priorities when the system requested an additional $16.8 million in state money to fund retirement incentives for faculty.

For UNCG, the enrollment struggles meant a projected $12.4 million loss in tuition, fees and state funding over the next year. That’s led the university to pursue cuts wherever it can, from administrative positions and course offerings to consolidating, retooling and eliminating programs.

Against that backdrop, the new fall enrollment numbers are cause for optimism, as are some details on who is coming to campus. The number of readmitted students — those who took a break from pursuing their degrees — was up 8.8% from last fall. Transfer students, including those from community colleges with which UNCG has worked to improve partnerships, were up 8.9% over the same period. That’s welcome news for a campus that still proudly wears its working-class identity and tries to appeal to older students, students working their way through school, and those raising families as they pursue their degrees.

“It takes an entire campus to enroll the new first-year class,” said Tina McEntire, UNCG’s vice chancellor for enrollment management. “And I want to extend my appreciation to our faculty and staff who worked tirelessly to assist students through the application and enrollment process.”

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.